In most respects, Clay Lawson’s fifth-gen Camaro came out exactly how he had envisioned: big power, excellent handling, great stance, brilliant paint. It had it all. There was only one problem: it had a roof. For most of us, that wouldn’t be an issue, but Clay’s original plan was to build a unique 2011 Chevy Camaro SS convertible with full ’cage that was capable of running low 10’s. Oh, and it had to be able to beat his dad’s twin-turbo ’69.
So what exactly happened that Clay’s Camaro became a coupe instead of the convertible he’d originally ordered from GM?
Clay tells it best: “I ordered a fully loaded Silver 2SS the first day the Chevy dealership was able to take orders. I also began purchasing all the performance parts at the same time so I’d have everything ready when the car got here. Parts were showing up daily and I was tracking the car’s progress on GM Connect. I was keeping a close eye on the day it got built, and also when it was rail-ramp unloaded in Memphis, Tennessee. Everything seemed to be going as planned. Well, to make a long story short, the car never showed up at the dealership. After a few weeks of getting the runaround by GM, I found out the car was on quality hold. Six weeks had passed and still no sign of the car, so I began searching for a coupe. I figured I could find one with light damage at a decent price. Since I was planning on an LSX 454 for power, not getting the convertible didn’t totally break my heart, as a topless car would have a hard time handling all the power I had in store.”
And, yes this car would have plenty of grunt. To start things off, the aforementioned 6.2L LSX was bumped up to 7.4L by the crew at LME in Houston, with a 4.185 bore and 4.125 stroke then stuffed with a Callies Dragon Slayer crank. JE pistons rated at 9.5:1 compression hang from the Callies rods and work in conjunction with MAST Motorsports Black Label heads. A Cam Motion custom grind with a lift of .630/.630 and duration of 230/242 kicks in the power at the optimum time. But the master of all this motorized mayhem is the Kenne Bell 3.6L liquid-cooled supercharger set at 12 psi of boost. The result of their efforts is a very stout 800-plus hp and 850 lb-ft of torque to the tires.
Needless to say, the stock fuel pump won’t keep up with the thirst of a beefed-up 454, so a Lingenfelter double pumper supplies the demand, while a Melling oil pump ensures the internals stay slick. A Turnkey eight-rib pulley system resides up front with cooling duties handled by a BeCool aluminum radiator. Tucked from sight is a KB air cleaner, which force-feeds atmosphere down the 4.5-inch Kenne Bell Mammoth intake tube.
The exit strategy is organized by American Racing 2-inch stainless steel headers, which morph into a 3-inch exhaust, finalized by a set of polished Borla noise dampers.
Deviating slightly from stock, Circle D Transmissions from Houston worked over the GM 6L80E and upped the ante with a 3,000-stall converter, while a Gforce Engineering driveshaft and 9-inch rearend stuffed with 3.50:1 cogs quite capably handle the tremendous potency dished out by the portly fifth-gen.
Pedders adjustable shocks and 1-inch drop springs made their way on all four corners and offer Clay’s Camaro optimal suspension tuning, while the lower stance contributes to the menacing look. For additional strength and performance, Xtreme Innovations and Fabrication’s tubular engine cradle and rear control arms were bolted in to join the mix.
Baer 6S calipers comply with the demands for repeatable and quick stops and grasp onto 15-inch plates all around. All of which are neatly nestled behind the polished CCW SP16A wheels (20x10 front, 20x11 rear) wrapped in Nitto NTO5 tires (275/40-20 front, 315/35-20 rear).
Custom SS-style door stripes and Katzkin seat covers accent the mostly stock driver’s quarters, and a rollcage whittled up by the gang at Extreme Innovation and Fabrications consumes the interior, in turn, contributing to a safer environment while racing.
With the abundance of fifth-gens on the road today, the challenge was set for Clay to differentiate his ’10 from the masses. He called upon the talents of Matt Smith to douse the car in PPG Red and work in the uniquely styled graphics. Challenge met. A GM Heritage grille and ACS T3 bumper and front splitter join the mix, with the major attention going to the ACS fiberglass hood’s clear porthole that reveals a little taste of the LSX muscle that sits between the rails.
As of this writing, the car has run a best of 10.85 at 128 mph in the quarter — and that’s on street tires. No doubt a set of slicks will help harness the power and offer much quicker launches and faster trap times.
With the release of GM’s late-model muscle car a few years back, most have had more than their fair share of fun and hijinks along the way, but Clay recalls, “The most fun I’ve had with the car so far was while drag racing at Beech Bend Raceway during the 2011 Holley LS Fest and having the OnStar lady come on and ask me if I’d been in an accident just as I passed the finish line at over 125 mph.”
When taking on an aggressive project like this, it’s difficult to go it alone, and Clay’s Camaro is no exception. He credits Matt Smith for doing all the bodywork and paint, and Jim Voyles for installing the engine, blower, and trans, and also for the tuning session on his chassis dyno.
With hindsight being 20/20, the only things Clay would have done differently is to start things off with a full ’cage and a solid-axle conversion.
“With running the 20-inch wheels and drag radials, I’m having major traction issues off the line,” informs Clay. “I bought a set of V-6 Camaro brakes and am getting a set of 16-inch wheels and slicks. With that setup, I’d like to see the car run 10 seconds flat – if not drop a hair into the 9’s.”
No word on whether Clay’s Camaro possesses enough cojones to beat his dad’s ’69, but one thing’s for sure: this is one kick-ass late-model hot rod — coupe or convertible.