When body shop owner Mike Bighley of St. Paul, Minnesota, bought his 1988 Chevy Camaro, he never could have imagined it would turn into what it is now. You see, Mike was 15 back then, and he had to save for over an entire year doing odd jobs just to get it from the local used car dealership. All he wanted was a cool car to cruise in. And cool it was, for about a month.
Mike is one of those guys that just can't leave well enough alone. He convinced his dad to help him change the color to Torch Red. Not long after, he just had to fiddle with the motor. Suffice it to say, over the years, the motor went through various combinations, each building on the last iteration. Mike swapped the motor for a 350 TPI crate engine then moved on to a twin-turbo project, and finally where it sits now.
"I don't want to run faster than 8.50s, 'cause the cage isn't certified beyond that!" Mike explained to us just before he stepped into his orange rocket and ripped off an 8.56-second pass at 151 mph. He proved that his Camaro wasn't only fast, but it was dead-on consistent as well.
But Mike isn't a one-man show; his wife Lina has been intertwined into the '88 since the beginning. Even on their day of holy matrimony, the wedding party had to stop and shred a few tires. Mike waited his turn, revved the motor and dumped the clutch. Before any smoke could be produced, the main shaft in the tranny snapped. They had to jump into a groomsmen's truck just to make it back to the reception. Since then, Lina helps Mike plan future mods and aids in fabricating odds and ends.
This carrot-colored missile gets its power from a Dart Iron Eagle block punched out to 404 ci and a giant-assed Precision PT106 turbo capable of producing anywhere from 20-30 pounds of boost, depending on track conditions and how much oomph Mike thinks the tires can handle that day. He tends to keep the turbo at 15 psi for a salient mixture of power and reliability. All that air is funneled through a set of Brodix-18 aluminum heads mated to a Brodix HV intake. Assembly credit goes to Aaron's Precision Machine of St. Paul. The bottom end is equally stout with a Crower Billet crankshaft and Diamond pistons, making a compression ratio of 10:1 - fairly aggressive for the amount of boost Mike is throwing at it. Camshaft specs are on super-secret double probation, and he won't divulge that juicy information with us. Ahh, come on Mike. We promise we won't tell anyone!
Cooling the monster is an aluminum two-core radiator from Northern. The fire-breathing, corn-fed motor is noshed with E85 for the street and E98 for the track through a Wilson 90mm throttle body and controlled via a FAST XFI system. The fuel is sent from a belt-driven Enderle fuel pump through a custom intake tube, built by Mike himself, into the intake housing. The air and fuel mixture is awakened via a Crane Hi-8 CD ignition. Mike is able to hit trap speeds of 164 mph, but tries to limit that by bringing in the power later in his runs.
Mike also fabricated the custom 1 3/4-inch headers that flow into a 5-inch aluminum exhaust tube that he also fabbed up just for this build. He also made a trick 3-inch piece out of stainless steel that travels from the headers to the turbo for a little pre-turbo kick in the pants. All these trick intake and exhaust pieces were sent out for powdercoating to ensure heat resistance and durability. Mike is confidant his creation belts out an astounding 1,100-plus hp at 7,600 rpm and roughly 1,050-plus lb-ft of torque at 5,700 rpm. Judging by the timeslips, we have no doubt that he is probably right on the money!
Making sure all that power gets to the ground is just as important as making it. The engine is mated to a Rossler Powerglide transmission and a Neal Chance 4600 stall converter, which makes for heavy, consistent launches. Safety comes in the form of a Dedenbear bellhousing and a 4-inch chromoly billet yoked driveshaft crafted by Mark Williams Enterprises.
One of the unique features of this bitchin' Camaro is the setup and how well it's dialed in for the track. We witnessed car after car in Mike's class of Real Street Eliminator doing massive, crowd-pleasing wheelies. In contrast, Mike's Camaro quietly squatted and rattled off quick times all day long.
All that quiet confidence comes in the form of a well-tuned suspension. Up front, Mike runs stock spindles but uses PA Racing's chromoly A-arms. He also uses QA1 double adjustable shocks and matching springs on all four corners. A PA Racing chromoly K-member keeps the car's weight down where it counts: up front. Out back, a Spohn adjustable chromoly torque arm coupled with a Spohn chromoly panhard bar help keep the back end from walking out beside him in a fit of lead-foot syndrome.
Putting the power to the pavement comes in the form of Billet Specialties Street Lites wheels measuring 17x7 in the front and 15x10 in the rear. The fronts are wrapped in 215/50 R17 Capital UHP tires while the rears weigh in at a beefy 295/65 R15 drag radial made by Mickey Thompson. Bear front and rear brakes come in at 13-inch and 11 1/2-inch, respectively.
The interior is all business with very little frills. Mike installed a 10-point S&W Race Cars chromoly cage for safety, rated for 8.50 passes down the 1320. A pair of cloth Kirkey race seats keep Mike well grounded and the CD player blasting through Infinity Kappa speakers keeps the car a-rockin.' He installed the Turbo Action Cheetah SCS shifter to mate perfectly to the stock center console. The addition of an Exile Turbo MSBC-1 boost controller and a FAST XFI touch screen gauge cluster and data logger help maintain motor health and monitor important vitals.
The exterior is where Mike likes to puff his chest. "Appearance-wise, I wouldn't change a thing," he says. "The most unique thing about this car is the paint and bodywork, which I did myself." Mike chose a classic Camaro color of Hugger Orange, using Glasurit 55 line paint. He then sprayed the VFN 4-inch liftoff hood and body with a pair of black stripes. Those aren't vinyl repops he put on his car; he makes us all aware, "that's all paint."
Who knows what this car will be in five years time. Maybe he'll install a flux capacitor and go so fast he'll blast back in time. Whatever Mike and Lina turn the car into, we know damn well it will be one bitchin' Camaro!