If Bob Falfa was the good guy in American Graffiti, he would have driven the GM Performance Parts E-Rod '55 Chevy. The E-Rod, as you may know, has the emissions-legal heart of a new Corvette-a 430hp LS3 with electronic fuel injection, catalytic converters, and all the other hardware that'll not only make you a hero with your car buddies, but might not get you banned from the local Greenpeace meeting.
In George Lucas' 1973 cinematic classic, Falfa, played by a young (pre-Star Wars) Harrison Ford, was out to wreak havoc on the town of Modesto, California. He was looking for John Milner and his small-block Chevy-powered '32 Ford deuce coupe. Milner had the fastest car in the valley and Falfa was itching for a showdown. Falfa was the antagonist, running a black '55 with chrome-reverse rims and (truth be told) a big-block Chevy under the scooped hood. He was reckless and wild, going through women and gas in search of street racing glory.
(For you movie trivia buffs, the Falfa '55 in American Graffiti was the same car James Taylor and Dennis Wilson drove cross-country in Two-Lane Blacktop a couple of years earlier.)
But what if the hero was Falfa? Surely, the E-Rod '55 would be more his style than that scary black '55 with the roll bar in it and the skull hanging from the rearview mirror. The E-Rod's white paint (with a hint of green pearl) and metallic green two-tone combo is far less threatening, almost effete. So are its bench seat and eco-friendly color scheme on the interior.
After driving the E-Rod, though, we're pretty sure Milner's '32 would have been toast. Alas, we're getting ahead of ourselves.
I was among a select group of journalists in Michigan recently to drive the E-Rod '55 at GM's historic Milford Proving Grounds (MPG). When the MPG opened in 1924, it was the first facility of its kind in the world, designed and developed specifically to develop and test new automobiles. In this controlled environment (one that can duplicate virtually any street or driving condition imaginable), GM's engineers can test anything from crash-worthiness to handling traits to how well an emergency brake holds on a steep incline. The Milford Proving Grounds are built on 4,000 acres outside of Detroit, house 107 buildings, and have the equivalent of 132 miles of roads. They're home to what is known as "Black Lake" (it's actually called the Vehicle Dynamics Test Area), a 67-acre pad used for testing vehicle dynamics, among other things. While the speed limit on the road we used was 55 mph, it was long, smooth, straight, and often far away from the prying eyes of security-if you know what I mean.
Since its introduction in 2009 at the SEMA show in Las Vegas, the biggest question we keep getting asked is, "Why would anyone want to add all that emissions stuff to their hot rod?" In theory, there are three answers to that: 1. You wouldn't. 2: You live in a state where emissions laws are stringent and/or you need them to legally register your street rod. Or, 3. You actually care and think by building an emissions-legal toy you are doing the right thing by Mother Earth.
Let's face it, we live in a rapidly changing world where environmentalists are gaining power rapidly. If you live in California, the laws are such that if you build a street rod from scratch, you need this stuff just to legally register your car if you are putting LS power in it. For those who are building cars, like an '80s Monte Carlo SS, and want significant horsepower but are bound by strict emissions standards, they need this package to keep from running afoul of the law.
The E-Rod package includes a complete LS3 engine, emissions equipment, and supporting components that enable classic cars to pass California's stringent smog tests. Available through GM dealers, authorized GMPP retailers, and via the GMPP Web site, www.gmperformanceparts.com, the list price for the LS3 E-Rod package is $9,375.
"E-Rod represents a revolution in hot rodding by offering an unprecedented, emissions-legal engine and emissions system that carries approval from the influential California Air Resources Board (CARB)," said Dr. Jamie Meyer, product marketing manager for GM Performance Parts. "We developed this system because it's the right thing to do, but our engineers did not sacrifice the performance that stirs hot rodders in the first place. It is a compromise-free package that delivers great power and efficiency, with the cleaner emissions of a modern vehicle."
The core of the E-Rod package is the LS3 6.2L V-8, rated at 430 hp. Emissions equipment included with the package are the catalytic converters, a fuel tank evaporative emissions canister, and more. GMPP worked closely with CARB and SEMA officials to develop the kit, and secured approval that makes E-Rod-equipped vehicles legal in California and other areas that mirror CARB's recommendations and emissions standards. No other O.E.M. or aftermarket manufacturer offers a comparable, CARB-approved system.
Ultimately, no one knows where all these regulations are headed (but you know it's going to get worse) and E-Rod puts GM Performance Parts way out there ahead of the curve (and its aftermarket competitors). Those who live in non-emissions states, like Florida, may think this is all a big waste of time, but there are millions of hot rodders who will benefit from the E-Rod package and its successors.
So, How's It Drive?
Without Debralee Scott or Cindy Williams by my side, I opened the big white door and slid behind the smaller-than-stock steering wheel. It'd been a long time since I drove a car with a bench seat and column shift, but everything about the E-Rod '55 will seem familiar to the Tri-Five enthusiast. The key is in the stock position; just turn it and the LS3 instantly fires up and settles into an idle. No muss, no fuss, no pumping the gas to set the choke. The LS3 behaves like the stock Corvette engine it is.
