Muscle Masterpiece: Modern Tricks Meet Old-School Cool

 

Story By Scott R. Lear • Photos By Kevin Adolf

Pro Touring is a tricky thing to pin down. It’s not a spec formula like you might find in racing, with designated components and predetermined weights and power figures. Nor is it a catch-all–you can’t just slap a Pro Touring moniker on any old machine and expect the world to agree with you. Ultimately, the Pro Touring community knows Pro Touring when it sees it.

The definition has some fluidity and plenty of exceptions, but in broad strokes it’s a classic cool car–usually from muscle or pony car stock, but anything with visual style can work–that’s been comprehensively refined. That means modern go-fast upgrades to the suspension, mechanicals and aerodynamics to keep the car on pace with more recent performance machines in competition. The cherry on top is streetability, as a Pro Touring car features a full interior, quality stereo, and typical creature comforts like heating and air conditioning.

The community points to the “Tri-Tip” 1969 Camaro that GM development engineer Mark Stielow raced in the One Lap of America in 1993 as one of the brightest sparks that lit the fuse for the Pro Touring movement. Gearheads have been tweaking and upgrading their cars for decades, but Mark’s deliberate choice to remove older hardware and outdated tech in lieu of modern bits while simultaneously preserving the classic Camaro shape with above-factory levels of detailing proved both fast and visually exciting. An article about the car in Chevy High performance cemented the term Pro Touring among enthusiasts.

A number of cars followed this basic formula to form a Pro Touring community, and they found a place to really gel online at pro-touring.com as early as 2004. The scene has since blossomed in the information age. The Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational became the front line for competitive Pro Touring builders. A number of companies have acted to meet the movement’s rising demand for parts, and Detroit Speed, Inc., is one of the biggest. Co-founder Kyle Tucker started the company in 2001. Kyle, a former GM chassis engineer, had actually been Mark Stielow’s roommate for a time; we’re guessing they spent more than a few hours talking cars while they were roomies.

In the years since its inception, Detroit Speed has cranked out a variety of iconic Pro Touring machines, from the scene-centric 1960s Camaros and Mustangs to a 1972 Corvette and sedans like a ’63 Chevy II and ’65 Chevelle. To cast an even broader net, however, they’ve started applying their Pro Touring magic to some newer hardware. They brought this 1987 Camaro “DSE-Z” to our Ultimate Track Car Challenge to show what happens when an iconic ’80s boulevard beast gets hit hard with the upgrade stick.

Repeat Performance

To arrive at this beautiful Camaro, Kyle and the Detroit Speed team had to first build another Camaro, almost exactly like this one, and then wreck it badly. Their first third-generation Camaro development mule, dubbed the DSE-Z, was based on a 1987 Camaro 1LE.

“We crashed it–literally the first day of testing in 2016,” remembers Kyle. The majority of the upgrade parts survived the wreck, so he set out to find a replacement body. “All I wanted was a hardtop, a fixed-roof shell,” he says.

Kyle cruised Craigslist and eBay for a while before finding a suitable example in North Carolina. The red paint was faded and chipped, showing every one of its 30 years on the planet. Several deep cracks fragmented the dashboard, interior panels were popping out of place, and the doors and fenders sported dings that seemed more like the aftermath of a baseball bat beatdown than an errant shopping cart.

Rather than simply recreate the previous project, Detroit Speed went to even greater lengths to make DSE-Z 2.0 a visual standout. The car was disassembled to the last nut and bolt, and the bare frame was sanded, straightened and reinforced, while hard points were fabricated to accommodate the planned bolt-on hardware. A rotisserie gave the paint team access to every inch of the bare metal chassis, and they finished the underbody in gray, the suspension and cage in black, and the body in GM Bright Blue Metallic, a period-correct option.

The front of the car was fitted with a stout birdcage frame to serve as a bumper, nose attachment point and, most important, support for the detachable front splitter. There’s a lot of real estate in front of a Camaro’s wheels, so it might as well generate some downforce while it’s out there.

One of the diehard employees at Detroit Speed came across a factory GM fiberglass hood, an option from 1982 to ’84 which is extremely hard to come by today, particularly in good shape. Though it only saves about 10 pounds, the hood is worth plenty as a conversation piece among Chevy nuts, many of whom have never seen one in person. Trackspec louvers help evacuate heat from the engine bay and bleed away lift from the hood at speed.

