One of the best perks of being in the muscle car parts business is that you're pretty much required to have a cool ride to test your wares. It's just a necessary part for doing business, and one that Stacy Tucker of Detroit Speed, Inc. (DSE) is more than happy to abide by.
Stacy and her husband, Kyle, own DSE and they know it's not enough to just say a part works because a bunch of math on a piece of paper says so. That part needs to be validated in the real world; preferably bolted to a classic Detroit iron specimen and flogged around a track. While DSE sells parts for a wide range of rides, its bread and butter continues to be first-generation Camaros. This meant Stacy had the perfect excuse to find and pump up the performance on a 1969 Chevy Camaro of her own. Stacy told us, "We sold our 1969 Chevy Camaro, ‘The Twister,' to start Detroit Speed, Inc. The business grew, and we built many 1969 Chevy Camaros for customers. Every time I saw their cars get delivered, I wished for another 1969 Camaro that I could drive and enjoy."
Stacy hunted around and eventually came across a fairly stock '1969 Chevy Camaro SS. It had straight sheetmetal and decent paint, so a price was negotiated and the blue F-body was brought to DSE's shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, for some high-performance TLC. DSE's goal wasn't just to make the Camaro perform; it was also to improve its behavioral quality on the street. As Stacy said, "We're different than many aftermarket companies. With five engineers on staff at DSE, we engineer our products not only for performance handling on the track, but we focus on improved ride quality on the street."
Since the car already had decent paint, Stacy and the gearheads at DSE could get right to work grafting on a whole arsenal of first-gen Camaro performance parts. The factory suspension was tossed for DSE's top-shelf turn-hard goodies. Up front sits its Hydroformed subframe that incorporates rack-and-pinion steering and includes much improved steering geometry. The shocks are DSE's new adjustable coilovers with remote reservoirs, which allows Stacy to easily dial the car in for highway cruising or tearing up an autocross or road course. Out back, a narrowed 9-inch differential is equipped with its QUADRALink suspension. The rear coilover system is complete with DSE Koni shocks and is a vast improvement over the old leaf springs. "The QUADRALink gives an increased level of performance that provides a more precise level of handling. It's output is much more nimble and crisp than a leaf-spring suspension," she says. "We don't believe that you need to sacrifice ride quality to improve handling." The team at DSE also installed one of its mini-tub kits so the Camaro could easily accommodate the massive 18x12 Fikse wheels wrapped in 335/30-18 BFG KDW tires. Up front, thanks to the extra clearance provided by the new subframe, there are 18x10 Fikse wheels running 275/35-18 BFG tires. Filling the 18-inch rims are massive Baer six-piston mono-block-based disc brakes. To replace the lackluster factory drivetrain, DSE started by getting a GM Performance Parts 383 H.O. stroker engine. Not much was done to the already-potent crate engine. "We chose this engine because it is representative of what a lot of our customers use. It is very reliable and easy to drive," remarked Stacy.
A GM Hot Cam kit was added for a bit more power and the mill was topped off with an Edelbrock intake and Demon 750 carb. To ignite the fuel, DSE went with a complete MSD ignition system and the spent gasses are ditched through a custom-fabricated 3-inch exhaust system with Borla mufflers. Keeping the small-block cool is a Be Cool radiator with electric fans, and DSE's radiator closeout panel helps push more air through the fins. Out back, the stock fuel tank was replaced with a DSE narrowed stainless steel tank to accommodate the larger rear wheels. Power from the engine is shifted back through a Tremec TKO-600 five-speed transmission from Classic Chevy 5-Speed complete with a Centerforce clutch and Hurst shifter. The driveshaft spins to the narrowed Ford 9-inch rearend where the 3.89 gears and Detroit Truetrac posi unit send that stroker power to the pavement. The interior is mainly stock, but DSE found time to spruce it up a bit. To keep track of the vitals, it installed its dash insert and populated it with Auto Meter gauges. To send input to the steering, a Budnik GTO wheel was black-hardcoated and bolted to the ididit column. A Vintage Air system was dropped in to help keep the occupants chilled. As far as tunes, there are none, just the symphonic sound of eight pistons working together in perfect harmony. "The car is so fun to drive that I've been using it a lot lately, so a radio would sure be nice. Especially on long drives," remarked Stacy.
An MSD Racepak data acquisition system was wired into the Camaro to allow performance to be measured at DSE's many outings to Maxton/Laurinburg airport where most of its testing takes place. For safety, DSE decided to tackle some of the car's various systems. A full 'cage resides in the interior, but it's so nicely tucked to the car that it's difficult to see from the outside. "The rear four-point bar is from our catalog, and we custom-built the front section. It really helps, along with our subframe connectors, to make the car more rigid," adds Stacy. For rainy days DSE's seven-speed Selecta-Speed wiper kit was installed and the front headlights were upgraded with its Bright-Driver bulbs. The dim, incandescent rear taillight bulbs were removed and in their place went a sequential LED taillight kit.
