When it comes to envisioning a project, there's a balance to strike between seeing an idea through, from concept to reality, and losing touch with reality altogether, in the mad pursuit of an unrealistic goal. Bill Gates clearly had a vision when he started Microsoft, but then again so did Captain Ahab when he left on his "fishing expedition."
Sam Buscemi walked the razor's edge of obsession when it came to the nearly 5-year-long buildup of his 2007 Monte Carlo SS, a car he purchased new with the rigid determination to create an uncompromisingly quick front-wheel-driver. With a single turbo blowing more than 20 pounds of boost into a 401-cubic-inch custom LS engine, it pushes more than 814 insane horsepower and 768 crazy lb-ft. of torque through the front freakin' wheels – in full street trim, with a loaded interior, functional air conditioning and more. There's a racing harness in there, but maybe a straightjacket would be a better restraint for the driver.
"Sure, it would have been much easier and much less expensive to do this to a new Camaro, but I've always liked these Monte Carlos and it seemed like a worthy challenge," Buscemi says. "Yes, maybe it was a crazy idea, but I think the results speak for themselves – it works, and it's fast. Really fast."
Quick reminder: The 2006-07 Monte Carlo SS featured a 303-horsepower version of a 5.3L LS engine – named LS4 – shoehorned sideways under the hood (just like the Grand Prix GXP). They're pretty rare cars, and while they were praised for a surprisingly balanced feel and, of course, a seemingly unlimited reserve of power, they were knocked for torque steer. That was with 303 horsepower and 323 lb-ft. of torque. More than doubling each of those figures takes the issue to an entirely new, bat-crap-crazy level in Buscemi's car.
"To be honest, after putting about 300 miles on the car, I'm still learning how to drive it," he says. "It takes all your concentration, because if you're not paying full attention, the torque steer and wheel spin will send you across the road immediately."
We went for a brief ride on residential roads with Buscemi, and liken the experience to more like taking a leashed mountain lion for a walk through a nature park: It's docile enough and surprisingly streetable when the Comp Turbo 84/88mm CT5 turbocharger is producing little boost, but adding RPM to the mix is like a deer wandering onto the path and trying to hold onto the leash – it's almost impossible.
"It's a handful, no doubt," he says, in one of the biggest understatements we've heard in a while. "I want to take it to the drag strip, hoping we can get the suspension dialed in to ensure effective launches."
One of the key ingredients in obsession is determination and it's something Buscemi had by the pallet when he started the project. He knew the endeavor would take plenty of time and money, but those factors didn't deter or dissuade him.
"The bottom line was, I wanted it done correctly and without compromise," he says. "I didn't really set a timeline for it to be done. I just wanted to make sure that when it was finally completed, it would meet my expectations."
It's one thing to say that about a tuning shop dropping a bolt-on blower kit on your Gen 5 Camaro, but this was an unprecedented project and even the first step – finding a shop with the skill and experience to handle it – required a few months of investigation and interviews. He finally settled on Paul's Automotive and 4x4 (www.paulsautoand4x4.com), in Sandy, Utah, which had a strong track record with the custom fabrication, tuning, and assembly that would be required.
This is also a good place in the story to mention there's no way we'll be able to convey all of the details that have gone into this car. When we met up with Buscemi for our photo shoot, he handed us what we thought was the phone book for a small town. Nope. It was the 44-page invoice/build sheet from Paul's Automotive, for every nut and bolt applied to the car, and the time it took to install them – 44 pages! We won't publish the final tally, but suffice it to say vision don't come cheap.
"Literally everything associated with the engine, drivetrain, cooling system, etc., all had to be replaced with brand-new or fabricated parts," he says. "There was a lot of trial by error and replacing parts we originally thought might work, but didn't. It was an unprecedented project, so everyone at Paul's, and I, learned as we went along. I expected it and, yes, it was expensive, but we did what we had to do to make it right."