As you’d expect from a Pro Touring car that’s designed to showcase parts from the Detroit Speed catalog, very little of the original Camaro remains in the DSE-Z, and yet it’s instantly recognizable as a third-gen Camaro. Fat 315mm BFGoodrich Rivals fill out the stock fenders at all four corners, held true by Detroit Speed’s comprehensive suite of suspension upgrades.

“The camber/caster plates on the front of those cars? With minimal budget, you can get a lot better alignment specs,” Kyle explains. “That’s a must. The cars are easy to switch over to Detroit Speed Swivel-Links in the back to get rid of binding and put some power down. With the weight jack kit, you can get rid of the stock springs and shocks, get adjustable ride height and cheap spring options.”

A mighty Mast Motorsports V8 blasts out more than 700 horsepower through a Bowler six-speed at a screaming 8500 rpm, and every millimeter of the car inside and out has been swapped, polished or enhanced. Even the turn signals are now on a dash-mounted chrome toggle switch, and a pair of USB charging ports reside next to the more standard 12-volt adapter. “This one ended up even nicer than the first,” Kyle admits.

Track Record

After the all-too-short debut of its predecessor, the reborn DSE-Z has fared much better. The car won both its class and the overall honors at the Road America leg of the Optima Ultimate Street Car Challenge in October 2018, just a few months after construction was complete.

A glance at the individual event performances gives some sense of what a professionally prepared Pro Touring machine is capable of. In the braking competition, the DSE-Z was bested only by a 2014 Porsche 911 GTS RS; on the autocross, just a handful of Corvettes plus a Viper and a fully prepped Focus RS outran it.

Kyle ran a 2:36.881 around Road America, more than 5 seconds clear of the next car in its class. The Camaro also placed in the top 20 percent of autocross competitors at that series’ big show in Las Vegas, running against modern modified Corvettes and other race-ready hardware.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as smoothly at our own Tire Rack Ultimate Track Car Challenge this past May. Kyle was rusty at Virginia International Raceway and not expecting too much from his own performance, but the engine went south as he was reaching the green flag.

“One of the lift rollers on the lifter came apart,” Kyle explains. “It went into two of the cylinders, destroyed the oil pump–it was a big redo.” Fortunately, Detroit Speed is nothing if not capable of taking a car apart and putting it back together. Just a few months have passed and the Camaro is now back under its own power and ready for the next show at NOLA Motorsports Park with the Ultimate Street Car Association–the new sanctioning body for the Optima Ultimate Street Car Challenge.

Fast Forecast

While the DSE-Z will continue to be a testbed for new products, Kyle’s pretty happy with how it turned out, even if its streetability and jack-of-all-trades nature keep it from absolute expertise in any one field. “If anything, we may de-cam it a bit,” he says. “It’s pretty rowdy on the cams. We give up some time at takeoff, but it’s great on a road course.”

Pro Touring continues to grow as a scene, and it’s reasonable to expect the definition to continue stretching to encompass newer machines like the third-generation Camaro and more. Kyle notes, “I think it’ll always have a pretty strong weighting towards the older cars because there’s a lot of good parts.”

He feels that Pro Touring is ready to welcome machines from the ’80s and even some from the ’90s, as long as they’re fast and hit the nostalgia button. “People think it’s cool to see an older car compete for the top three, even an older car with newer parts.”

MORE ONLINE

Detroit Speed took hundreds of detailed photos of the car during the build process, and they’ve posted the lot of them online. If you’re even a casual fabricator, it’s worth the time to see how the shop pulled off some of the individual component installations so cleanly. Check them out in the Projects section at detroitspeed.com.

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Comments
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infinitenexus
infinitenexus Reader
11/26/19 1:14 p.m.

Yes please.

sjd
sjd New Reader
11/26/19 1:33 p.m.

Probably the most badass 3rd gen F-body ever. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/26/19 2:21 p.m.
sjd said:

Probably the most badass 3rd gen F-body ever. 

2000 Honda Civic Si. 2010 Mazda MX-5. 2015 Honda Civic Si

It pushes all of the buttons. 

_
_ Dork
11/26/19 2:33 p.m.

Going off to search for a third GEN now.

_
_ Dork
11/26/19 2:55 p.m.
Number1Gaza
Number1Gaza New Reader
11/26/19 5:37 p.m.

I love these F bodies, but to see one with the tech to back up the sexy lines, wow what a car.

dj06482
dj06482 UltraDork
11/30/19 6:27 p.m.

Love this one - it's even my favorite color!

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