Quick Spin: FireBreather Camaro
Hollywood movies are chock full of kick-ass superhero cars. There are radical vehicles, like the Batmobile and Mach 5, and then there are the gussied-up street cars like Eleanor, Greased Lightning and Austin Powers' Shaguar. Aside from the extreme styling, most of the mechanized celebrities from Hollywood are only capable of conjuring their supernatural performance on-screen. Step aside Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and make room for FireBreather.
Getting a jump on Jinn, a film due to be released next year by Exxodus Pictures, Classic Design Concepts is introducing its own superhero car. Unlike the aforementioned movie props, relegated to static displays in museums or car shows, the satin-black hero in the upcoming supernatural thriller will make it into limited production and offer enough performance to back up its enhanced persona.
Autoblog caught up with the wickedly-styled Camaro coupe at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance a couple weeks ago. While the venue is hardly an ideal setting for putting any car through its paces, there was plenty of time to take in the FireBreather aura and persuade its supercharged 600-horsepower engine to remove more than a few layers of rubber from the rear tires.
As expected, there were many questions in need of answering. How was it transformed? Who's behind the styling and what's the logic behind the name? Most importantly, what's it like to drive this real-life superhero car? These answers and more, after the jump.
Photos copyright ©2010 Michael Harley / AOL
The FireBreather was penned by Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad, the writer and director of Jinn. To appreciate the vehicle, you have to have a basic understanding of the film. Oversimplifying things, and without spoiling the plot, we can tell you that the movie's human hero (named "Shawn Walker") is tasked with battling the bad guys (called "Jinn"). The Jinn are made of fire. In an effort to battle Jinn, Mr. Walker drives the FireBreather, our charred black four-wheeled protagonist. Of course, the movie's writers played on the blazing combustion theme to come up with the name. First, it represents something that "eats fire." Second, it has a heavy dragon reference. Lastly, there is the obvious Camaro/"Firebird" tie-in.
The FireBreather will never be confused with a standard Chevrolet Camaro. Satin black paint aside, the front fascia is aggressively customized with unique projector-beam headlamps featuring illuminated corona rings (think BMW "angel eyes") and mesh grille inserts on each side of its retro-Firebird beak. There is a power bulge hood, rocker molding extensions and functional side scoops just aft of both doors. Those behind the FireBreather, and most will be, are left staring at a rear fascia with unique lights, lower valance, diffuser and a decklid spoiler.
The interior sports black leather upholstery with red stitching and piano-black trim on the door panels, steering wheel, instrument cluster, dash moldings and console. There are the expected "FireBreather" logos on the steering wheel and floormats, and red ambient lighting bathes the cabin at night.
The FireBreather's evil menace isn't only found in the cosmetics – it's packed under the hood. As if you needed a reminder, the standard Camaro SS boasts a normally-aspirated 6.2-liter V8 rated at 426 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, allowing the showroom stock coupe to run to 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds when the engine is mated to a six-speed manual transmission. The FireBreather, on the other hand, takes those standard mechanicals and packs on an Edelbrock E-Force supercharger system. To open up its airways at both ends, the engineering team bolted on a cold-air induction system and three-inch CAT-back dual exhaust. According to Classic Design Concepts, the company putting this whole thing together in Michigan, the modified Camaro is making 600 hp and 575 lb-ft of torque. And while the standard transmission is a six-speed manual with a Hurst short-throw shifter, Hollywood poseurs can order an automatic transmission without sacrificing any thrust.
The suspension, wheel and tire package has also been upgraded. Eibach Pro-Plus lowering springs and stabilizer bars replace stock underpinnings, while 20-inch alloy wheels with red reflective graphics are bolted to all four corners. The build team chose Pirelli P-Zero Asimmetrico tires for the satin black coupe, staggered 275/40ZR20 up front and 295/40ZR20 at the rear.