The LS3 is backed in this vehicle by a 4L65E automatic transmission and a rear out of an S-10 with 4.10 gears. (A manual trans E-Rod package is in the works, and no transmission is included in the price. After the manual E-Rod package is introduced, it will be followed by LS7 and LSA based E-Rod combos.)
Underhood, you see things you'd never expect to see in a shoebox Chevy-a charcoal canister for fuel emissions, a fuse box, etc. But it all looks so natural. The installation was clean and relatively easy. Nothing a good do-it-yourselfer couldn't accomplish at home.
Pulling the shifter into reverse, I back E-Rod out of the GM Performance Division building at Milford and follow the security truck down to our designated area at the MPG. Along the way, I'm distracted by future GM cars running around in camouflage, and we pass a lot full of Corvettes and Camaros of every stripe-ZR1s, ZO6s, SS F-body, a few '11 Camaro convertibles (all with different back window treatments). The words of GMPD's Mike Copeland ring in my ears: "Just remember: Nothing at the Milford Proving Grounds is ever what it seems." You never know what engine, suspension, transmission, etc., is lurking under a stock-appearing production car.
I'm like a kid in a candy store. The steering feel is terrific-the car has GM's 605-series box. The smaller wood-rim wheel feels a million times better than stock, but I think the center hub and spokes are too reflective. It also seems a little out of character in the 210, maybe because of the bench seat, but it has a nice tactile feel.
Eventually, we pull onto a long, long straight (about 2 miles) that ends at each side with a banked 180-degree turn. We're at one end and security drives off to the other to keep us from being interrupted by errant test cars. (Our other toys on this day include an LS9-powered fourth-gen Camaro, an LSA-motivated '95 Impala SS-can you say '12 Z28?-and a 1LE third-gen F-body with an LSX 454 and six-speed. You can read all about those vehicles in an upcoming issue of Super Chevy.)
Our first order of business-strictly for photo purposes, mind you-was to do some burnouts. Yes, sometimes my job does not suck. Shocking, but these are not difficult to do. After the tires are nice and hot, I line up on the long, seemingly endless straight. I brake with my left foot, imagine Milner's deuce coupe is next to me, then shove the drive-by-wire throttle to the floor.
It spins the tires a hair, but then flat hooks and I'm off like a shot. While the '55 is heavier than the Corvette, it's lighter than a new Camaro SS. At the top of third gear I lift. It's an easy high 12-second machine. I slow down in plenty of time to give an innocent (if not guilty) wave to the security guy. As I drive it around the banking, I'm amazed again at how nice the steering is. The ride and handling are also impressive. Except for the 2-inch drop spindles and Corvette rotors and calipers, the suspension is stock. And in this era of blingy billet wheels, I liked that GM fit the E-Rod '55 with the base six-cylinder '10 Camaro wheels. They look tough.
After a few hours of driving the '55, I came away completely impressed with the E-Rod kit. Despite being hot lapped and floggged by three journalists on this day, it fired up every time and idled as smooth as silk. It honestly felt like a brand new automobile. (If only any of the new passenger cars looked even remotely like this!). It never missed a beat-no hiccups, misses, or sputters. You turn the key and-vroom-it was running.
It's guilt-free hot rodding, albeit at the price of added cost and complexity. If we end up having to drive emissions-friendly toys in the future, it's nice to know they'll behave and perform like this. This is a stark contrast to the uncertainty that faced enthusiasts in the early 1970s, when hot rodders (and the car companies) were scrambling. GM Performance Parts has the answers now.
The E-ROD system components
The E-Rod kit carries PN 19244805 and includes the same, basic LS3 engine that's found in the Camaro SS and Corvette (additional engine choices, including the LS7 and LSA, are planned for future packages). Standard elements of the kit include:
• 6.2-liter LS3 crate engine, rated at 430 hp and 424 lb-ft of torque
• GMPP LS3 engine wiring harness
• GMPP engine control module
• Exhaust manifolds
• Catalytic converters
• Oxygen sensors and sensor bosses
• Fuel tank evaporative emissions canister
• Mass airflow sensor and sensor boss
• Accelerator pedal (for use with the LS3's electronic throttle)
• Air filter
• Instruction manual
In addition to the E-Rod system, the builder will need to source additional components to complete the assembly and get the vehicle running. They include:
• Fuel tank
• Fuel lines (re-circulating or returnless)
• Fuel pump
• Fuel tank vent line from the tank to the evaporative emissions canister
• Pure line from the canister to the engine purge solenoid
• Air induction system that incorporates the mass airflow sensor
• Exhaust system behind the catalytic converters
Additionally, the LS3 engine requires an accessory drive system that is suitable to the vehicle. The instruction manual includes recommendations for the accessory drive kit, as well as the transmission, gear ratios and more.
The E-Rod kit does not include a transmission. GMPP recommends the GM Hydra-matic electronically controlled 4L60-E four-speed automatic, PN 19156260, and transmission controller, PN 12497316.