The engine, of course, was the focal point of the project and consumed much of Buscemi's investment. His vision originally targeted about 600-front-wheel horsepower, but the target was raised to 800 horsepower when the voices in his head convinced him 600 horses just wouldn't deliver the performance statement he wanted. Regardless, trying to extract 600 or 800 horsepower from the stock 5.3L engine would have truly been a crazy move, so Buscemi sanely decided from the get-go to start with a custom foundation: An all-new, billet aluminum cylinder block from Dart Machinery.
It is based on the LS7 design and uses a Callies Magnum crankshaft with a 3.750-inch stroke – a 0.25-inch de-stroke from the LS7, which along with the stock 4.125-inch bores, gives the engine its 401-cubic-inch (6.6L) displacement. Naturally, everything else associated with the rotating assembly is forged, including Oliver 4340 H-beam rods and custom Diamond pistons with offset pins (relative to the crankshaft axis), which helps keep rod angularity to a minimum when the cylinder pressure – particularly under boost – is at its maximum, reducing piston thrust forces and consequently reducing friction. In other words, it reduces the stress on the parts of a high-boost engine, which sees tremendous cylinder pressures.
The heads are World Products' 12-degree LSX7 castings, with large, 285cc intake runners and 2.250/1.625-inch valves. They're used with a Jesel shaft rocker system and a COMP hydraulic roller camshaft actuating the valves. A custom intake manifold from Precision Engineering mounts a 90mm throttle body, and there's a custom, in-line Meziere electric booster water pump, because the stock, narrow offset pump originally used to squeeze the LS4 engine into the W-body chassis just didn't have the capacity to keep up.
There's also a one-off, engine-mounted billet flex plate. Actually, it's a two-off: Meziere made two of them and Sam's car has one. The same goes for a one-of-two billet damper from BHJ Products.
Cooling, in general, was one of the toughest aspects of the project. Along with the racing-style water pump and a Ron Davis radiator, Paul's cut holes in the hood to fit a Shelby GT500 extractor vent and a single NACA duct, both of which really helped reduced the under hood temps generated by the turbo system. Also, the front fascia from an Impala replaced the Monte Carlo's bumper cover, because – surprisingly – it had larger air openings for funneling air to several of the car's nine heat exchangers. There's also a custom ice-water tank in the trunk and to keep the air intake charge out of the detonation-inducing zone.
But even all that pales to the little and large details that aren't apparent to the eyes, or required considerable re-engineering along the way. The oil pan and transmission pans are custom. The fuel system is custom, including all-new baffles in the tank, and even the custom headers had to be re-engineered when at least one of the primary tubes was burning up plug wires.
"On the chassis dyno, the car put down as much as 822 horsepower to the tires, but we were burning up plug wires all the time," says Sam. "One of the header tubes was re-configured and it solved the problem. The trade-off cost about 7 horsepower, but you would never notice it at this power level."
Even at such a "reduced" level, the engine was more than a match for the rest of the drivetrain.
"Making the 800 horsepower wasn't the hard part – it was getting everything else to live with it," Buscemi says. "We bent the stock front lower arms on one dyno pull – pulled the front wheels forward 1.5 inches. The car was definitely making some torque!"
Sam runs his own steel business, so he knows a little about metallurgy. To that end, the drivetrain components were custom-fabricated with aircraft-quality materials, including the control arms and various mounts, with fabricated aluminum supplied by EDM Diversified and special parts from Hamilton Chevrolet. There was little choice but to use the GM Hydra-Matic 4T65E-HD transaxle, but it was beefed up wherever possible, including cryogenically tempered and Dyna-blued gear sets, a one-piece, aerospace-quality 4340 4th gear, and new, custom "Level 5" axles from the Driveshaft Shop. To adapt them for the Monte Carlo, the the inner constant velocity joints were fabricated using the Driveshaft Shop's 36-spline ball and cage inners, with the original factory heads welded on. Interestingly, this Monte Carlo channels torque to the tarmac via the original, but widened wheels by Weldcraft using OMF Performance Products custom bead locks for the front rims.
"The steps Paul's Automotive took are along the lines of what the hardcore front-drive drag racers use, so theoretically, it should all hold up," says Buscemi. "Then again, we're applying all this to a fairly heavy street car and running a big turbo on a V-8, so we're definitely venturing into uncharted waters." Just like Ahab and his quest for that big white whale.
