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As the owner of HackJobs Performance, a Peoria, Arizona-based tuning shop that specializes in all things LS, Gabriel Canisales is no stranger to turning wrenches. “I basically started working on cars because I couldn’t afford to have someone else do it for me,” he tells us. “My dad has built a lot of lowriders – 1950s era “bombs”, mainly – so that really piqued my interest in hot rodding early on. I’ve been around the scene since before I could even drive.”
During his formative years, Canisales helped his pop restore a 1951 Chevy Suburban and tried his hand at sport compact tuning for a time, but there was always one car that really stood out in the crowd for him. “I had always wanted a third-gen,” he says of this burly 1988 Chevrolet Camaro that he purchased in essentially bone-stock form back in 2006. “I found an ad in the local classifieds and I went and looked at it. At the time I didn’t even have the money to buy it – I was basically window shopping. But I had an old Cadillac at the time, and after I came back from the test drive, I realized I had to have that Camaro. So, I sold the Cadillac and went right back over there to buy it.”
He was understandably stoked to have scored his attainable dream car, but he says that feeling initially didn’t last very long. “I went on a nice drive with it on the day that I bought it, and then I came home and parked it. When I woke up for school the next morning, it was gone. Not even twenty-four hours after I bought it, someone had stolen it! I was pretty upset, of course – I had sold my other car to get it, and now I had nothing.” In an incredible stroke of luck, the car ended up overheating about 15 miles from his house due to a radiator fan failure, and the thieves decided to ditch the car.
After being reunited with the car and revamping the cooling system, the 305ci-powered F-body proved to be a solid daily driver during Canisales’ high school days and beyond. But after a fuel pump failure in 2011, the car wound up being sidelined for a stretch. “At that point I was kind of fed up with it,” he recalls. “So, I let it sit for a while.”
Weeks turned into months, and months turned into years, and by 2014 the Camaro needed some attention. “I was financially in a better spot by then,” he says. “ I pulled it out from the side of the house and refreshed it up a bit.” Sporting new paint, IROC wheels, and some much-needed maintenance, the third-gen was put back into action, and it stayed more or less in that state until 2018, when Canisales decided it was time to take the Camaro to the next level.
“At that point I had already opened my shop,” he explains. “So we brought it in and ripped out the whole drivetrain.” Canisales enlisted the help of a friend to clean up the engine bay and sort out the bodywork while the team was set loose on the mechanicals. The 305-cube small-block was tossed in favor of a 6.0-liter LQ9 LS V8 with a Brian Tooley Racing Stage 3 Turbo cam, a Holley Hi-Ram intake manifold, and a pair of 72mm Mirror Image turbos from Nelson Racing.
“I love the Hi-Ram – we use those all the time with our builds in the shop,” he points out. “It sits high enough to allow you to hide stuff under it, and I just really like the look of it. It performs really well, too, so it kind of checks all the boxes for me.”
Running 12 pounds of boost on E85, the LS sends a healthy 746 horsepower to the rear wheels. The grunt makes its way to the pavement by way of a 4L80 four-speed automatic transmission with a Circle D torque converter and Ford 9-inch rear end with 4.11 gears. To make better use of the newfound performance, the Camaro was also outfitted with a Spohn Performance K-member and rack and pinion steering, along with a BMR torque arm and subframe connectors, Founders Performance lower control arms, and adjustable coil-overs at all four corners.
“I think at some point in the future we’ll look into some no prep stuff," he says. "But I want to keep the full interior, the glass, and all of that stuff. I don’t want to turn it into a race car.”
The Camaro was running in the low 10s during competition when we caught up with Canisales at LS Fest West last year, so it has definitely evolved beyond the type of cruising that he did with it back in high school. And while it might not be a purpose-built race car at this point, he concedes that it’s probably overdue for some upgrades that may push it further in that direction. “I definitely want to go faster, so at this point I’m looking at the safety stuff first and foremost – a mild cage of some sort and a fire suppression system.” He's got plans for a new 4L80 from Hughes Performance as well, along with more boost. “I kind of want to test the limits of that stock bottom end,” he says with a laugh.
And he’s got a 1995 Chevrolet Impala SS project that’s currently commanding his attention as well. “We’re putting that one together now. It’s got an LS3 with two Precision turbos, so that’s going to be a fun one. It was just sent it to paint, so we’re hopeful that it’ll be alongside the Camaro at LS Fest West later this year.”