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The Baddest Camaro On The Planet
The Baddest Camaro On The Planet

Born To Be Wild: The newest Camaro race cars carry on a rich tradition that began half a century ago.

The Camaro has a deep racing heritage that stretches all the way back to the nameplate’s very beginning in 1967. It was in August of that year, at Marlboro Speedway in Maryland, that Mark Donohue chalked up win number one in his Penske Racing-prepared Trans-Am Camaro. The Camaro’s half-century-long legacy continues today with a GT4.R version of Chevy’s sixth-generation pony car. Trying to sort out production-based racing classes is a little bit like trying to drink water with a fork. In a nutshell, GT4 is a classification created by SRO Motorsports Group, a French company that organizes and promotes racing series. The rules governing GT4 allow for relatively few modifications to regular production cars, keeping costs down compared with other pro-level racing classes. After extensive evaluation and on-track testing by SRO and the FIA, a car meeting all the necessary criteria is deemed “homologated” and thus eligible to race in any of the numerous GT4 series and championships around the world. At the present time, more than 20 different cars are GT4 homologated, including models from Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Porsche, Maserati, Mazda, Ford, Nissan, McLaren, and Mercedes. Two of North America’s major road racing series, IMSA’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (CTSC) and Pirelli World Challenge (PWC), have partnered with SRO and adopted the GT4 regulations. Chevrolet’s longtime Camaro racing partner Blackdog Speed Shop in Lincolnshire, Illinois, is running two Camaro GT4.Rs in PWC’s GTS class. Though only the original manufacturer can obtain GT4 homologation and all GT4 homologated cars must start as regular production vehicles, all allowable modifications and race prep can be done by a partner company. For assistance with the GT4.R Camaro design and build GM turned to its longtime race partner Pratt & Miller Engineering (PME), in New Hudson, Michigan. Together, Chevrolet Engineering and PME did all of the GT4.R’s design and engineering work, and PME finished building the homologation/development car last year. That car was extensively tested at various tracks, including Sebring, Roebling Road, and Palm Beach International Raceway with Blackdog Racing’s championship winning hot shoe Lawson Aschenbach doing the bulk of the driving. 

Once the homologation process and on-track testing of the development car was far enough along, assembly of the actual race cars got underway. Camaro bodies in white, built to ZL1 (with the optional 1LE package) specs on the same GM Alpha platform as all sixth-gen Camaros, shipped from the Lansing Grand River Assembly plant to PME. In keeping with GT4 rules, relatively few changes are made to the body structure. The OEM Alpha platform suspension hardware, including the front and rear suspension members, are kept. Per the rules, the stock suspension mounting points are also retained. It’s worth noting that in terms of geometry and strength these factory parts are essentially race-ready to begin with. In a similar vein, the suspension parts are also suitable for road racing in terms of their mass, which is 26 pounds lighter than fifth-gen Camaro suspension members courtesy of extensive lightening holes in the rear steel pieces and use of aluminum for the front ones. The GT4.R racer uses a production steering rack, but it’s the hydraulic rack from the fifth-generation Camaro rather than the ZF variable ratio, electric steering rack found in the sixth-gen car.

One area where the stock suspension is upgraded for the race car is with stronger bearings. Another is the choice of dampers, with Ohlins two-way adjustable coilovers replacing the stock Magnetic Ride Control monotube units. “The Ohlins system is very robust,” reports Camaro GT4 program manager Shawn Meagher. “It offers an excellent combination of stiffness, adjustability, and ease of setup.” 

Brembo supplies brake system components for all of GM’s high-performance cars, and is also the supplier of choice for the GT4.R. At the rear, the race car uses the same four-piston cast-aluminum calipers found on the production ZL1, but the original 365x28mm plain steel rotors are replaced with slotted ones sized slightly smaller at 355 mm. Up front, the stock six-piston cast calipers yield to race-specific six-piston forged monoblock units produced by Brembo. And, as in the rear, the stock front rotors are replaced with slotted ones.

