Since its 1996-model-year introduction, the SLP Engineering-built Camaro SS has quickly cultivated a loyal following. The relative rarity of the vehicle and its outright performance contribute to its mystique, but SLP's own customer-focused philosophy has made SS ownership a fraternity of sorts.
We found this out recently at SLP's Owner Appreciation event, held at Milan Dragway (a few miles outside of Detroit). Owners spouted production figures and "one off" facts just as fervently as any group of classic musclecar experts. These folks were also spouting quarter-mile times, as most attendees to SLP's fun day lined up their F-bodies in Milan's staging lanes. (All SLP vehicles were invited, including the Firebird Firehawk and any other vehicle that wore SLP speed equipment.)
Jim Holloway brought his '99 Camaro SS from Des Moines, to put it up against Milan's clocks-not to mention other SSs. The stock F-car was turning 13.7 e.t.'s, and he was thrilled. "These cars are like cheap Corvettes," he said. "You can't beat the performance for the money."
Holloway was also thrilled to meet other owners face to face. Like many modern enthusiasts, he's linked to other SS owners via the Internet (including SLP's site at www.slpeng.com), but the 560-mile road trip to Michigan provided the chance to trade cyber-cruising for old-fashioned fender leaning.
"Everybody is really enthusiastic about the cars," he observed.
More website-connected SLP enthusiasts made the 12-hour journey from Montreal, Quebec. They were members of the Montreal F-Body Association, and except for one unlucky girlfriend, who spent most of the 12-hour trip folded up in a Camaro's poor excuse for a back seat, the Canadian cruisers were an exuberant bunch-wondering aloud why the closer-to-Detroit Toronto F-Car club was a no-show.
That owners were driving from far away states and farther away Canadian provinces pleased SLP Engineering founder Ed Hamburger, who wandered through the crowd answering questions and asking his own of customers.
"The owners tell us what they'd like to see in future products," Hamburger says. "Besides, we can all appreciate a free day of drag racing. It's a lot of fun."
The racing proved a little humbling for some first-time racers. Although the cars were evenly matched underhood, dragstrip experience (or lack thereof) proved the great divider among participants. (And we got more than one whiff of clutch while standing near the Christmas Tree for photos.)
Hamburger himself made a few exhibition runs in some of Jon Moss' show vehicles that were brought to the track. One of the more interesting show vehicles was a lonely looking, black SS that didn't wear any badging. A peak in the window revealed the multicolored upholstery of a '93 Camaro Indy Pace Car. It looked a little funny to us, so we asked about it.
"It's one of the first SS prototypes," said SLP's Reg Harris. "It was originally a '93 Pace Car that Chevrolet provided as a development vehicle. SLP added the SS content for testing, and it was actually the first SS show car."
Living history in the staging lanes.
Truth be told, the exotic prototype show vehicles didn't grab the attention as much as the everyday cars, like the '98 SS of Mike Breeden, lined up and going head-to-head at the Christmas Tree.
With a cat-back exhaust system, K&N air filter, and a simple nitrous system from Tom Byrne Motorsports, Breeden's Camaro has ripped off a best e.t. of 12.30 seconds-on street tires. "I drive this Camaro everyday," he declared. "I can't drive it enough. I love this car."
Owner appreciation? You bet.