1996 Chevrolet Caprice Hearse - Race In Peace

AMS' 9-second dead sled is the world's fastest hearse

Rick Jensen Dec 11, 2013 0 Comment(s)
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Arne Toman is the vice president of AMS Performance in West Chicago, IL. AMS is a leader in import performance, and is known for wicked-fast Porsches, Evos, and GT-Rs. With a day job working around such sweet rides, Toman rolls in a super-fast import, right? Nope—dead wrong.

"I have always dreamt of strange projects," Arne starts. "You'd think I'd have a thousand-horsepower Nissan GT-R...Instead, I dreamt of something different, something that would leave a lasting impression.

"And I've always wanted to hold a world record that anyone could relate to. At AMS we have broken, and still hold, many records for particular platforms. But if you aren't into that kind of car, it really doesn't mean that much. I was looking to hold a record you could tell your mom about and she'd understand it.

"Then one day, it hit me: I'd build the world's fastest hearse."

So in 2008, Toman did some Guinness Book research. He found that the fastest hearse back then was an Aussie machine that ran high 13s. "When I saw that I thought, ‘boy I could crush that!' And the search for a hearse began."

The hearse idea was super cool, and Arne wasn't about to muck it up with some ancient Caddy that your gramps wouldn't be caught dead in. No, this had to be a sporty, stiff transporter.

1996 Chevrolet Caprice Hearse 2/7

"I wanted something that looked sporty, so I zeroed in on late-model Chevy Caprices and Buick Roadmasters. It had to be black with a red interior, because to me that is the classic hearse look."

The search for this killer combo took over a year, and terminated with a 1996 Caprice converted by Superior Coaches. It was a rust-free Tennessee car that had the difficult-to-find black paint/red interior combination, so Toman pulled the trigger. Christened "Madness" after one of his favorite Iron Maiden songs, the old Caprice was ready for reincarnation.

To kill time while planning the build, Arne added a few cosmetic upgrades: an Impala SS grill, four-inch cowl induction hood, and 20-inch rims. Oh, and some airbrushing too. "My Ese, ‘El Mago' over at HQ Kustoms, airbrushed a sick Iron Maiden mural on the hood," Arne habla. "He said I was officially the first gringo he knows to have a mural on his hood. I was honored," he laughs.

1996 Chevrolet Caprice Hearse Hood 3/7

Thankfully, a build plan happened before a chain steering wheel did. "I wasn't going to build some gutted-out racer. I had to keep it a fully functioning street car. That meant a stereo, air conditioning—and most importantly, the rear deck and rollers for a casket.

"And I didn't want to run only quarter miles. It had to be capable of running a half and full standing mile to really make sure it was the fastest hearse on the planet."

At first, Toman considered using a torquey Duramax diesel; however, after he bought an engine on eBay, he realized that the 840-pound mill would limit his road racing goals. Wait…road racing a hearse? Can this guy possibly be more awesome? Or hilarious?

"Don't laugh, I plan on taking it on a road course someday," he quips. "So after discussing my dilemma with my business partner Martin, he suggested that a LS-based V-8 with a turbo would allow me to have a more versatile hearse."

So Arne found an 18,000-mile LQ4 6.0-liter, complete with 4L85E trans and wiring harness, from a 2006 Chevy Van. AMS did some minor work on the engine: The LQ4's only internal changes were an LS6 cam, MLS head gaskets, and head studs. The stock "317" heads got new valve springs and hardened pushrods, and an LS6 intake was installed.

1996 Chevrolet Caprice Hearse 4/7

With the engine sorted out, the AMS team paid its respects to the body: As they didn't want to kill the stock 10-bolt, a Moser 9-inch rearend was installed with beefy axles and a posi. Then came a Wilwood brake system for dependable stopping power.

Next, the team did some engine bay mods: the wiring was sorted out, the engine mount adapters were installed, and the LQ4 was test-fitted. The AMS crew had previously sent the 4L85E to be rebuilt; when it came back, a 10.5-inch converter was installed before the trans went to its final resting place.

Because AMS could only work on the hearse during downtime, the build went slowly. And in March 2010, Arne got grave news: "Stiff Shifter," a hearse from Australia, smashed the world record with an 11.6. Toman started to worry that the new record would be hard to beat.

The turning point came in 2011, when LS engine experts Larry Hamilton and Lance Cain joined the AMS team. "Progress was still slow, but only because their great ideas and attention to detail added complexity as they saw new ways to make the car even more unique. It helped us to really ponder how we were going to put it all together."

Speaking of, it was time to build the turbo system. As Arne was on a budget, he couldn't go all-out with custom plumbing. So the truck exhaust manifolds were simply flipped over and re-installed. Next, two-inch, "Y"-shaped tubing was run from each of the manifolds into a split-scroll T-4 turbo flange, where a 76mm GT42R Precision turbo was waiting. Complementing that big hairdryer was a custom AMS intercooler, a TiAL BOV, and TiAL wastegates with trick fender dump pipes. And spent hydrocarbons would depart through a four-inch downpipe and a three-inch exhaust system.

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