No, this isn't homage to a Cheech and Chong movie. It's about another smoke producing vice: drifting. We're firmly convinced that the concept of drifting was thought up by some tire company's marketing department. After all, what better way to generate tire sales than to encourage an event that is based on generating copious amounts of tire-consuming smoke. In reality, drifting started decades ago on the streets of Japan and has since morphed into that country's top attended motorsport. In the mid-1990s the sport migrated to our shores and soon there was a noticeable uptick in tire sales.
In 1995, Houston, Texas, resident Conrad Grunewald decided to take up drag racing. Five years later he attended a road racing school and was bitten by the turn-hard bug. After running a full season of road racing in 2002, he turned his attention to a new, at least here in the states, type of racing: drifting. At that time Formula Drift was the premier drifting association in the U.S. and Conrad was into it big time. In 2007 he was offered the driver's seat of a Nissan 240SX, but he instead opted for some American muscle: a Z06 Corvette. In late 2009, he transitioned to the then-new fifth-gen Camaro and the rest, as they say, is history. With heavy sponsorship by Chevrolet Performance, his Camaro has featured a host of LS-based engines, everything from a supercharged LSA to its current COPO 427.
For the 2013 season, he crafted a new Camaro and pulled out all the stops to make it the baddest drifting car on the planet. Working with BRE Motorsports, the Camaro received a host of tweaks—some pretty hard-core—like having the chassis acid-dipped. This process knocked about 30 pounds off the car before the BRE techs started cutting away non-essential steel from the body. In fact, if you look close you'll notice that all the GM metal forward of the strut towers was ditched in favor of a lightweight tubular structure to support the forward bits. The Camaro was back-halved to shave even more pounds. The shop also TIG-welded a complete chromoly rollcage and optimized the interior around the driver. The result is a Camaro that tips the scales below 2,800 pounds, which is over 1,000 pounds less than how it came in street trim. Aside from the dipping and cutting, some of that weight savings came from the use of Seibon carbon-fiber body panels wherever possible, including the doors, hood, and trunk lid.
With the weight dropped, they turned to the folks at Chevrolet Performance for some power. A 427ci COPO LS engine was stuffed between the fenders. Built around an LS7 block, the mill features a forged steel 4.100-inch stroke crank, forged 6.125-inch rods, and forged pistons sliding in 4.125-inch bores. At 13.5:1 compression it's not pump-gas friendly, but who cares? The COPO short-block is topped with LS7 heads and a Holley high-rise intake. The engine was left just as it came out of the crate, and BRE Motorsports custom fabricated the 1 7⁄8-inch long-tube headers as well as the rest of the exhaust system. For an engine management system the team went with an AEM kit. An Aeromotive A1000 supplies plenty of fuel. GM rates the engine at 425 hp, but we're guessing that's severely underrated. Backing up the engine is a four-speed Dog Box trans with a Quartermaster clutch. To round out the drivetrain a bulletproof 9-inch rear was sourced from The Driveshaft Shop.
Team sponsor Megan Racing stepped in with a custom coilover shock and strut system. These parts, combined with CGR spindles and control arms, gives the Camaro the unique geometry needed for high-angle steering. Drifting doesn't rely on brakes much, but when it's time to slow down the Camaro employs Wilwood binders biting down on 11-inch non-vented drag rotors. Rolling stock consists of 18x9 front and 18x10 rear Forgestar wheels wrapped in short-lived Hankook RS3 rubber. Surprisingly, the tire sizes are much smaller than you'd think, 235/35-18 front and 265/40-18 rear. We guess when the idea is sliding, you don't want a big contact patch.
The interior is entirely built around safety, shaving weight, and driver ergonomics. OMP seats and harnesses keep Conrad in place, and an AIM dash tracks the car's vitals. In place of a stereo there's a fire system, just in case.
An American driver running an American muscle car in a Japanese-bred sport has a unique coolness all its own, and while we're not planning to start up a drift project car anytime soon, we still get a bit mesmerized by the smoke-generating madness. Besides, we own some stock in a few tire companies.