The night is warm. The moon is full. The supercharged Camaro shimmers. You drop in bottom first, pull the cloth strips close, and twist the igniter. You jazz the throttle and the engine comes back vibrant, loaded, and ready to slip its lead. There won’t be any music, only the bark of the exhaust and the sonorous, heady, charged rush of the engine as it jags through flesh and bone. You’re not going out to nip beers or grab a bite. The thing in your stomach is beginning to curl its claws. You’ll soon be up on the cam and thinking of nothing else but keeping the car on the road and hacking it as hard as you can.
You know it’s sick and wrong but your name isn’t Nancy and you go on trancelike, the adrenaline beginning to fill every part of you. The runway is long and straight. The launch control, big Pirelli rubber, and Centerforce clutch bring the car out just right, just a whisper of wheelspin and you are very quickly on the way to oblivion. Seconds stream past crazy, but it seems like you’re playing in slow motion. The car is so well contained that there is no urgency, only the resolve to keep the throttle on the mat until it’s over. At the top of Fourth, where all things are equal (1:1 final drive), the Camaro stays die-straight and keeps pulling like it was on fire. You shove the shifter into Fifth and relax the throttle. It didn’t scare you; it transformed you.
Convertible cars have always been annoyingly elastic. Paragons of rigidity, they are not. Without that critical tie-in called the roof, these dudes were simply left to their own devices—vibration, cowl/steering shake, and noise. We remember hammering Second gear in a new third gen and being startled by the sound of both top latches popping loose! Yeah, ragtops were for the slow ride, relaxation, cruisin’ not fightin’. But that was then.
Suffice that the evil has been driven from the fifth-gen Camaro convertible with more than pitchforks and torches. To ready it for open air aggression, the already rigid factory form gets additional reinforcement in the tower-to-tower brace, a transmission support reinforcement brace, an underbody tunnel brace, as well as front and rear underbody V-braces. Additional safety structural reinforcements improve noise and vibration characteristics, while also contributing to the elimination of cowl/steering wheel shake. They include a hydro-formed tube in the A-pillars, an inner reinforcement bracket in the windshield header, a reinforced front hinge pillar, and reinforcements inside the rockers.
All the fortifications and the various folding roof parts add about 260 pounds to the curb weight of an already hefty car (4,116 pounds total, not including the weight of the supercharger, larger rolling stock, and other equipment necessary for the conversion). On the plus side, it does help shift the weight balance rearward slightly and closer to the magic 50/50 split (coupe carries 52/48 bias), so it wasn’t like Hennessey Performance was throwing a fireball into a recalcitrant chassis and hoping for the best.
Performance for the stock raggie is as follows: 0-to-60 in 4.9 seconds, quarter-mile in 13.2 seconds at 109 mph, and lateral acceleration at 0.93g. While these numbers are guaranteed to keep most people very busy, Hennessey’s hop-up goes right for the jugular. As counterpoint, and with no empirical data for the ragtop, the Texas punisher coupe is capable of 3.7 seconds in the short rush to 60, a dragstrip rip of 11.9 at 121 mph, and a skidpad slew of 0.95g. Even the marginally heavier raggie will be more than enough to lift your wig and fling it all the way out to Lubbock.
On the engine dyno, the HPE650 cranks out 655 hp at 6,300 rpm. On the roller, the setup produces 612 hp at 6,000 and 593 lb-ft at 3,960 rpm. We may be a little slow, but it seems that Hennessey’s bullet makes more moxie at the crankshaft than advertised. Ah wonderful, we love under-promise and over-deliver.
The factory LS3 produces 426 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. Hennessey leans on it with an Eaton TVS2300 supercharger system that produces 7-8 psi. It draws air from an HPE intake and feeds LS3 cylinder heads that have been ported, polished, and set with upgraded valvesprings. The HPE camshaft specs are proprietary but its main functions are to shorten the overlap time and keep cylinder pressure from being siphoned off to deliver crisp throttle response and all-around driveability. Fuel is processed through LS9 injectors under the auspice of the HPE engine management calibration. The exhaust is more or less seamless: stainless steel long-tube headers (17/8-inch primaries) merge with custom catalytic converters (from Kook’s or American Racing Headers), crossover pipe, and 3-inch diameter tract. The package comes with a 12/12,000 limited warranty. With so much grunt ready to tear and shred, HPE inserts a Centerforce 12-inch clutch assembly and flywheel. The Tremec TR6060 six-speed sends torque to
In the Cup
View the Hennessey cars as outright mechanical extensions rather than complete full-on conversions (heavy interior changes are not usually included). But the standard Camaro interior is driver-friendly and really needs nothing else to qualify it for such a mission. Aside from the short-throw shifter buried deep in its boot, the interior becomes a subdued mini-billboard for the builder with embellishments that include a serial-numbered dash plate (engine, too), Hennessey embroidered headrests, and premium floor mats.
Bones and Bars
Since the Camaro platform is so well built in the first place, the suspension needn’t be earth shattering. No, but after changing out the original suspension members for KW Variant 1 adjustable coilovers, inserting poly bushings where rubber once was, and paying close attention to unsprung weight, the Camaro is more than ready for 650 hp. Remember, you’re going to drive this piece, not beat the snot out of it every time you turn a corner.
The Summit White was given contrasting hockey stick stripes as well as the CarbonAero body kit, featuring front splitter, rear bumper diffuser, and rocker panels in carbon fiber. Hennessey says that the front aerodynamics begin working at less than 60 mph.
Rollers and Stoppers
The Camaro SS was built with superlative Brembo brakes, 14x4 pistons at the front, and 14.4x4 pistons at the rear that are compatible with the new power regimen. HPE three-piece forgings measure 20x9.5 and 12x10.5, and snuggle against 275/35 and 305/35 Pirelli P-Zero tires. CHP