Some people call my cars the 911s of '69 Camaros," Mark Stielow admits. "It may be true, but I just like the cars. I don't know what else to say."
If you'll grant us a brief digression into the world of European cars for an explanation, he's referring to the fact that in the 50,000,000* years the Porsche 911 has been in production, the basic architecture has remained constant: a horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine mounted in the rear of the car driving the rear wheels. For sure, many changes have been made throughout the decades. Air-cooled engines were replaced with liquid-cooled in 1998, all-wheel-drive versions have come and gone and come back again, the body has been sculpted to look less Volkswagen Buggy, but the flat-six has remained a steady-on constant, mounted all the way back behind the transmission, which is itself located behind the rear wheels. This defies nearly every theory in the books on how to design a properly handling car: With virtually no weight over the steering wheels and a big pendulum of an engine behind the driving wheels, the 911 should launch itself tail first into the nearest ditch with the slightest twitch of the steering wheel. The early turbo cars were notoriously tail happy, too, and Porsche knew it needed to fix that-but the company also knew it'd be pilloried if it were to deviate from the rear engine design. So instead of ditching the architecture, it refined each version to be more poised, balanced, and neutral handling than the preceding model. The current 911s are considered among the best-performing cars available today.
So enough with the Road & Track gibberish-what does Mark Stielow's current Camaro, The Red Devil, have to do with what some consider a glorified VW Beetle? The answer is obvious: It is faster and better handling than the ones that came before. Why is that important? Well, it just is to guys like Mark and (we hope) to most of you: Guys who work on their cars because they aren't content with the way the manufacturers built them. Guys who know there are a few more horsepower lurking somewhere in the engine waiting to be coaxed out with more efficient manifolds or better cam timing. Guys who know that with a little shock and sway bar tuning, they can charge harder into the corners and maintain a higher cornering speed the next time they hit the track. There is room for improvement in any car, and we enjoy the challenge in finding it, whether it is a fullsize Ford sedan (for some of us weirdos here on staff) or a '69 Camaro. Mark just happens to prefer the Camaro.
"I just like them. The size is right, the wheelbase is right. It just feels good to drive," he explains. So why, then, does he choose the '69 over the '67 and '68? "Just aesthetics. I prefer the style."
Whether you're sick to death of '69 Camaros or not, it is impossible to deny that Mark absolutely nailed it with the Red Devil. Look at the way it sits, check out the massive tires stuffed under all four corners and the giant brakes behind the forged wheels. It's simple, clean, and awesome. We dare you to find anything ugly about this car. And as stunning as it is to view, it is even more special to see it in action. It has a 427ci engine and a combination of LS7 and LS9 architecture, and Mark rides a supercharged tidal wave of torque that reels in 10.90 e.t.'s at the dragstrip and tears up road courses and autocrosses at Pro Touring events across the country. Yet it still happily idles at 650 rpm, has comfy seats and air conditioning, and never overheats or leaks a drop of fluid.
As good as the Red Devil looks, its performance is what the car will be noted for. Borrowing from Porsche's engineering handbook, Mark Stielow proves that the more you work with something, the closer you come to perfection.