Leno Camaro – Special Feature
Jay Leno’s twin-turbo V-6 Camaro has production potential, given its lighter weight, better mpg and V-8 power
By the R&T Staff / Photos by Jeff Allen and Marc Urbano
February 4, 2010
We’ve been wondering when we’d see a General Motors response to Ford’s twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6. Getting V-8 power from a V-6 seems right for the times, to say nothing of tough upcoming fuel mileage regs. Leave it to comedian Jay Leno and GM to fire the first shot, which was heard at the SEMA show: Leno’s Camaro, whose twin-turbo 425-bhp 3.6-liter V-6 produces only one horsepower less than the V-8 powered Camaro SS.
Leno explains: “The idea behind the car was that whenever I would read road tests, including Road & Track’s, they liked the V-8 Camaro but thought it plowed a little bit, a little front-end heavy. Everyone seemed to like the handling of the V-6, but the power of the V-8. I thought that in these economic times with insurance costs and all the other stuff, why not do a V-6 with the power of a V-8? That would be a twin-turbo V-6 with 425 horsepower, something that would handle and be a little sportier…more European.
“To those of us of a certain age, the V-8 was always the ultimate, but when you talk with kids today with their 4-cylinder cars…the hopped-up Hondas and Nissans…V-6s are what’s cool to them. I think it’s a generational thing.”
Is Leno fighting a V-8 tradition? He says no, adding: “When hot rodding started it was all 4-cylinder stuff, small engines based on Model Ts and others. Then the Ford flathead V-8 came in and changed everything. With the Camaro we’re going back to our roots, trying to make smaller, more efficient, better-handling packages.”
That plan explains other elements of Leno’s Camaro, like the Brembo 6-piston brakes and the Pedders coil-over lowering kit. The V-6 is boosted to 7 psi by a pair of Turbonetics T-3 turbos huffing through a custom air-to-air intercooler. Both the cooling and exhaust systems have been upgraded, the added power also necessitating a heftier clutch. The hood and front fascia have been opened up, made more aggressive, and the rear exterior brake vents opened.
“My idea was to make a prototype of what I would like to see the next Z28 be,” Leno adds. “When I was a kid, everybody wanted a Hemi ’Cuda, but the best handling one was the 340 with the 4-speed and the three carburetors. It was the one that really handled, was fun to drive and did the Trans-Am racing. Every road test of the era tells you the Hemi engine was great in a straight line, but you plowed in corners and you burned up front brakes like nothing.
“As much as I like the big V-8 cars and certainly have some, it’s fun to have something that’s a little lighter and nimbler, and when you’re not on the turbo you get V-6 mileage.” Adds Leno: “When people made fun of the fact the Model T was so light, Henry Ford used to say, ‘Did you ever see a fat man win a race?’ And it’s true. Why have this big lump of iron if you can get the same horsepower from a V-6?
“People come back and say, ‘Well, you can get 800 horsepower with the V-8 if you put the turbos on it.’ Okay, but at some point you need something that is fun to drive and handles. That was the idea behind this car.” —John Lamm