It’s not often that we get the chance to get all artsy-fartsy in a hardcore gearhead magazine like Camaro Performers. But there’s no denying that car building is its own art form. Ask Ben Abrams, born into a family of collectors — mostly art in the “proper” sense — whose traditional ideas have made the leap to four-wheeled exhibitions. “The cars take on the spirit of their builders,” he told us. “It’s similar to looking at a painting and seeing the soul of the painter.” And thus we interrupt the CP-style Art History lesson, because in the name of all that’s holy, we’re talking about a ’69 Camaro that’s packing 2,000 hp in an 800-rpm idling, A/C-blasting street cruiser that can go from Jekyll to Hyde on your ass with the twist of a knob and a stomp on the loud pedal. Need some perspective? The fuel-injected, twin-turbo, 572ci big-block Nelson Racing Engines Hot Rod Series powerplant under the hood makes substantially more peak power than the Allison V-12 put in the legendary P40 Warhawk fighter plane. Forget the .50-caliber machine guns, this thing flies fast enough to be terrifying without them.
Abrams already had a collection of about 25 cars, including such exotica as a Koenigsegg CCX (Top Gear fans know its handling prowess well) and a Shelby Super Cars (SSC) Ultimate Aero, capable of 257 mph. He confesses that the Camaro was a perfectly good 600hp ride when he got it, saying, “I didn’t need to do it, but that’s what I do; I go over the top.” Let’s not be coy here: “it” is all about the exquisitely crafted engine under the hood. Abrams didn’t take any half measures to achieve his vision, sending the car to Chatsworth, California–based Nelson Racing Engines for a major F-body re-composition. Tom Nelson relates the mission his patron of the arts handed down: “The idea was to build a car that you could start up and drive like a normal car, with the classic styling of a ’69 Camaro. And we wanted to have massive power, so we put a 572 twin-turbo Hot Rod Series engine in that makes 2,000 hp (800 more than anything else Ben owns) but can still be driven in traffic and lugged around at 1,200 rpm while the A/C is on. We wanted it to be able to go around a corner and stop well — so this is what we came up with.” Indeed.
The all-new NRE underhood creation was thoroughly built to handle the rigors of twin-turbo heat and quadruple-digit horsepower levels. The bottom end is fitted with a custom NRE 8-quart oil pan incorporating a 2-inch kickout and a high-volume Titan Speed Engineering gerotor-style pump, with oil cooling handled by an Earl’s unit. But the real foundation consists of a Dart 10.2-inch deck block with a 4.5-inch bore, filled with a Callies Magnum 4340 forged crank swinging 6.585-inch Oliver 4340 billet con rods through a 4.50-inch stroke. They’re topped with JE forged pistons fitted with Hell Fire rings that create an 8.8:1 compression ratio. A billet, NRE top-secret-spec mechanical roller camshaft utilizes a larger 55mm core (which allows more aggressive lift specs while maintaining stability), and bumps upsized .904-inch lifters and Smith Brothers pushrods. COMP roller rockers activate titanium valves in Brodix BB-3 xTRA lungs. NRE fully CNC ports the heads, but Nelson told us that, “we’re not after every last horsepower, it’s about reliability and heat transfer.” And when you’re making 1,400 hp and 1,295 lb-ft of torque at “only” 14 psi of boost, you probably don’t need to chase every last pony.
Then there’s the striking NRE Alien Intake system. Nelson sculpted this all-billet setup to provide superior fuel optimization, but also to have a slick, clean look. The entire system: integral dual throttle bodies, injectors, fuel rails, sensors, and throttle linkage are designed to be cleanly out of sight. The fuel inlet and outlet lines are on the back of the unit, continuing the smooth lines. Atmosphere is force-fed into the Alien via a pair of NREspec 72mm compressors (outfitted with Tial blow-off valves and 44 mm waste gates), which produce up to 36 pounds of boost through an exactingly constructed water-to-air intercooler system. The coolant tank resides where the windshield wiper system once was, while the heat exchanger was precisely contoured to reside behind the air-directing front spoiler. These efforts were essential to getting cool air through the turbos and into the engine. The massive quantities of burnt gas (ignited by an Electromotive crank trigger system with four coils providing the flame) exit through NRE crafted machined billet turbo transitions (allowing for tighter turns than bending allows) and into a custom NRE 321 coated stainless exhaust system: headers with 2-inch primaries and 3-inch four-into-one collectors, dual 3-inch tubes with an X-pipe, and terminating in Magnaflow mufflers. And yet, we’re just getting to the good stuff, and Tom Nelson was happy to fill us in:
“The most unique feature of the TT engine is its twin injector, dual-fuel capability. When you’re driving around town, the ECU (an Electromotive Tec3R) has you operating on eight primary injectors that run on 91-octane pump gas, but when you get into the throttle (boost), the computer automatically switches on an additional eight injectors.” The system’s twin Aeromotive A1000 pumps draw from a secondary fuel sump, part of the purpose-built Rick’s Stainless gas tank, and feed a pump/race gas mixture into the engine, which allows for stratospheric horsepower levels. “We call this feature NRE ‘Octane on Demand,’” says Nelson. “Run it as low as 700 hp all the way to 2,000 hp,” he reports. “It doesn’t change the way it drives — it just makes it harder to keep it on the road. It’s just like a new car, idling at 800 rpm, loafing around and changing lanes, not like a super car — and then, airplane launch.” The rest of the drivetrain is equally trick, if overshadowed by the beast it’s backing: a Viper-spec, race-prepped Rockland Gear T56 trans further modified to handle the brute power at work here, a McLeod Twin Disc bronze-lined clutch contained in a QuickTime Inc. bellhousing, and a tailor-made prop shaft from The Driveshaft Shop.
