Vengeance is Always in FashionYou wouldn't think the world of high fashion and high performance street/strip cars would have much in common, but they do--the color black. When it comes to clothing, everything is measured in degrees away from the simple, always-in-fashion black ensemble, from men's suits to women's cocktail dresses. It's the same thing with cars, only the hue has a more brutish, all-business connotation. From Falfa's '55 Chevy in "American Graffiti" to the Lamborghini Reventon, it's been a theme for generations.
Bad, black and fast cars seem to be the theme at Cumming, GA-based Vengeance Racing, too. The renowned shop, managed by Ron Mowen and owned by Mike Carnahan, has turned out more than its share of black beasts, with two of the quicker examples seen here. The first is Joe Smith's 1998 Camaro SS that's swapped its original LS1 for a big-inch LSX power plant; the other is Jan Ruble's 2006 GTO--also with stretched displacement. Both have run in the 9s, backing up their sinister style with killer performance. Each car is naturally aspirated and gets its kicks from a nitrous system; and each is representative of Vengeance's recipe for building strong, go-fast LS-mobiles.
Let's start with Smith's Camaro SS: The Tennessee resident bought the car from its original owner in 2006, with the expressed intent of making it competitive on the local eighth mile strips and the occasional quarter mile blast, where it has run a best of 9.16 at nearly 147 mph. And while he wanted it quick, he also wanted it durable and streetable. To achieve his goal, Smith sent the car to Georgia, where Vengeance's techs dropped the stock 346-cube LS1 and built an LSX-based 454-inch engine to replace it. Sure, GM Performance Parts' iron LSX block would add a few pounds to the front of the already nose-heavy F-body, but the tire-yanking torque of the engine would more than make up for the difference.
The LSX features 4.185-inch bores and a 4.125-inch stroke, complements of a Callies crankshaft. Callies also supplied the 6.125-inch-long rods, while the pistons came from Wiseco. All of the rotating assembly high compression ratio of nearly 11.8:1 is achieved with the pistons squeezing against Trick Flow heads with tight, 64cc chambers. A set of 2.08 and 1.60-inch valves in the heads are kept open for an awfully long time, thanks to a Comp Cams roller camshaft ground to Vengeance's specifications. Those specs include 0.609-inch lift on the intake side and 0.596-inch on the exhaust. Duration is 262/270 degrees and the lobe separation is 114 degrees.
Drawing air into the big-cube LS engine is a FAST LSX intake that was ported at Vengeance for enhanced flow. It's paired with a 90mm Bluemaxx throttle body, while a set of 46-pound injectors match that tremendous airflow capability with a suitable quantity of gas. Of course, the mixture is also enriched by a wet, dual-stage Nitrous Outlet setup that provides a manageable, 200-horsepower hit at first, followed by an additional 200 horses when the car's momentum lessens the chance for traction loss. The stock computer commands the LS1 with some modification via EFILive by Carnahan.
The transmission is a thoroughly built Turbo 400 from RPM Transmission, in Indiana. It's fitted with a Neal Chance converter, with a 4000-stall speed and the obligatory trans brake for a harder hit to the tires. When it comes to channeling the power of the big-inch, nitrous-assisted LSX to the ground, Vengeance upgraded the Camaro with the strip in mind. The original front cradle was swapped for a tubular unit from UMI, along with new upper and lower control arms, and HAL 12-position shocks. At the rear, a 9-inch axle replaces the original 10-bolt, while the softer springs from a Camaro V-6 model help in the transfer of weight from the car's nose. And like the front, a set of HAL adjustable shocks was installed, as were UMI subframe connectors and a Wolfe Drag Bar. The Camaro rides on Weld wheels all around, with Mickey Thompson front runner tires and ET Drag 28-inch-tall rubber in the rear. The car also wears Strange lightweight racing brakes.