All of the original ZL1 and 1LE body panels are retained with the exception of the doors and front fascia, which are both crafted from carbon composite. The OEM trunk and hood have minor modifications to accommodate rules-required lock-down mechanisms and the trunk has supports welded to its underside for the massive rear wing. Downforce and aerodynamic efficiency are both enhanced courtesy of a carefully designed rear wing, front splitter, and front dive planes. 

ne crucial addition to the body structure is a masterfully crafted and highly effective rollcage. Utilizing the most sophisticated computer-driven tools extant, engineers designed the chrome-moly ’cage to suffer virtually zero deformation even when subjected to extraordinary forces. From the variable wall thickness and arrangement of its structural members to the quality of their welds, it’s meant to be an immovable barrier that protects and encapsulates the driver and prevents anything substantial from intruding into the cockpit.

The super-strong rollcage can be viewed as a crucial part of the inner perimeter of a two-tier safety envelope. An essential element of the outer perimeter is the original body structure, which will, by virtue of its design, materials, and dimensions, deform in order to absorb as much of the energy of impact as possible so as to prevent it from going into the inner perimeter and subsequently reaching the driver. 

Another very important safety feature built into the GT4.R is its driver-side “crash box,” an energy-absorbing structure that attaches to the driver-side rollcage and fills most of the driver-side door cavity when the door is closed. The crash box was jointly developed about 15 years ago for the C5-R Corvette race cars by Tom Gideon, who was then the manager of racing safety for GM, and Pratt & Miller working in conjunction with the Automotive Safety Group at Wayne State University’s College of Engineering.

“The crash box is a very important safety feature of the Camaro,” explains PME vice president Gary Pratt, “and designing it was very challenging. It’s made from a combination of Kevlar, aluminum honeycomb, and carbon fiber and it has to be strong enough to absorb a lot of energy and resist puncture from anything that comes through the driver’s door, but not so strong that it would transmit a significant amount of the impact force. Working with Tom Gideon and Wayne State, we devoted a lot of time to designing the box and then we barrier sled tested it to confirm its effectiveness.” 

Predictably, the inside of the GT4.R is devoid of just about anything that’s not needed. A lightweight, FIA-compliant Racetech seat and Schroth Racing six-point harness secure the driver in place and a Safecraft safety net extending from the rear bulkhead to the dash protects the driver in case of a powerful side impact. A MoTeC C187 Display Logger right above the steering column puts all the critical information ranging from vehicle and engine speed to lap time and oil pressure front and center. The racing-specific steering wheel features numerous buttons and switches to enable immediate control of important functions, including the pit speed regulator, traction control adjustments, line lock, high beam flasher, and the pump that supplies fluid for the driver to drink. A Motorola radio and another set of controls housed in a carbon box is within the driver’s reach atop the transmission tunnel. Among other things, the switches here control ABS adjustment, windshield wipers, headlights, fuel reserve access, and the onboard fire suppression system.

Various electronic components, including a Bosch MS 6.4 engine control unit, MoTeC module, and Motorsports Safety Electronics In-Car Alert Receiver (designed to quickly alert the driver when a yellow-flag condition is initiated by race control), are mounted on the passenger-side floor. An extremely compact and lightweight air-conditioning unit, developed initially for use in military aircraft, is also mounted in the same area. 

Forward thrust for the Camaro GT4.R comes from a 6.2-liter dry-sump LT1 that’s available in the GM Performance Parts catalog (PN 19329997). First introduced in the C7 Corvette in 2014, this engine carries forward the small-block Chevy tradition of great power from a compact, lightweight and reliable package. Normal production components not needed for the race car, such as the continuously variable valve timing and active fuel management systems, are removed. The stock camshaft gets replaced with a new profile better suited to road racing and Clevite H Series rod and main bearings are installed in place of the standard bearings. Electronics techs at the GM Performance Center make the engine loom for each GT4.R engine. The engine hardware is otherwise off-the-shelf stock, including the LT1’s forged steel crank, forged powdered metal rods, hypereutectic aluminum pistons, and rectangular port direct injection heads. The GM Performance Center does all needed assembly and breaks in each engine on a dyno before they are delivered to the race teams.

Engine power goes through a six-speed sequential Xtrac transmission that’s shifted via pneumatic actuators controlled with steering wheel-mounted paddles. A race-spec limited-slip differential also comes from Xtrac. “The Xtrac systems are very reliable,” explains Meagher, “and that’s something that is going to be very attractive to the teams campaigning this car.”  