Although this car is all about the motor, it was a nice, slick Camaro before being imbued with superpowers. Case in point, the interior, which is all about black leather. The ’69 came with excellent digs, highlighted by recovered Viper seats (fitted with DJ four-point harnesses), the exquisite custom-built, black leather–covered console, Mercedes black carpet, and black Billet Specialties steering wheel. To this, the Nelson SuperCar Crew added Marquez door and side panels, then rounded out the “more leather” approach by covering the dash in ebony cowhide. They also added a set of NRE custom gauges, though if we were nitpicking we’d say the new speedo comes up at least 100 mph short if you want to actually measure the insane velocities this vehicle is capable of reaching.
Abrams’ new ride arrived coated in a rich coat of Sikkens Midnight Black that needed just a bit of touch up by NRE’s Scott Carpenter. Noteworthy efforts from the Nelson SuperCar Crew also came in fitting the aforementioned water-to-air intercooler system for the turbos, but they didn’t stop there. The extreme heat this twin-turbo, alien-headed beast puts out was also enough to necessitate a duo of Ron Davis radiators sporting three Spal fans. The Nelson guys even fit in a Vintage Air Front Runner A/C system to boot, because who wants to sweat at 250 mph? They also got a Detroit Speed Inc. Electric RS light system to fit behind the trick front fascia. The 2-inch cowl steel GM hood was outfitted with flush hood mounts from Eddie Motorsports, and trick AeroCatch flush hood latches. While they were at it, the SuperCar Crew also cut and sectioned both the front and rear bumpers for a slick, tight fit. Installing the Marquez taillights must have been a cakewalk.
Abrams also did well with his Camaro’s suspension. Up front, the factory F-body subframe was upgraded with Detroit Speed Inc. tubular A-arms, 2-inch drop spindles and coilovers, for a total drop of 3 inches. Out back, the car came with a well-installed DSE mini-tub kit, custom subframe connectors, Calvert Racing split monoleaf springs with a 2-inch drop, CalTracs traction bar system (with NRE-installed solid eye bushings), and Calvert adjustable shocks handle the suspending duties with a 3-inch total drop. That rear setup supports a Ramjet rearend 9-inch differential, fitted with a spool and geared at a 2,000hp friendly 2.73:1 ratio, set at a -4 degree pinion angle as part of the overall attempt to just get this thing to hook. The original package was enhanced with custom-made black HRE wheels, 18x8.5 up front and wrapped in 225/40ZR18 Michelin Pilot Sports, while the business end consists of 18x12-inch hoops wrapped in a set of totally destroyed BFGoodrich drag radials, size 345/35ZR18. The totally thankless job of stopping this missile falls to Baer four-piston front brakes grabbing 13-inch rotors up front, with two-pot binders grasping 12-inch rotors out back. The system’s powered by an ABS electronic assist master cylinder, which conveniently also provides lots of under-hood real estate for the turbo headers.
Of course, all of this is perfectly adequate for 600 hp. But 700 to 2,000 ponies? Not so much. But as many of us know, including Tom Nelson and Ben Abrams, building a car — or creating a piece of art, for that matter — is a process. Abrams sent the car to Nelson to make it a beast, and in this we proclaim unqualified success. But the creation goes on, as this out-of-anyone’s mind fast Camaro heads out for another round of mods, specifically a full tube chassis with cage, mondo brakes, and even a fire suppression system. About the progression, Ben says, “It’s my way of taking ownership, welcoming it to the collection.” So if the car does indeed carry forward the spirit of its creators, this one is burnout black and crazy scary fast — truly fine art, to be sure.
“My most memorable experience was doing a smoky burnout at a 100 mph roll, then getting planted in the seat like Star Trek warp drive.” —Tom Nelson