Hollywood hates fat. So do hot rods. Hollywood has plastic surgery and liposuction. Hot rods have horsepower and sticky tires. Everyone knows that heavier cars are harder to accelerate, harder to turn, and harder to stop than their lighter-weight counterparts. Even so, throwing more power, tires, and brakes at the problem will only get you so far. For proof, head out to an autocross sometime and watch the late-models try to hang with the Pro Touring muscle cars. Given an equal amount of horsepower, a 3,800-pound fifth-gen Camaro is simply no match for a 3,300-pound first-gen Camaro. Muscle cars putting the hurt on late-models through the corners represent a strange reversal of roles, but when you put similar suspension, tire, and braking technology in a substantially lighter package, you don't need a PhD in physics to figure out what's going to happen. The good news is that making a few simple tweaks here and there can shed even more poundage off your contact patches.
When putting your car on a diet, sometimes the excess weight comes off in huge chunks, and other times it comes off in small bits and pieces. The important thing to keep in mind is that losing a dozen pounds here and another half-dozen there adds up to a huge chunk of mass by the time the weight-loss strategy has been implemented throughout the entire car. Furthermore, where the weight is removed is just as important as the total quantity of weight that's removed. For example, lightweight wheels and rearend components don't just reduce weight; they also reduce unsprung weight. That means it takes less spring rate and shock stiffness to control wheel movement, which equates to improved ride quality and handling. Moreover, lightweight bumpers and hoods pare mass from the extreme front and rear sections of a car, which reduces the polar moment of inertia and makes a chassis easier to rotate. By simply taking a few pointers from our guide, you'll be lighter on your feet in no time.
Aluminum Cylinder Heads
As the single heaviest component in the entire car, the engine is a great place to start when the goal is shedding weight. A quick look through the weight specifications published in the catalogs of various cylinder head manufacturers reveals that a set of iron small-block Chevy heads weighs in the neighborhood of 100-110 pounds, while a pair of aluminum castings weighs 45-50 pounds. Likewise, an iron small-block intake manifold can weigh 40 pounds or more, while an aftermarket aluminum casting cuts that figure down to 15 pounds or less. With the loads of additional cfm in a set of quality aftermarket cylinder heads, that reduction in weight will be complemented by a big boost in horsepower as well.
Unless you have $25,000 to dish out on a project car, chances are it's going to need some replacement sheetmetal. While you're at it, you might as well spend a few extra bucks on some lightweight body panels. Companies like Anvil Auto (888-723-8882, www.AnvilAuto.com) offer carbon-fiber hoods, decklids, inner fenders, bumpers, spoilers, and valence panels for early Camaros, Mustangs, and Novas. To put it lightly, the weight savings are alarming to say the least. According to Anvil, a stock '67 Camaro steel hood checks in at 60 pounds while one of its carbon-fiber hoods cuts that figure down to 12 pounds. For those who need a less exotic alternative to a $1,650 carbon-fiber hood, check out the Summit Racing catalog for lightweight fiberglass hoods and decklids for your muscle car. Furthermore, the sheetmetal gurus at YearOne stock a variety of aluminum bumpers and fenders for many popular muscle cars that weigh up to 60 percent less than the stock steel hardware.