How to run 9-second quarter-miles in a stock-appearing ’69 Camaro ZL1

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Horsepower Depot

For years I walked through hundreds of car events and heard stories swapped between muscle-car veterans about so-and-so’s Camaro that “used to pull the front wheels on the street” or a car that was “so fast you couldn’t grab a dollar off the dash when I was accelerating.” Having been fortunate enough to drive and experience a fair number of well-restored cars of the era, I always assumed these memories were heavily tinted by rose-colored nostalgia.

Then I watched Horsepower Depot’s 1969 Camaro ZL1 rip off 9-second passes with full, original sheetmetal and factory-correct tires. Surely this thing has something wild going on … But then the owner posted a video telling exactly what he’s done to the this Hugger Orange coupe.

Frankly, I am shocked.

The car campaigns in the FAST series, which is designed for factory-appearing, stock-tire vehicles. In other words, the rulebook is particularly tight compared to that of the NHRA or the American Drag Racing League. The FAST structure contains three classes, with the quickest held to three basic rules: factory tire size, factory-cast engine blocks, and a limited displacement. In other words, if you open this Camaro’s hood, it needs to look as if the year were 1969. That said, the internals of the engine are not subject to restriction. So, despite the factory air cleaner and exhaust manifolds on this ZL1, it cranks out somewhere in the neighborhood of 750 horsepower. The exact details of the engine build remain a mystery—the owner says that the details belong to the engine-builder, and thus the information is not his to share.

The chassis is basic stuff, though. A nice set of front shocks, big brakes hidden behind factory steel wheels, and a bump-steer kit comprise the changes to the front end. The rear is a set of split monoleaf springs, uprated shocks, and an antiroll bar. This suspension setup makes for a car that launches straight and avoids being a total handful at its nearly 150-mph trap speed.

The really fascinating thing about this build is the tires. As pointed out in the video, the Camaro’s shoes are legit Firestone wide-ovals. Horsepower Depot’s team shaves all the tread from a brand-new tire before doing a few smoky burnouts in the driveway, a processes which both softens the rubber and changes the texture from moisture-wicking to race-slick smooth. These Firestones are basically as close as worn as they can get without the cords showing. Another factor in starting-line traction is a timing retard mounted on the brake pedal. When the light goes green, the driver releases the brakes, which starts a timer that retards the ignition timing, reeling it back in as the car goes down the track.

Overall, it’s a super slick setup (ha?) especially considering the car’s simple look. Keep in mind, however, that you or I could go out and buy these parts tomorrow, install them on a car, and never get the results that Horsepower Depot has achieved. The trick here is in the tuning and setup. Props to the team with this Camaro. I thought for sure anyone saying they had a super fast first-gen was merely wearing those rose-colored glasses, but I have to admit that with a careful mix of know-how and just a little modern technology, there is plenty of straight-line speed in old muscle.

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