For as far back as she can remember, Carmen Drays has been immersed in a world of fast cars. Her father, uncle, and even her aunt, raced cars on local circle tracks and dragstrips.
What’s a girl to do when she’s been raised by a family of gearheads? Most children make one of two choices—they either get as far away as possible from anything resembling a garage, or they embrace it with greasy, wide-open arms. Carmen chose the latter.
“I always wanted to be in the garage with my dad,” remembers Carmen. “My mom still has my green ‘garage’ dress.” Carmen wore that dress as she watched her dad wrench on cars.
Later, after a dozen years of begging and pleading, her uncle handed her the keys to his ’77 AMX Hornet, making that her daily driver. It was a fine gift and she was grateful, but to tell the truth, Carmen always had her heart set on a black, T-topped Camaro. That’s when she had her encounter with a 2000 F-body.
“I saw this Camaro at a dealership and fell in love with it. I told the Chevy dealer to consider it sold. This was in December. By early January, it was sitting in my parents’ garage,” says Carmen.
She had the car of her dreams, but she soon fell in with a gang that GM service reps consider “the bad crowd.” It seems members of the Midwest F-Body Association (www.mfba.org) found Carmen, and before she knew it, they had her ‘00 Camaro strapped to a dyno, laying down 187 horsepower to the rear wheels.
That might not sound like much, but those are very respectable numbers for a stock V-6 rated at just over 200 horsepower from the factory. However, when you hang out with a crowd like the MFBA, the only acceptable amount of horsepower is 10 more than what you currently have.
The dyno visit was only the beginning. Soon she was hitting the dragstrip and managing bolt-on mods in order to squeeze more horsepower out of the six-banger. New headers, exhaust, cold air induction and a Speed Inc. race-prepped tranny mated to a 3,200-stall converter gradually became part of the mix. It wasn’t long before Carmen was running 14.1s. Her MFBA cohorts commended her efforts, but there were skeptics.
“You can’t make a V-6 go fast,” snorted one ignorant punk. It was the kind of remark Carmen should’ve ignored, but instead took it as a challenge. She knew a V-6 could be built to go fast, and she was determined to prove it.
By the summer of 2003, her illicit racing activities south of the border led to a blown rear end and a spent transmission. Carmen towed the wounded F-body to Finish Line Performance (FLP) in Naperville, Illinois. They had done some wrenching for her in the past, and with more than 25 years experience, she knew they were the right shop to handle her unique request. She was set on proving the cynics wrong—she was determined to have a fast V-6.
The easy answer was nitrous, but Carmen wanted no part of it. “I’ve watched too many cars blow up with nitrous, including my cousin’s. His blew up five or six times.” She decided a turbo was the way to go, and while there were a few other V-6 F-body owners who had cobbled together single turbo set-ups, the aftermarket had yet to catch on. But that didn’t discourage her in the least; in fact, she decided that if one turbo was good, two would certainly be better.
FLP was up to the turbo task, even with Carmen’s requirements of maintaining the heat/air conditioning and power steering in the car. But finding an engine shop in the Chicagoland area was another story. Many were called, but only Automotive Engine Specialties (AES) was willing to take on the challenge of assembling a V-6 capable of handling 22 pounds of boost.
After contending with numerous supplier delays for custom engine parts, AES was finally able to finish assembly on the longblock and hand it back to Carmen for 1,500 miles of break-in driving. With the additional miles on the clock, the Camaro returned to FLP’s shop, where they spent more than a year fabricating, wiring, and dialing in the twin-turbo setup.
“The most challenging part of the build wasn’t just making everything fit right and look nice, but getting the big stuff—the dash and the speedometer—to work with the stock computer,” says Dan Bills of FLP.
On choosing the Garrett T60 turbos, Bills claims, “they just fit the application. Anything smaller and we wouldn’t get the power we were looking for. We could’ve gone with a T66, but they would’ve been harder to spool, and the T60s were better suited for street use.” The entire build process took nearly five years. While this might seem like an eternity to some, it was nothing for a woman who waited 12 years for a ’77 Hornet.
Carmen couldn’t have been happier with the end result. “My jaw dropped when I saw the car running for the first time. I knew FLP would do a great job, but they exceeded even my expectations.”
The same Camaro that Carmen used to beat on like a dirty old rug just to squeak past Mustangs was now easily capable of running down Vipers. To Carmen, the newly administered power was intimidating.
“I have never been scared to get behind the wheel of a car,” she said, “but when I took it to the track for the first time, my hands were shaking during the first couple of runs.” Her best pass to date is an 11.77 at 117 mph, but there’s clearly far more power on tap. “I came off the line with no boost. I never went past 68 percent on the throttle and let up three different times,” she said.
As of this writing, she has yet to make a pass at full throttle, but that will only be a matter of time. As Carmen continues to gain confidence, she’ll dial up the boost, but she has no interest in pursuing the 8-second passes made by Tim King’s twin turbo V-6 Firebird. “That’s basically a racecar, and I still want to drive my car on the street,” she says. Right now, the fastest street-driven V-6 F-bodies are running in the low-11s, so she’s well within striking distance.
“The car made 475 horsepower at 15 pounds of boost,” says Bills. “When Carmen gets more comfortable, we’ll up it to 22 pounds. She’ll have no problem getting deep into the 10-second zone.”