While most of DSE's products revolve around performance, they also have a few appearance items as well. The ride DSE bought was just a standard SS model, but Stacy decided to up the looks by installing its RS electric headlight door kit. They also turned to Marquez Design for more style in the form of its billet turn signals, rear taillights, and side marker bezels. Under the hood, DSE's billet hood hinges provide just enough eye candy to sweeten the engine bay's appearance.
The result is a car built the way Stacy wanted it—a performer that isn't so nice that she has to worry about rain, rock chips, or cone rash. This is a good thing since we invited Stacy and the DSE crew to our test venue at California Speedway in Fontana, California, to see if the hockey-striped Camaro could throw down as well as claimed.
Our first test was the 420-foot slalom where seven cones are spaced 70 feet apart. Timing lights are used to determine the car's average time through the course. Our intrepid editor, Nick Licata, knows his cones, and after a few warm-up passes and a couple of shock adjustments, it managed a best pass of 49.36 mph. Very quick, especially considering the Camaro was on 300-treadwear tires and not sticky R-compound rollers. Next, we ran the car on our 200-foot skidpad. This test measures average g-force and is run clockwise and counterclockwise with the two times averaged. Stacy's '69 turned in a best average score of .97 g. Lastly, we tested the car's braking ability from 60 to 0 mph. The shortest distance after repeated stops and a few turns of the proportioning valve was 122.83 feet. Very impressive, but more importantly, the Camaro stopped dead straight and exhibited no brake fade after repeated max-effort stops.
While the testing provides good data, the most telling aspect of the Camaro is how Stacy and Kyle treat the car. This ride isn't coddled and paraded around like some show dog. It's a working car, and Stacy drives it hard. After a long day of testing, Stacy jumped behind the wheel and drove the '69 more than 400 miles to the Pleasanton Goodguys show. No support vehicle, no trailer, just Stacy behind the wheel of her reworked Camaro. That shows how much confidence she has in her ride and, having driven her car, it's surely well placed.
Baby, You Can Drive My Car
Very seldom do I say "no" when someone asks me if I'd like to drive their car. Recently, that exact scenario came up when Stacy Tucker asked me if I wanted to drive DSE's 1969 test Camaro for a few laps around the autocross course at the recent Goodguys event in Costa Mesa, California. Of course I said "yes." Now, I've driven lots of cars on and off the track, and I have to say, after just one lap around the course, I literally fell in love with this car. It's not often a vintage Camaro responds to driver commands the way this ride did. Its predictability on the autocross was as sure as Britney Spears' mug would be on the 11 p.m. news that night. With every aggressive hit of the brakes coming into a corner, there was no question about how the car was going to react. The same could be said on acceleration going out of a corner. The car just accepts its role and knows how to keep the driver happy in a racing environment. If letting me drive the car for a weekend on a closed course wasn't enough, Stacy then offered me the car to drive as I please for a week. Again, if I had said "no," then I'd have misunderstood the question. The DSE Camaro became my daily driver for the next seven days. The first thing I noticed was how well the car adapted on the street. The suspension was as well-tuned for everyday driving as it is for racing. Don't get me wrong; the car's transmission is a bit noisy on the highway, but not enough to deter me from enjoying the ride. After all, my favorite T-shirt says "Loud Music Loud Cars." Take that for what it's worth, but when you are in a '69 Camaro that announces its presence and handles as well or better than most any late-model car, you tend to feel like you own the road. Hell, for that week, I did own the road—at least in my mind. And it's not that the car is the fastest or the best-looking '69 our there, but the confidence I felt in the driver's seat gave me the feeling I was behind the wheel of one bad-ass Camaro.
So, after driving the car for a few days, I decided to take the car to a local, early morning cruise spot in Irvine, California. "Cars and Coffee" is an automotive gathering that generally draws exotic, foreign autos more so than American muscle. After parking the car, I opened the hood and stood back to see what the reaction would be from the local show attendees. I was a little surprised to see the car receiving the amount of attention that it did. There were guys lurking in the engine bay, crawling underneath to get a look at the suspension, and sticking their heads in the windows to have a gander at the race-inspired interior.
Still not done with the car, I decided to take it through the paces of the Camaro Performers magazine testing program, which includes 420-foot slalom, 200-foot skidpad, and 60-0 mph brake testing. Once more, the car didn't disappoint. Reeling out high marks on everything we threw at it (see main article) just confirmed that this Camaro's wide range of versatility makes it as much fun to drive on the street as it is on the track.
So, you may be asking yourself, "Why the heck is this guy stroking this car so much?" There's no reason other than the fact this car is All That. —Nick Licata