photos by: the author
Looking Closer at Obscure Performance
Picking a car in which to craft into a competitive piece of machinery is long and formidable. You have your obvious choices; the Corvette, Camaro, Firebird, CTS-V… the list goes on and on. Equipped with incredible performance attributes right from the factory, they seem like natural picks for just about anyone.
However, there are other options that we might be overlooking. In an age where we can build a car in just about any format that we can imagine, modifying a once underwhelming vehicle into something truly remarkable is becoming more and more common.
I wanted to put together a list of five vehicles for my readers this month, to offer some friendly suggestions that may have you consider something a little “out-of-the-box.” Vehicles that offer plenty of potential to the end-user, but many may not even have considered.
Essentially, a stripped down, lengthened and Chevy-badged Pontiac G8, the Caprice PPV was a special-service vehicle only issued to police departments, taxi services and government bureaucracies are a perfect alternative for the pricier G8s that are on the secondhand market. Initially never offered to the public, apart from a few select instances, the Caprice PPVs are now old enough to be hitting the police auction and used car lots all over the country.
Powered by a 3.6L V-6, or much more interestingly, the 362 hp 6-liter L77 that’s equipped with active fuel management and the capability to adapt to just about any LS-related bolt-ion that’s out there for the GEN-IV V-8. We can delve into it further, but we’ll let these two examples prove it here and here.
Saab 9-7x Aero
The often-overlooked rebranded Saab-Ivied version of the Trailblazer SS is one we don’t see too often – anywhere. Packing the same 395 hp LS2 V-8, all-wheel drive system and differentials as its Chevrolet cousin, it’s wonder why we don’t. In fact, it also has the same Nurburgring-tuned suspension, brakes and even the TBSS wheels albeit with Saab-branded center caps.
There are other Saab-centric oddities, too; the counsel-mounted ignition, the various interior trim pieces and so on, that might throw those of you off who might be used to the Trailblazer SS, but mechanically and technically, it’s exactly the same. Ported heads, camshafts, blower systems, turbo kits, etc. that work for the Trailblazer, can be utilized in this Swedish-branded GMT-360, as well as any brake and suspension upgrade that are available out there.
Sitting on the same platform and armed with the same powertrain as your author’s favorite full-sized behemoth of the ’90s, the Impala SS, the Roadmaster is everything you want in the big-body Chevy, just with a classy exterior and comfy couches for seats. OptiSpark notwithstanding, the LT1 under the hood has plenty of potential — or, you can just yank it, swap in an LS and pair it with a 6-speed manual in an effort to have the coolest, homegrown family hauler that pairs as weekend warrior sleeper.
The B-body platform has a whole host of speed parts ready and waiting on the shelves of performance shops all across the country. Suspension upgrades, brake kits, exhaust upgrades and the like are available to the end consumer at a moments notice, and you can totally transform this luxury barge into a true performer.
Pick your poison; turbocharged 4-cylinder or a V-8 swap. Ether way, you’re golden with this little-known rear-wheel drive pocket rocket. A casualty of the 2008 stock market crash and the government bailout of General Motors, you can score the Kappa roadster from either Pontiac or Saturn for not a whole lot of buck.
Weather you pick a GXP for its turbocharged 2.0L LNF engine, boost the base engine’s 2.4L LE5 or thou caution to the wind, and pluck an LS from the yards and install it into a Sky or Solstice. Think modern-day Sunbeam Tiger or Shelby Cobra. Big power and torque in a tiny compact car like this would only mean absolute bliss for your heart, soul and right foot
Chevy Tahoe/Suburban, GMC Yukon/XL and Cadillac Escalade
I have to admit, weight isn’t on the side of these big boys but what lies under the hood certainly is. Whether its 5.3L, 6.0L or 6.2L powered, it’s all LS and all ripe for the picking. I’ve seen some genuinely sick examples over the years, but I’d like to see more.
You can score the 2002-2006 full-sized GM SUVs for a song these days, and you can’t throw a stone in a shopping mall parking lot with hitting six of them. Cheap and plentiful is always a great thing, and it’s exactly the reason why you should pick one of these up. As a bonus, you can still use it everyday to haul the kids to school and your race car to the dragstrip. It’s a win-win.
Rick Seitz is the owner and founder of GMEFI Magazine, and has a true love and passion for all vehicles. When he isn’t tuning, testing, or competing with the brand’s current crop of project vehicles, he’s busy tinkering and planning the next modifications for his own cars.