Pikes Peak may be the world’s most famous hillclimb, but some of the world’s preeminent Chevy muscle cars were cutting apexes on a different dangerous mountain this past June.
Like Pikes Peak or the Nurburgring, the Speed By Spectre 341 Challenge is a race that defies logic—a twisting bit of tarmac through an old Nevada mining town straight out of a spaghetti western, with a wild cast of characters, supercars, exotics, home-brewed racers, vintage muscle cars, and even a few helicopter cameraships—all racing up a 5.2-mile mountain road with 500-foot drop-offs and no guard rails.
The 341 race is the brainchild of Amir Rosenbaum, founder of automotive filter and intake company Speed by Spectre. The road has been the site of automotive thrill-seekers for decades, and Rosenbaum decided to sponsor the 341 Challenge as a way of encouraging a whole new group of car nuts to test their vehicles and their nerve, and see if they can join the exclusive “341 Club,” so named for the difficulty of running faster than three minutes and 41 seconds on the treacherous course. Amir doesn’t just own the sponsoring company, however. He also holds the current record on the hill, three minutes and 10 seconds, set in a twin-turbo Ferrari F40 in 2002.
This was the second running of the Speed by Spectre 341 Challenge in the hills of Virginia City, Nevada, and the turnout included some of Chevrolet’s best. There were more Camaros (of various years) running in the event than any other model of automobile. That’s saying a lot at an event normally dominated by the German and Italian crowd. Add in a handful of Corvettes and the odds become good that a Bow Tie would finish toward the top.
As it turns out, one of those Corvettes was prepped by the horsepower wizards at LG Motorsports and driven by former World Challenge GT champion Lou Gigliotti, so the gray ZR1 finished a lot better than simply toward the top. Lou won the inaugural event last year, and this year he ran 7.3 seconds faster to come close to Amir’s record with a 3.14.4. Lou also received the Speed By Spectre Top Speed award for fastest time recorded on the long straight with 142 mph.
“Lou was a lot faster this year,” says Rosenbaum. “He had the benefit of being here last year and he understood the road better. L.G. added more power, more splitter, more wing, and maybe a third cojoné. He said he’s coming back next year—and if he does I know he’ll go even faster. I hope he breaks my record, as that will mean that I get to bring my car back out into the sunshine and drive it again—so I can take the record back.”
L.G. had competition for the top speed award from none other than R.J. Gottlieb, owner and driver of what might be the most well-known F-body ever, the infamous “Big Red” ’69 Camaro. Gottlieb pushed Big Red to an astounding 138 mph at the end of the long straight mid-course. If it hadn’t been for some overenthusiastic use of the engine, which ended his weekend a little early, Gottlieb might have snagged top speed. He certainly snagged entry to the 341 Club with the fifth fastest time of the weekend, 3:30.0
“It goes without saying that by far the most attention-getting car we have ever had at the hill was R.J. Gottlieb and Big Red,” Amir says. “The car is 42 years old. It is loud, it is unaerodynamic, it is fast, and it draws people in like nothing else. It is also by far the fastest classic muscle car up the hill, ever.”
Big Red may have been the fastest, but it wasn’t the only muscle car risking a steep descent in the name of glory. Along with a lone Plymouth and a couple of classic Fords, there were two second-gen Camaros running all weekend long, Speed by Spectre’s ’11 R&D car, the menacing flared “Carbon Camaro,” and the ’71 Z28 out of Amir’s personal collection, both demonstrating the company’s Chevy cold-air intakes and filters.
Modern muscle was well represented as well, with two fifth-gen Camaros representing opposite ends of the enthusiast spectrum. Suspension manufacturer Aaron Pfadt brought out a fully race-ready 2010 and proceeded to drive it to the breaking point—literally. Happily, his destructive product testing was a minor get-off on the wall side of the mountain, and other than a few crunched undercarriage components and perhaps some bruised pride, the Pfadt team was undamaged and cheerful about the incident.
Josh Mac was also in a ’10 Camaro, but one very different from the Pfadt entry. Josh came out with a stock SS to participate as a beginner and finished just inside the four-minute mark.
In many ways, Josh and Aaron represent the spirit of the 341 Challenge. Whether representing an automotive manufacturer or simply pushing one’s own boundaries, the mountain treats everyone equally and once you leave the starting line, it’s just you and your machine.
The dates for the third annual Speed By Spectre 341 Challenge are June 15-17, 2012.