From the driver's seat, the engine is loud and raspy – just as you would expect. Idle is perfectly smooth, but there is more than a hint of supercharger whirl if you listen closely. The stock clutch moves easily to the ground, while the transmission takes only a bit of finesse to gently slide into gear. Parked downhill, nosed in against a wall, my first task is to back out of a parking space without rolling forward and bashing-in the concept's nose. Thankfully, the clutch engagement is predictable, smooth and linear. No worries.
The congestion in Carmel-by-the-Sea during the Pebble Beach weekend bears a striking resemblance to Times Square on New Year's Eve. Gridlock on the surface streets forces me to crawl through traffic for nearly 20 minutes, exercising my left leg on the clutch pedal, in search of an open road. Heading east, Carmel Valley Road seems to be the best choice as it heads away from the festivities. The two-lane road is crowded, but moving at a moderate pace. Stopped at a red signal light, the road is finally open on the other side. The last of the traffic clears the intersection, and the light turns green. I bury my right foot.
The tachometer spins wildly and the engine thunders. Out back, the two Pirelli's leave the pavement like drops of water dancing on a hot skillet. The sound emanating from the vehicle is a mechanical mix of supercharger wail, exhaust growl and the rumble of expensive rubber turning into marbles. Unfortunately, forward movement is measured in inches.
The next launch a quarter mile up the road is a bit smoother and quieter (it's my best attempt to keep the surrounding traffic, and law enforcement, on the friendly side). Shifting into second a moment later, I again probe the throttle with a bit of pent up aggression. My inquiry is met, one more time, with the sound of a screaming supercharger, a bellowing exhaust and disintegrating Pirellis. After a few more of these impromptu acceleration tests, each resulting in uncontrolled wheelspin, it's obvious that the FireBreather's 600 ponies need to be treated with respect.
Bestowed with nearly 150 pound-feet more torque than a Nissan GT-R, and saddled with a much less sophisticated suspension system and two fewer driven wheels, the FireBreather has a seriously difficult time putting its power to the ground. The novelty of the relentless burnout may never get old to owners, but it's frustrating to someone trying to gauge acceleration. That said, it will be very interesting to see what numbers the production cars will pull on timed strips with sticky rubber, something Classic Design promises to do very soon.
On a quest for more interesting and less traveled roads, I venture up the Laureles Grade. Whoops. It's also frustratingly chock full of priceless classics thanks to that big Pebble Beach event going on. Disheartened, my handling observations are limited to a few quick switchbacks when the traffic opens a brief gap. Nevertheless, it is obvious that this beast rides stiff. It corners nearly flat, but the suspension tuning delivers rough shudders over imperfections in the road. While normally I'd carp on this type of behavior, it only serves to enhance FireBreather's bad-ass image.
After nearly an hour in the left seat, I've tossed aside all comparisons to other regular production muscle cars like the Mustang, Camaro and Corvette. FireBreather is constructed of steel, aluminum, plastic, rubber and leather, but it isn't a real car. Real cars prefer to be buttoned-up, with the air conditioner whirring as they cruise down the highway. This monster favors the side glass down to accentuate the sound of the engine reverberating off the canyon walls.
Yes, the FireBreather is fun to drive, but with the absence of Jinn, its mission is understandably limited. The price tag of these first 50 examples is expected to be about $85,000 – a lot of coin – but it guarantees the exclusivity of a unique piece of cinematic automotive memorabilia. Look past the cosmetics, and one can justify its price as a unique, muscular piece of born-in-America steel.
Driving back through the heart of congested Carmel, The FireBreather is boastful both audibly and visually – just like most Hollywood types. The boisterous rumble from the FireBreather's exhaust announces its arrival long before it's visible. By the time it rolls through an intersection, people have already stopped, turned around and are craning their necks for the source of the thunder. When the black coupe finally makes its appearance, all you see is smiles. With all the right pageantry, the FireBreather creates its own red-carpet.
[Editor's note: The FireBreather prototype we drove and photographed was the actual vehicle used in the film. This car also ran the 2010 Bullrun Rally in July before ending up in our hands the following month. While the model was mechanically perfect... cosmetically it was a different story.]
Photos copyright ©2010 Michael Harley / AOL
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