Blackdog Racing received the first two Camaro GT4.Rs only a week before the season-opening double-header in St. Petersburg, Florida. Although this team has a lot of experience racing both Camaros and Corvettes since 2002, and a lot of experience with all kinds of high-performance car builds courtesy of Blackdog Speed Shop, its high-performance division for street cars, the GT4.R is an all-new car and the crew put in a lot of extra hours familiarizing themselves with its intricacies.

Because Aschenbach was Chevrolet’s lead development driver for the GT4.R, he already had a lot of seat time before getting to St. Pete. That, combined with the Camaro GT4.R’s inherent strengths of great power, excellent balance, and light weight, paid dividends in qualifying when Aschenbach earned pole position with a record-setting time of 1:18.885. But illustrating how competitive PWC GTS class racing is, the top five cars were separated by only 0.950 seconds in qualifying. Blackdog Racing team principal Tony Gaples, who had almost no experiencing with the new car prior to St. Pete, turned a best qualifier of 1:21.328 and started 15th.  

When the weekend was over, Aschenbach had two second-place finishes and Gaples had two seventh-place finishes, with both earning significant points toward the championships they hope to win this year. Equally important, they gained very valuable experience and gathered a wealth of data that will help the team fine-tune the cars going forward.

As of this writing, Blackdog’s next race is at VIR, and Stevenson Motorsports will make their CTSC debut at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. And because the Camaro GT4.R racer is a customer program for Chevrolet, it’s likely we’ll have the pleasure of seeing additional teams running these beautiful cars down the road.

Mustang Monthly - - Independent Rear Suspension in a Ford Mustang
Mustang Monthly - - Independent Rear Suspension in a Ford Mustang

The Mustang’s front and rear suspensions were designed in the early ’60s, based on similar designs from a decade earlier. They worked just fine—back then. The car had crappy bias-ply tires and lack of a really good-handling domestic car to compare it to, but that was a long time ago. By today’s standards, early Mustang suspension is, shall we say, a joke. So much has been learned in the way of suspension design and geometry during the half-century since the first Mustang rolled off the assembly line. Unless you’re doing a concours-level restoration, or for some other reason don’t want to cut on the car, there’s no reason not to convert the suspension to more modern, robust, and far better performing designs from the aftermarket.

Nowadays, many companies offer upgraded suspension parts and kits for early Mustangs. But very few of them give you the option of swapping the rear suspension’s stock leaf spring and solid axle setup for an independent rear suspension (IRS) similar to that of the new 2015-later Mustang. Generally speaking, an IRS handles and rides better than a solid axle, and the coilover design allows a lot more options and tuning for ride height, stiffness, and alignment. Plus, it’s trick, which can be the main calling card for many people,


A previously cloned 1967 Shelby G.T. 350 convertible. “The 1967 Shelby has always been among my favorites, we wanted to take the approach, What would Carroll do if he had all the current engines and suspensions available in 1967, including an independent rear suspension?’ I wanted to keep the iconic body and interior exactly the way Shelby offered it in 1967, but update the drivetrain, suspension, and brakes to modern specs.”

Heidts selected its Pro-G front and rear suspension, which incorporates a new front clip with upper and lower A-arms, coilover shocks, anti-roll bar, and rack-and-pinion steering. Out back, the Pro-G includes the independent rear suspension (IRS) that’s designed with its own tubular cradle, 9-inch center section, coilovers, and inboard brakes.

“This project coincided with the increasing demand for high-performance, pro-touring suspension systems for early-gen Mustangs, It provides superior handling and matches current-model muscle and performance cars. We also wanted it to accommodate the modern and more powerful engines that are now available.” In fact, the front engine cradle and engine mount options can accept virtually all Ford engines, from 289 and 351 Windsors, to the FE and modular-series powerplants, too.

To perform not just the front and rear suspension installations, but also redo the whole car, Heidts commissioned BlackDog Speedshop in Lincolnshire, Illinois, to build the car according to the vision. This story is not meant to be a bolt-by-bolt regurgitation of the installation instructions. It’s more of an overview of what to expect if you’re thinking about installing this suspension on your own car.

