As you scour the internet and local trader magazines, you begin to feel like you already own your dream ride. Stories of "how cool would it be" become statements of "you just wait 'till" and your once-sought-after parts start to seem like they may not be enough after all. You start thinking about upgrading the motor a little more, maybe adding a new rear gear, and stepping up to some sticky tires. Oh, but that means an upgraded transmission, which isn't so bad because you saw some real good deals online last night. Maybe you could get your buddy to paint it, some really cool color like a new Z06, that would be awesome. And then, like a shining star, you find the right car. You can't sleep the night before, as you can already picture getting started on the build.
Inevitably, about 30 minutes before putting the car on the trailer to take it home, you realize that you don't actually have 50K in the bank. In fact, you barely even have 50 cents. And with the current economy, you surely can't bet on anything these days, let alone a raise (although, I was promised "magazine riches" when I took this job. I guess they come later?). So, what's a guy to do? Pack up and forget about the dream? No. That would be a terrible choice. You have to do what any (ir)responsible adult would do; barter, beg, borrow, and steal. You have to make this work on a budget, because in the words of Stuart Smalley "I'm good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like me." Plus, in this particular case, I literally have to do it, since we already allotted edit room for it!
So, like those before us, we ended up buying the best car we could afford, which happened to be an '01 SS with a salvaged title, no drivetrain, no interior, and three different color body panels. Perfect. Of course, when you buy something like this, you can't really complain and luckily, it was exactly what the seller said it was going to be. We loaded it up (in the pouring rain) and headed home; ready to see where we really stood and start building something special. The question now, with our smaller and more realistic budget was what do we build? We could do another drag build, maybe a budget 10-second street car that could stomp on the local Mustangs as well as drive to work. While certainly affordable and awesome, I needed to go down a different road with this particular SS. Then, one night while browsing the internet I ran across an all too familiar thread involving import car owners bashing on "dumbestics" for having terrible handling and basically being "old piles of junk that still ride like they are on wooden wagon wheels." And with that, its fate was sealed.
Over the course of the next several issues, we will be turning our SS into a total road course domination machine. Our sights are set on a particular Subaru STi, which has been quietly dominating the other office-based domestics at the local autocross. The STi is a fair competitor, as it ships from Japan with a 2.5L turbo boxer motor, variable all-wheel drive, big Brembo brakes, sticky tires, and a nice, driver-friendly cockpit. With it in our sights, we set some goals. The STi Killer, as it is now known, will have to be faster on an autocross course, a road course, and a dragstrip. We will have to get better gas mileage, out brake, and out accelerate it. The STi Killer has to be better in every way, for less than the price of a used 2006 Subaru STi, which as of this writing is $24,690. Not stopping there, we want to lop off the heads of every C5 and C6 Corvette we can find and take all of the BMW M3s and Porsche Turbos with them. It may sound crazy, but we have a solid game plan and one of GM's finest platforms to build from. So, tell your import buddies we're coming for them and they better be ready.
With the clock ticking and our SS finally in the shop, it was time to start tearing it down and get it ready for the track. We decided our first step would be to get our SS looking good, since a multi-colored F-body with no hood and salad shooters doesn't exactly carry the same clout as a freshly painted German sports car. I know what you're thinking, if this a budget car, why not paint it yourself? Well, the answer is simple: we would completely ruin it. I am, what some may call, challenged, when it comes to painting anything. Sure, I went to art school and that should help but, truth be told, I am not capable of spray-painting an emblem, let alone an entire car. Plus, after adding up the costs involved in buying a compressor, paint gun, suit, and mask, then figuring out where to paint it and constructing a somewhat safe spray booth with fans, we would basically break even on cost. Of course, we still needed to do this job under budget and that meant doing the bulk of the prep by ourselves and buying quality supplies at a low price.
That last part used to be difficult to do. Luckily for us enthusiasts, Summit Racing saw the need for an affordable paint system and, in working with quality suppliers, is now able to offer a ton of great choices and accessories. We gave them a call and ordered a ton of product, the crowning jewel of which is an acrylic urethane paint called "Gray Metallic." Summit tells us that the acrylic urethane paints are much more advanced than regular enamel-based paints and offer exceptional durability. These paints are designed to be used as a single stage, but allow the use of a matching urethane clear that will really enhance both the gloss and durability of the basecoat. It didn't take much time on the phone with Summit Racing to convince us and we ended up ordering almost everything we needed right from one place, which saved both time and money.
Supplies in hand, we decided a road-racer needs to have some aggressive looks, so we called up VFN Fiberglass and ordered one of its gorgeous Sunoco hoods, sans bodyline. This hood, which is offered in both pin-on and bolt-on styles, not only looks phenomenal, but it offers a substantial weight savings over our old SS hood. Our next call was to Mark DeLisle of 6 LiterEater Designs, to order one of his slick front splitters and, brand new, dual exhaust rear valance covers. With the splitter, we are hoping to see an increase in front end stabilization, but even if it does nothing, it looks way too awesome not to have. His rear valance will really help set off the rear and provide a nice home for whatever exhaust tips we end up with. To finish off the rear, we called up Steven Woods at Hawks Third Generation, to order a replica SS spoiler and a couple of used mirrors. Finding an OEM spoiler was almost impossible and carried a four-digit price tag, so the sub-$300 SS replica was a no-brainer. With those cosmetics on order, we were ready to get started, until we saw the new tubular front bumper supports offered by Burkhart Chassis. A quick call to Steve Burger was all it took and we had a support on the way. Besides the obvious weight savings over the stock crash bar and foam, this new piece will also serve as a mounting point for future oil coolers and accessories, which would not be possible using the stock piece.
A couple of days later, we had all of our parts in house and it was time to get going. We immediately bolted up the VFN hood and Hawks SS spoiler and we were impressed. The fit and finish was exceptional and the added style really put our SS on the next level. Amazingly, they needed almost no bodywork to fit properly, which is rare for any aftermarket body parts. Our 6LE splitter and DE valance were both excellent and our Burkhart tubular support looked all business. But, we still needed a quality bodyman to help us paint the car and fix some little issues it had. As luck would have it, we happened to meet one when we first bought the car. After a little convincing, Robby Novak of North Deland Auto Body set up a delivery date and gave us an amazing estimate. After seeing some of his past work, we knew he was perfect for the job and we told him we would be there. Follow along with us as we go from a complete mess to a gorgeous Camaro in just a couple of week's worth of work.