GM Performance Parts – General Motors at Willow Springs Raceway

VehicleVoice being invited to Willow Springs International Motorsports Park by GM’s Performance Parts Division is almost like Cold War Soviets being invited to Area 51 by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect… but I made sure I brought my camera!

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Willow Springs is a historic track with the first race being held 54 years ago and now recognized by the State of California as an official Point of Historical Interest. The main track is a challenging 2.5-mile long road course with other adjacent facilities like the one rented for our GM event: The Horse Thief Mile.
The Horse Thief Mile is a tight, bare-knuckle course tucked up against the side of a mountain. Most of the track is either burning up the side of the mountain at a steep incline or snapping back on the descent. It offers hairpin turns, a short front straight away and a chance for GM to show us what they’re made of.


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Performance Parts Showcase
Vehicles tweaked and prepped with GM performance parts for the event included a 2004 Pontiac GTO, Chevrolet Trailblazer SS, Chevrolet Cobalt SS, Pontiac Solstice with the Z0K option (now offered as an option on the base 2.4L) and a Pontiac Solstice GXP (2.0L Turbo). The Z0K/Clubsport package on the 2.4L Solstice includes FE3 suspension, a limited slip rear differential and ABS. Believe it or not my favorite vehicle for this track was not the one with the most horsepower. Growing up with a 454 V8 I wanted to love the GTO with the LS7 7.0 V8 (427) and deep gurgling exhaust note, but the car of the day had to be the Pontiac Solstice GXP. It was unbelievable and definitely well suited to gobble up a tight road course.
A Humbling Experience
After driving a Saturn Sky Red Line, (a Pontiac Solstice GXP clone), a few months ago I thought I knew exactly what to expect. But I had not anticipated ‘slicks’, a full roll cage, helmets, or John Heinricy. That’s right, just when you think you’ve got this whole driving thing down John Heinricy, (a distinguished automotive engineer and) winner of 13 SCCA Championships, shows up. It was a humbling experience for me but an amazing testament to GM’s production vehicles and performance parts.
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So let’s buckle up and go for a ride with John
I’ve been on roller coaster rides before but this one took the cake. It was definitely an ‘E-ticket’ ride. We had the track to ourselves but I was still nervous sitting there in the passenger seat. Taking the course at full throttle, 10 yards from turn number one, I kept thinking we were going to skid right off the track and test out the shiny new roll cage. Visions of being medevac-ed out of Willow Springs started playing in my head. But John was behind the wheel and we weren’t about to skid off into the dirt and roll up into a little metal ball upside down.
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Pontiac Solstice GXP
Down into second gear and then into first with my helmet clamoring around the top of the full cage like a pinball machine. We were off around turn number two, hitting the apex and up shifting into second. I knew then that the Solstice GXP was the car to drive at the event. It was very well balanced (felt neutral) and the 2.0L turbo with 260hp pulled you around the track with spirit. When asked what they had done to the car their reply was “Nothing really”. After some further prodding they rattled off the changes that had been made. Other than the full cage, seats, and steering wheel, they had replaced the stock rims and tires, changed brake pads (NOT rotors), and the exhaust. I kept thinking most people could get that done in a few hours… maybe even in their own garage. Wow!
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Going fast and looking good while doing it
GM performance parts division doesn’t just work on production vehicle parts or try and off load a few crate engines. These days they supply everything you need to turn your ride into the car of your dreams. From turning your dad’s 69 Camaro into a take no prisoners, 572 cubic inch, 620 horsepower, fire breathing, rubber laying, rocket ship to helping ‘tuners’ convert their Cobalt into a 241hp, 218 lb. ft. of torque, animal with a GM Performance Parts ‘Stage II Supercharger Upgrade Kit’! From ‘sport pedals’, interior trim kits, and low-rise rear spoiler’s to Cat-back exhaust systems and enormous carbureted big blocks they have what you need to make your GM vehicle move you, both figuratively and literally.
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Reggie Jackson’s ’69 Camaro
General Motors has become so good at supplying the aftermarket with quality products 95% of the really old Fords I see at car shows have some kind of GM performance part on them (mostly GM crate engines). Their secret has been to offer the full spectrum of parts so that once your big block is sitting on your front doorstep you have everything you need to mount it, wire it, cool it and feed it. The performance parts arm of GM now takes vehicles like Reggie Jackson’s ’69 Camaro and rebuilds it in their garage so when you go to dump a crate motor into your old Super Sport you no longer need to fabricate motor mounts to fit or figure out which high rise manifold will work. Chances are, they’ve already built the part, assigned it a part number and offer them over the counter at your local dealer. They’ve taken the guesswork out of it and probably put a little change back in your pocket.
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GM’s Skunk Works
It is great to see a group of people a little less hampered by much of the bureaucracy and obsessed with offering GM production products both options at the dealer and bolt on performance at home. From developing the ZOK option for the 2.4L Pontiac Solstice to offering a ZZ572 crate motor for your 9-second car, the Performance Parts arm of GM packs a punch and they know to use it.
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2004 Pontiac GTO with an LS7 engine

NOTE: There is no Factory ZOK option (as of right now) for the 2.4L Saturn Sky (even though both vehicles are built off of the same platform with many of the same options).
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Front Left Quarter of the 2007 Camaro Convertible Concept (Due out in 2009)

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Word on the Street – 2009 Camaro
The word at the track, (behind the scenes), is that the 2009 Camaro (designed on paper in Michigan, developed in Australia, and produced in Ontario Canada) will have both a V6 and V8 at launch but rumor has it that it will have a larger, more powerful V8 available later down the road. All of the engines stuffed into the new Camaro will be push-rod engines and we are told that they will produce more horsepower than their Ford DOHC counterparts (in the Mustang).
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Picture taken from Rear Right of Camaro convertible concept

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