And come back next month as we take the finished car to Autobahn, a “country club” road course outside Chicago to thrash it and see how all these fancy parts work.


Blackdog Speed Shop - Dealer of the Year
Blackdog Speed Shop - Dealer of the Year

Blackdog Speed Shop Named 2016 Dealer of the Year by Heidts Hot Rod & Muscle Car Parts!

Las Vegas, NV - Nov. 1, 2016 - Blackdog Speed Shop proudly receives Dealer of the Year Award at SEMA Show 2016 from Heidts Hot Rod and Muscle Car Parts. Blackdog specifies, sells, and installs Heidts chassis and components for our customers vehicles whether for Tri-Five, trucks, or to improve street stability and performance, Blackdog delivers professional results.

Visit our 55 Bel-Air Convertible with 505HP LS-7, 6-speed and Heidts IRS chasiss at SEMA booth 23778 in the Central Hall at Hot Rod Alley.

Revealing the '55 Chevy Bel-Air Convertible, 505HP Custom Cruiser at SEMA 2016

Lincolnshire, IL - October 28, 2016 - One of the most iconic period and drag racing stories of life in the 1960's was George Lucas' movie "American Graffiti", which stands out as one of those films that captures earlier times well remembered. One of the heroic moments in the film is the final drag race between a '32 Ford Deuce Coupe and a '55 Chevy Bel-Air Hard Top (driven by Harrison Ford's character).

Since its introduction to the marketplace, the 1955 second generation Tri-Five Bel-Air was advertised as the "Hot One" in GM's ad campaigns. BlackDog Speed Shop is a custom builder, racing and motorsports shop located in Lincolnshire, IL. For their 2016 SEMA project, the company found a Tri-Five in decent condition and then put the BlackDog Speed team to work.

The SEMA project focused around bringing out the beauty and delivering speed for the Tri-Five platform. Working from the ground up, BlackDog utilized a Heidts PRO-G IRS chassis kit and then had the chassis powder coated to make it pop.

BlackDog replaced the power plant with a Chevrolet Performance LS-7, normally aspirated 7.0L (427 CID) partnered with a 6-speed Tremec transmission.

BlackDog custom work includes a hand-made LS-7 custom intake which matches the body lines of the fenders, set off by die cast 427 fuel injected emblems. Making this black beauty hum is the through-the-rear custom exhaust manufactured by BlackDog and ceramic coated.

Seeing this cruiser under the lights at SEMA, visitors will notice the great attention to detail in both form and beauty. BlackDog updated the dash counsel with a digital dash and added Bonneville G 18" wheels to add to the cruiser image. No cruiser would be complete, however, without a high mirror finish.

"The power and beauty of this Tri-Five convertible is second to none that I've seen, and the depth of the finish really pops on this project," said Gaples.

The big reveal of the '55 BlackDog Bel-Air will begin at SEMA's Hot Rod Alley, in the Central Hall on November 1.

Stop by and visit the Heidts booth# 23778 at SEMA in the Hot Rod Alley - Central Hall to see the       Bel-Air and meet the BlackDog and Heidts teams, or contact us at 847-634-7534

Blackdog Speed Shop Moves Operations to Larger Facility

 Nick Licata Jul 27, 2018

Blackdog Speed Shop announced that the company has moved all of its operations into a larger 60,000-square-foot building. The larger facility was a necessary move for the growing company. The building will be home to the company’s Pirelli World Challenge championship winning race program, as well as expanding the room needed for their custom-car building operation and the company’s performance car dealership. Along with the new space come added capabilities, including an engine building room, a transmission shop, machine shop, and a sound deadening room for the company’s all-wheel Dynojet chassis dyno. The building also features a much larger parts department to stock parts for performance-minded customers.

Blackdog Speed Shop’s new address is 600 Barclay Blvd., in Lincolnshire, Illinois. An open house has been scheduled for September 8th. For more information visit or call (847) 634-7534.


Blackdog Speed Shop is a high-performance, custom-car builder in the northern suburbs of Chicago specializing in ground-up car builds, high-performance upgrades for engines, transmissions, suspensions, and exhausts, including computer and dyno tuning.

Whether you have a modern muscle car, vintage muscle, 1930’s hot rod, or a foreign exotic, you will enjoy the Blackdog experience.


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