Despite that vast concentration of fabrication under the hood, the outward appearance of the car is surprisingly sedate. Each hood vent serves a purpose, but their appearance is nothing the casual enthusiast wouldn't expect from an otherwise stock, yet appearance-enhanced front-driver. The bead-lock wheels will cause a double-take from racing enthusiasts who know what they're looking at, but even still, the car looks stock, sounds stock – mostly – and gives no other outward clues to its capability.
Inside, Shawn Andrzejewski, from Motor City Customs, reworked the upper dashboard to incorporate a small army of auxiliary gauges within a leather covered billet gauge pod, with more gauges blended into the dash to look as factory-original. Apart from Corbeau harnesses on the stock bucket seats, the rest of the cabin is untouched except for the custom carpet layout replacing the rear seat.
"I didn't want it to look or feel like a race car," says Buscemi. "Shawn did a great job at incorporating all the instruments we needed and keeping a factory appearance to the interior."
As we mentioned earlier, Sam has only put a few hundred shakedown miles on the car, but he intends to fulfill his fevered dream of front-drive-performance supremacy at the drag strip.
"Given the power it's making, dyno calculations put the car in high-9s, but of course traction will be the X factor," he says. "If we can get the suspension dialed in – and the transaxle holds up – it should be a quick car."
We don't doubt that for a moment. Then again, we know better than to argue with someone who is crazy… er, someone with an inspired vision.
Car: 2007 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
Owner: Sam Buscemi
Block: Dart Machinery billet aluminum based on GM LS7 w/LS4 bolt patterns
Compression ratio: 9.2:1
Heads: World Products LS7X six-bolt, aluminum castings; 285cc intake runners; 2.250/1.625-inch valves
Cam: COMP Cams XFI hydraulic roller; 614/610-in. lift; 227/223-deg. duration; 115-deg LSA
Pushrods: Trick Flow Specialties chrome-moly pushrods; 3/8-in. dia./8.250-in. length
Rocker arms: Jesel shaft-mount, roller-tip aluminum body, 1.8-ratio
Pistons: Diamond forged aluminum with offset pin location; diamond coating on pistons
Rings: Total Seal with C33-coated stainless steel top ring
Crankshaft: Callies Magnum 4340 forged steel, 3.750-inch stroke
Rods: Oliver Speedway Series 4340 H-beam
Throttle body: AHM 90mm
Fuel injectors: F.A.S.T. 85 lb./hr.
Fuel pump: Weldon 1100-A (exceeds 800 lbs./hr. at 13.5 volts)
Ignition: GM LS9 ignition coils
Engine management: stock ECM with tuning by Paul's Automotive and 4x4
Power adder: Comp Turbo CT5 84/88 ball bearing turbocharger
Boost: 22 psi
Intercooler: custom-fabricated with trunk-mounted ice-water tank
Wastegate: TiAL 60mm
Exhaust system: Pinnacle custom turbo headers, 4-inch exhaust w/electric cut-out
Transmission: GM 4T65E-HD with cryogenically hardened gear sets
Torque converter: Hughes converter with billet rear cover, billet stator and custom clutch pack
Front suspension: Adjustable struts, custom lower control arms, 34mm solid sway bar with poly mounts, QA1 500-lb. springs, MSD launch control
Rear suspension: Adjustable Struts with BMR trailing and lateral arm kit, 18mm solid sway bar, QA1 400-lb. springs, Holley roll-control
Rear end: N/A (front-wheel drive)
Brakes: Wilwood disc brakes – 14-in. front rotors/6-piston calipers;
Wheels: stock (widened) 18-inch aluminum (with OMF bead locks on front wheels)
Front tires: P255/45R18 (street), P315/35DR18 (track)
Rear tires: P275/45R18 (street), P215/60R18 (track)
Fuel: 93-octane (street trim)
Race weight: 3,500 lbs. (approx.)
Best ET/mph: N/A
Best 60-ft. time: N/A
Current mileage: 36,000
Miles driven monthly (summertime): 100