Detroit Speed Built a Killer 803hp 1969 Chevrolet Camaro

Licata didn’t like my first draft. He kicked it back and demanded a rewrite. Punk. Can’t blame the guy, though, because a mere nine words doesn’t make much of a feature story, now does it? The first draft in question simply read: “Too badass for words. Refer to pics. The end.” Granted that journalists have a reputation for being lazy, but laziness had nothing to do with compiling the shortest feature story in the history of mankind. Last we checked, Shakespeare and Hemingway aren’t available for hire anymore, and words can’t adequately describe the experience of seeing Detroit Speed’s latest creation in person.

In an era when Pro Touring cars are all starting to look the same, the Camaro’s satin white paint and body-colored bumpers are just as beautiful as they are ballsy. The contrasting black rollers and ever-so-slightly raked stance only intensify the visual pop. Nevertheless, pics can’t adequately convey the experience, either. The more you learn about all the details and subtle touches that have been integrated into this machine, the more badass it becomes. Suddenly the missing 1,000 words from the first draft seem a heck of a lot more important.

Let’s start with some specs, shall we? Under the custom-sculpted hood sits a supercharged Mast Motorsports LS7 packing 803 horsepower. Channeling the engine’s 706 lb-ft of torque rearward to the Ford 9-inch rearend is a Tremec TKO 600 trans mated to a Centerforce twin-disc clutch. Predictably, the chassis and suspension boast hardware heisted straight out of the DSE warehouse, and that’s a very good thing. The goodies include a DSE front subframe assembly, a QUADRALink rear suspension, subframe connectors, and a mini-tub kit to make room for the behemoth 345mm-wide rear rubber wrapped around 19-inch Rushforth wheels. To counter the serious speed generated by such serious power and grip, Baer six-piston calipers are tasked with squeezing the 14-inch rotors.

Wise guys out there are probably thinking that the DSE Camaro isn’t much different from your typical cookie-cutter, bolt-on wonder. However, there’s a big difference between merely bolting on six-piston calipers and hooking them up to a race-bred Bosch ABS system. Likewise, while the custom body mods may not stand out at first glance, the fabrication work they required are immense. The hood, for instance, is the product of two ’69 Camaro hoods that have been welded together to extend the cowl section. It also incorporates a functional airscoop that also provides additional clearance for the supercharger. Look closely, and you’ll notice that the upper valance panel has been integrated into the hood as well. Popping open the one-piece lid reveals chassis stiffening bars that encompass the engine bay and tie into the main rollcage. The flattened firewall, scalloped inner fenders, functional ram-air induction system, and finned radiator shrouding is all custom as well.

Circling the car a few times gives the impression that while the body retains the essence of a ’69 Camaro, its lines are cleaner and its proportions are tidier. To achieve this effect, DSE extended the rockers and the front corner of the fenders, thus wrapping them into the pinch flange. Furthermore, DSE shaved the driprails and narrowed and tucked the bumpers. Granted that tastefully executed cosmetic changes are always welcome, the Camaro incorporates many functional enhancements as well. Since the stock ’69 Camaro’s faux quarter-panel gills are just plain silly by modern standards, DSE opened them up to help divert air to the brakes. A custom bellypan out back and a custom lower valance and front spoiler (with integrated LEDs) up front smooth out the airflow beneath the car. Moreover, just like a new Corvette, small recesses built into the front of the quarter-panels replace traditional door handles and allow actuating an electric solenoid.

Despite the Camaro’s savage performance potential, its interior is downright luxurious. The dash, center console, and panels were all custom fabricated from aluminum before M&M Hot Rod Interiors covered everything up in leather. Other highlights include Recaro seats, Schroth harnesses, RacePak instrumentation, a Billet Specialties interior, and a custom DSE rollcage and shifter. The list of interior doodads would be plenty impressive if it stopped there, but the DSE Camaro packs every creature comfort in the book: a thumpin’ Sony stereo with Focal speakers, Vintage Air automatic climate control, GPS navigation, Bluetooth, fiber-optic lighting, a backup camera, and four-way power windows.

The end product is a devastatingly wicked creation that conceals its technical sophistication and craftsmanship in a deceivingly subtle yet elegant wrapper. It’s part muscle car, part exotic car, part race car, and 100 percent badass. So what would inspire anyone to build such a machine? “Ever since I watched the movie Better off Dead when I was 10 years old, I’ve always wanted to build a first-gen Camaro someday. The lines on a ’69 Camaro are absolutely beautiful, and like nothing on the road today,” says car owner Angelo Vespi. “Over the years, I’ve owned a ’10 Camaro, an ’09 Challenger, some late-model Corvettes, and a ’14 Shelby GT500. I had to wait a long time to build my first muscle car, and Kyle Tucker and the entire crew at Detroit Speed did a phenomenal job. This car rides and handles so much better than my GT500. The difference is night and day. There is no comparison.”

If building such an extreme muscle car the first time around seems peculiar, it’s because that wasn’t the original plan. “I just wanted a nice Pro Touring car with DSE suspension that I could autocross and drive every day,” Angelo recalls. “As the project progressed and as I saw the caliber of work that DSE performed firsthand, the project snowballed into something much more extreme. We bounced lots of ideas off of each other, but I figured that since no one told Michelangelo how to paint, I’d just let the guys at DSE do their thing. This car isn’t anything like I originally planned. It’s so much better.”

Evidently, we’re not the only ones who think very highly of DSE’s latest Pro Touring beast. It beat out 125 other hot rods to win the 2014 SEMA Battle of the Builders award last November. The competition’s unique scoring system first enlisted select media experts to narrow the field down to 10 finalists, and then had the finalists cast their vote for the winner. In other words, some of the top hot rod builders in the country declared the DSE Camaro to be the best of show.

Like we said about 1,000 words prior, the DSE Camaro is still too badass for words.

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