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.
"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.
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.
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.
To cool the boosted mill, the team modified the water pump, fabricated a dual-pass radiator, and then installed a 4,500-cfm fan from a Taurus. The stock ECU was enhanced with a custom Yates EFI engine harness, and the LS6 intake was replaced by a Super Victor unit with a 90mm throttle body.
Once the interior was removed, the chassis was reinforced and a 1.75-inch, eight-point rollbar was installed. Here's where the AMS staff's attention to detail stood out: As the beast is fed by 2000cc injectors, a trick, three-pump fuel system was fabbed up: the 255lph in-tank unit feeds a custom AMS surge tank, which feeds dual Bosch inline pumps, which feed those massive injectors.
There was also a custom ECU mount, custom battery relocation box, custom liquid-to-liquid trans cooler, overkill AN lines for boost/vacuum reference, five-inch air intake with custom-fabbed plenum…getting the picture here?
Strange shocks, Eibach springs, Metco control arms, Frederico sway bars, and a carbon-fiber driveshaft were among the last additions. And after minor adjustments gave the beautiful Boze wheels more clearance, the hearse was finally done. AMS tuner Chris Black got his HP Tuners software running and went to work. On the dyno, the hearse made 510 at the wheels on pump gas, with only 14 pounds of boost. Now, to the track…the suspense is killing us.
"I broke the world record with an 11.5 at 117mph on the cars maiden (pun intended) voyage to the track in late 2012," Arne exclaims. "We were simply doing initial shakedowns, and it was on pump gas. On our second outing we used an E98 ethanol/Shell URT blend. Chris crept up on the tune, and at 19psi it made 610 horses, allowing us to shatter our own record and post a new best of 10.7 at 127 off the foot brake!"
But AMS didn't want to simply shatter the record, they wanted to murder it. So over the winter they approached their friends at Speed Inc. for a custom-grind cam, got an FTI Performance torque converter with higher stall speed, and hit up Jose at Forced Inductions for a new BW S48OR 80/92 turbo. And as the 4L85E was living on borrowed time, AMS picked up a built 4L80 with a brake from Andy's Performance Trans.
So when the hearse crept onto the Mustang dyno and pushed the big turbo to 20psi, 730 rear-wheel horsepower appeared. During the next track day, the 5,200-pound hearse summoned 23psi of boost, hammered on the 18-inch drag radials, and ran an otherworldly 9.99 at 137 miles an hour!
There is also the matter of a standing half-mile run soon after: at the "safe" 20 pounds of boost, it flew to 161 miles an hour. We're afraid to ask about the road course times…
"I am so happy with the outcome of this project," Arne beams. "I thought it'd have a hard time breaking out of the 11s, and I never thought it would pull the tires six inches on the launch! It runs flawlessly, is completely streetable and quiet, and can be driven anywhere comfortably with the A/C on. Not to mention my four-year-old daughter loves to cruise in it—she always asks to hear the turbo!"
While Arne Toman lavishes praise on his team's careful planning and execution, he's also thinking up ways to improve on that ET. Future plans call for 16-inch drag radials to drop the 1.47 60-foot time. And now that he's tasted 9s, there may be a forged 370 engine in the hearse's future.
So take heed, record-seekers: If you want to lay this hearse to rest, set it to kill and pray that you'll be delivered from Madness.
Car: 1996 Chevy Caprice Hearse
Owner: Arne Toman
Block: LQ4, 364 cid
Compression Ratio: 9.4:1
Heads: Stock 317, PRC 675 springs
Cam: Speed Inc./Comp Cams hydraulic roller, 228/228 duration at .050, .571/.571 inch lift, 112 LSA
Rocker Arms: Stock with Comp Cams trunion kit, 1.7:1
Crankshaft: Stock, 3.62-inch
Intake: Super Victor
Throttle Body: LS2 with Aaron elbow, 90mm
Fuel Injectors: Injector Dynamics ID2000, 220 lb/hr at 4 bar (58psi)
Fuel Pump: Twin Bosch 044s mounted externally of a surge tank
Ignition: GM coil, MSD 2-step and wires, NGK TR7 plugs
Engine Management: Stock ECM with HP Tuners 3-bar MAP, tuned by Chris Black at AMS
Power Adder: Custom AMS turbo kit, BW S48OR 80/92 w/ 1.25 AR std. cover, TiAL Q50 blow-off valve and dual 44 wastegates
Intercooler: Custom AMS with Bell 4.5-inch core
Exhaust System: 4-inch stainless steel downpipe, Y-pipe, 3-inch dual exhaust with Vibrant Performance mufflers
Transmission: 4L80E, built by Andy's Performance Trans (Elk Grove, IL)
Converter: FTI Performance 10.5-inch, 3600-stall
Driveshaft: DSS 3.75-inch carbon fiber, with custom AMS loop
Front Suspension: Stock control arms, Eibach springs, Strange shocks, Frederico 1.375-inch sway bar
Rear Suspension: Metco control arms, Eibach springs, Strange shocks, Frederico 1.5-inch sway bar
Rear End: Moser 9-inch, 3.73 gear, 35-spline Moser axles, Wavetrac posi
Brakes: Wilwood, 14-inch, 4-piston front, 12-inch, dual-piston rear
Wheels: Boze, 20x9 front, 20x10.5 rear (street), 18x8 front, 18x10 rear (race)
Front Tires: Nitto 275/35/20 (street), Dunlop 245/50/18 (race)
Rear Tires: Nitto 315/35/20 (street), Mickey Thompson Drag Radial 305/45/18 (race)
Fuel: E98 ethanol/Shell URT Advanced unleaded blend
ET/MPH: 9.99 at 137
BEST 60-FT. TIME: 1.47
HP/TQ: 1,000 horsepower at the crank
Mileage: 87,000 on body, 1,000 on new combo