Inside, modifications are limited to the business of going fast, including a roll cage, Hurst shifter, auxiliary gauges and an air bag-less steering wheel. Running at the bottom of 9-second range is unquestionably quick for a dual-purpose car and that's exactly what Smith loves about it. "It was built as a dependable toy that I could dominate both the street and track with," he says. "It's great for cruising around town, too." When asked about the driving technique that delivers the best performance, Smith's reply was simple: "foot-brake it to 2,000 rpm, make sure both nitrous kits are on and hold on!"
Jan Ruble is a 70-year-old engineer who was always a performance fan, but as happens to so many of us, the big and small turns in life pulled him away from the scene. "I wanted to get back into the hobby," he says. "I bought this car to do it and, after being out of the hobby for so long, l let Vengeance Racing do all the work." But it's Ruble who takes the credit at the strip, where the car has a ripped a best ET of 9.68 at 139 mph.
Starting with the proverbial used-car creampuff located in the local "trader" magazine, Ruble's 1,400-mile, barely-driven LS2 Goat was transformed into a drag strip warrior. Unlike Joe Smith's Camaro, however, this bad-in-black muscle car uses an aluminum block. An LS7 was used to displace 427 cubic inches-thanks to a Callies 4.00-inch forged crankshaft and 0.125-inch larger cylinder liners. But while Smith's and Ruble's engines took different paths to their final displacement, both share Vengeance's recipe for naturally aspirated power: high compression, big-lift camshaft and a strong dose of nitrous. The enlarged LS features 6.125-inch-long forged rods, forged pistons and a compression ratio of 11.4:1.
Also like Smith's LSX engine, this LS7 turns a Comp Cams camshaft of Vengeance's specification and a set of Trick Flow heads milled to deliver 64cc's worth of combustion volume. The valves are 2.08 and 1.60; the intake is a FAST with a stock 90mm throttle body; the injectors are 46-pounders and there's a wet, TNT nitrous system plumbed into the combination. Do you see the pattern emerging? To split hairs, the squeeze setup on Ruble's ride is a simpler, 150-shot single-stage system, but, hey, a Whopper is a Whopper, no matter how many pickle slices are on it. Vengeance's Mike Carnahan did the tuning on the LS2 using the in-house fuel management system.
Rather than the conventional Turbo 400, however, the transmission selection for the GTO fell to the electronically controlled 4L60E automatic, built by Vengeance's pals at RPM Transmission. There's a shift kit in it, of course, along with a Yank 3200-stall converter. The 4L60E funnels torque via a custom driveshaft to a Ford 8.8-inch center section (replacing the stock, weaker independent piece) from The Driveshaft Shop that's fitted with 3.73 gears, heavy-duty Hendrix Engineering CV shafts and differential. Chassis and suspension mods mostly came from Pedders, in the form of their hardcore drag strip suspension package. That includes the springs, shocks and steering box. The rear springs raise the rear-end of the car about 1.5 inches for greater clearance and improved launch control. All of the GTO's factory control arms and sway bars are retained.
The GTO's wheels and tires consist of 15-inch Hole Shot rims, Goodyear front runners and wide, 325-series Hoosier drag radials. Cramming those big rear tires under the sheet metal wouldn't have been possible without the mini-tub kit that Vengeance built into the chassis. Ruble's car is even more stock inside than Smith's. Save for a couple of extra gauges to monitor the nitrous system and a set of five-point harnesses, it's stock down to its leather seats and shifter. And apart from the big-and-little tire combo and a few window graphics, the car is factory-fresh on the outside (the stock-looking hood is a lighter-weight carbon fiber replica). The same goes for Smith's Camaro.
Between them, there isn't so much as a cowl hood, grille insert or pinstripe to be found. During our photo shoot, you could have mistaken these cars for props in another "Men in Black" movie shoot. The growl emanating from each was unearthly and intimidating, too. So, you can forget the realistic flames, retro graphics and other external adornment: When you want to look badass on the street or the strip, you keep it all black.