I'm a son of New Jersey, born and bred in the northern province of Bergen County. It's a place where I drag raced in the '60s and knew a lot of people who were into that life -racers and the guys who helped them see the light. By the mid '70s (we called it the Disco Biscuit Era) I was in a basement room at Great Adventure II, a party house on rural route 537 filled with dragons and imps whose names you wouldn't know, except for maybe Danny Jesel.
Now here was a farsighted, levelheaded individual, one who'd smile wide and wag his head at our antics. He'd either be commanding his Competition Machine Service in Freehold (not far from Englishtown) or drinking brown water late at night in the Wild Turkey Room and venting on my Pinto wagon until its poor head gasket collapsed. But Danny was special. Unlike the rest of us wastrels, he had a plan. He'd seen the Moser four-cam, small-block Chevy conversion on a cover of Hot Rod and wanted to do something as prominent and be in history for his contribution to the race.
One warm day, on the way to the track with his brother Wayne, we rode past a beautifully sculpted property bordered by white slat fences that seemed to wind and stretch endlessly into the sun. Behind the slat fences were sleek, fluid thoroughbreds. Wayne told us the Stavola brothers, Bill and Mickey, owned the place. If you were born prior to 1990 you might remember them as the Grand National racing crew that hosted, among other notables, Bobby Allison and his win at the 1988 Daytona 500. This activity had yet to grasp the younger Stavolas: Jason and Chris.
Certainly the elders had a race shop in North Carolina. In the late '90s many of the Cup vendors relocated there to ride the hub of its commerce. One such was Detroit Speed and Engineering, having cleared out of that part of Michigan to be just as close to the action in Mooresville. DSE runs like a war machine steadily producing high-end, low-volume, handily crafted early Camaros imbued with stock, elemental sheetmetal but with the equivalent of an armed cavalry division thundering underneath.
Grown out of Pro Touring, now the DSE vision is to build street-able autocross and road course tools, and Kyle Tucker and his fantastic crew has been doing them the same way since the company was formed. He and wife, Stacy, began as chassis/suspension engineers at GM, a path they have since perfected along with an appearance that is signature.
What would be the impetus for collaboration between DSE and the Stavolas? That caveman hangover that none of us can quit-sibling rivalry. Says Tucker: "We'd built a '68 convertible for Jason's brother Chris. Jason wanted his brother to have the second-coolest Camaro in New Jersey. This car belonged to one of the Stavola crew chiefs, and he sold it to a young Jason many moons back. Both of these guys worked on their junk and learned together before bringing it to DSE."
Beginning at ground level, DSE applied its subframe assembly and Quadra-Link in the rear, subframe connectors, half-height solid body mounts, and its eight-point rollcage. The only things left from the original form are the spindles, which accept tubular upper and lower control arms surrounding in-house twin-tube shock absorbers inside specific-rate coil springs. Aft, the four-link rear assembly wraps around a 9-inch axle and is tended by a similar coilover treatment. This hefty combination reduced ride height in front by 3 inches and by 3 inches in rear.
Big brakes and gargantuan rubber always attend such DSE conversions, putting in a concerted effort with 14-inch Baer rotors and 6S six-caliper assemblies posted at each corner of the Camaro. For this build the rollers are comprised of 18-inch Schott G5 wheels, 10 and 12 inches wide, respectively, wound with BFG KDW 275/35 and 335/30 pavement stranglers.
The goal is to produce a chassis that handles every bit of the violence the engine can produce. Jason settled on a motor that would make more than enough grunt but with a conservative displacement to ensure decent steady state mileage at high speed. NASCAR vendors Wegner Motorsports embraced the L92 truck engine, doing the machine work and increasing displacement to 388 ci. Wegner installed a GMPP intake manifold in place of the fuelie unit and stocked it with a sensible 650-cfm Holley as fed by an Aeromotive electric pump. A sophisticated and very powerful (read: expensive) programmable Pantera electronic system retains the coil-near-spark plug ignition.
Since the tech sheet was missing most of the engine's vitals, we can only assume that this information is proprietary. We do know the bottom of it is capped by a 6-quart Champ oil pan, and Wegner applied its front-dress assembly (Sanden compressor, Powermaster 140-amp alternator, Stewart water pump, and ATI damper) over the stock GM cover. Ancillaries include a big Be Cool aluminum core/fan assembly, Wegner custom rocker covers, DSE-fabbed air cleaner box holding a K&N filter, Vintage Air Gen IV HVAC system, custom DSE stainless steel headers with 17/8-inch primary pipes, and matching 3-inch stainless exhaust interrupted slightly by Borla XR1 mufflers and a crossover pipe. Estimated output is 560 hp at 7,100 rpm and 520 lb-ft of torque at 5,200 rpm.
Accepting this spicy input is a T56 six-gear as assembled by Holman Engineering. Jason does the push and pull on a DSE billet shifter and an 11-inch Centerforce pressure plate processes torque, clutch, and flywheel surrounded by the stock bellhousing. Dynotech Engineering wailed on a 3-inch diameter steel prop shaft that DSE hooked to one of their 9-inch axles fitted with a Detroit Truetrac differential and a 3.89:1 ring-and-pinion.
With the mechanicals turning steadily, DSE moved on the interior, creating special enclosures for the audio system. An Alpine CDA9887 head (iPod, Bluetooth, CD player, and XM) sends it all through a compilation of JL Audio components: Audio x2 amplifiers (Mono Amp 500/1V2 and Mono Amp 300/4V2), 6.5-inch VR650CXI front speakers, 6x9 VR690CXI rears, and a 10-inch 10W6V2 subwoofer.
Thence to DSE's Jay Lesar for the wiring scheme and the dash insert that he populated with Stewart-Warner custom gauges. Chuck and Darrell at Hot Rod Interiors (Mooresville) took it from there. Jason gets tactile sensation from a MOMO steering wheel and Recaro Specialist seats. Hanna put the front ones on custom brackets and outfitted cubbyholes in the rear to match. Terra Cotta leather covers all surfaces, producing the perfect foil for the dusky exterior.
DSE's Michael Neighbors smoothed and straightened the sheetmetal, inserted a stock standard grille, modified the GM bumpers and rolled the pans, put up the mini-tubs, and hung a ZL2 cowl hood over the engine hole. Then he iced it with PPG base/clear black. About five seconds later, Jason arrived. He snuggled into the Recaro, got on the gas and boogied back to Jersey. What would he do over again? Jason: "Maybe [paint it] a different shade of black?"