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.