As the owner of a speed shop, Bruce Hawkins believes in serving his customers first and foremost. So you'd better believe that when the boss himself is the customer, he gets what he wants. Hawkins' turbocharged HOSS (Hugger Orange SS) convertible hits all the marks. It balances form and function nicely, showcasing his shop's abilities without being merely a rolling catalog sampler. "Our business is about building nice, show-quality and race-quality cars, but that get driven every day," Hawkins says, noting that only a small percentage of his business consists of building such single-function cars. "The car is not the best at any one thing, but it's the best all-around," Hawkins says. When he set out to build this car, he told his crew that, "it has to be fast, it has to look damn good and it has to drive really well and be dependable." Hawkins claims the car gets 26 mpg on the highway despite its 600-plus hp output. "The only thing this car won't do is get out of hand when you put your foot in it," he says.
The owner of Hawks Third Generation in Easley, South Carolina, Hawkins has spent the last decade serving F-body owners. He's seen Camaros of every stripe, but he's always been partial to Hugger Orange (he's owned a coupe in this shade), and he's a manual transmission loyalist too. When the opportunity came to buy this Hugger Orange SS convertible at an auction, and it had a 6-speed to boot, the fact that its engine was blown was no problem. Keep in mind that GM built only about three-dozen cars with this combination. Hawkins already had a built motor sitting around, and was looking to build a car using the (then) recently released 76-mm STS rear-mounted turbo system to achieve more than 600 rear-wheel horsepower. The convertible was a logical recipient.
The stock-displacement engine has forged pistons and rods and uses ARP hardware throughout. The heads are stock 6.0-liter truck heads, which give a lower-than-stock and turbo-friendly 9.0:1 compression ratio. Rather than using a dished piston, Hawkins reasoned that he could simply replace the heads if he ever wanted to go all-motor. The turbo system is where Hawks Third Generation shows its stuff. The GT76 turbocharger itself is unchanged from the STS kit, but much of the rest is customized. "We built the engine and turbo kit as clean as we could to showcase the shop's fabrication and installation skills," Hawkins says.
Like any other STS-equipped car, the exhaust travels back from the engine to a turbo concealed underneath the rear, aft of the rear axle. From the engine back, Hawks used hand-ported and extrude-honed stock manifolds, into a stainless, off-road 2.5-inch Y pipe and into a 3-inch pipe before the turbocharger. Rather than using sewer pipe all the way back, Hawkins says this stepped approach keeps exhaust velocity high in an effort to spool up the turbo quicker. Additionally, everything from the manifolds back to the turbo is heat-wrapped--after all, the role of the turbo is to convert heat energy into boost.
From the turbo forward, Hawks applied the same concept, starting with 2.25-inch pipe and stepping up to 3.5 inches just before the custom-built, front-mounted Griffin intercooler. This gets the charge to the intercooler quickly and then slows it down just as it's about to pass through, for maximum cooling effect. All of these pipes are powdercoated black for a stealthy look. The custom under-car piping also allowed Hawks to install subframe connectors. The car's battery was relocated to the trunk for the usual weight-distribution reasons, but also to create space for this custom piping. Additionally the coolant reservoir was relocated to the radiator support in order for the piping exiting the intercooler to travel through a stock hole in the front subframe and straight to the engine.
Hawkins turned to Speed, Inc., in Schaumburg, Illinois, for a COMP boost-specific cam grind and a speed-density conversion for the engine management system. Speed, Inc.'s Jim Moran performed the tune on the car, achieving 640 rear-wheel horsepower on 93-octane pump gas and incorporating a two-position boost control that allows Hawkins to run in either 400-hp or 640-hp mode with a flip of a switch. "I don't run the car past 13 pounds of boost because it's a pump-gas car," Hawkins says. "I see full boost by about 3,500 or 3,600 rpm."
Hawkins has taken the car to the strip a couple of times, but is quick to mention that this car isn't designed to be a great drag car, with its stock 10-bolt rear and 3.42 gears. "It doesn't leave real good," he admits, but 10.30-range ETs and a 135 mph trap speed don't leave much doubt about the car's performance capabilities, or about how much fun it is to drive. "It can put the wind in your hair and look good doing it," Hawkins says, but that's not the half of it; he also notes that the car's "from-roll" prowess is hard to match. He says it's especially fun to play the hustler, employing the car's low-boost mode at first and then unleashing the car's full power at the most opportune moment.
The most fun he's had with the car, though, was at the Year One event at Road Atlanta. Cruising the track at high speed, while watching spectators run to the fences to see his convertible and hear it blast by sounding like a jet airplane, was the thrill of a lifetime. But Hawkins isn't surprised by the positive reaction the car has received. "If you're a car nut," he says, "who doesn't like a Hugger Orange Camaro?"