Many enthusiasts are bitten by the speed bug inadvertently. Maybe it’s a neighbor who has a car with a serious exhaust rumble that catches the attention, maybe a gearhead family member makes the introduction to horsepower, or, as in the case of Pennsylvania’s Michael Serrano, a ride in a friend’s Fox-body Mustang became the spark which set his life aflame with a passion for speed and performance.
“Racing that around town was all I needed to go out and get my own,” says Serrano.
But unlike many racers who pick one vehicle brand and stick with it for life, Serrano has no such allegiance. I met him for the first time in January at the Dyno Wars IV event put on by our friends at Fonse Performance, where he waited until the very last run of the night to claim the title of Dyno Wars Champion for 2017.
On that day, Serrano’s Camaro, which boasts a turbocharged big-block running on gasoline (more on that later) bested some of the stiffest competition the Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Delaware tristate area has to offer by laying down a seriously-impressive 1,781 horsepower and 1,622 lb-ft of torque on the notoriously-tight Fonse Performance chassis dynamometer. Most impressively, this is Serrano’s second time as the champion of Dyno Wars; he also took home that title in 2014, although the engine setup at that time was quite different, featuring a blow-through carbureted configuration rather than the fuel-injected setup the Camaro wears today.
Serrano, who says he is “universally despised” among his local racing peers, built this car with one purpose in mind: to be the hands-down, fastest legitimate street car in the Northeastern United States, and his wins at Dyno Wars help to cement that concept.
But there’s more to the story. Before you think “oh, it’s just a dyno queen”, Serrano also puts this car on the dragstrip regularly, competing in Cecil County Dragway’s Tri State Street Car Challenge, which requires that the vehicle be street-legal, with tags and insurance, and – get this – must be driven into the gate at the track. Not only that, but if someone wants to question a car’s legality, they can request a road trip challenge that requires the driver in question actually take the car out on the road and prove its worth.
“In 2016 we accomplished that task, winning the Cecil County Tri State trophy three times,” says Serrano.
“There was a lot of stiff competition from some very fast cars. We were definitely an outsider breaking into the good old boys network there, and they typically frown upon others who say they are going to drag your ass and then do it. But all in all we made some new friendships and all the ribbing is in the spirit of competition and egos, as it usually is when it comes to fast cars.”
The Camaro, which took Serrano and many friends approximately three years to build, wasn’t even his project at its outset.
“This car was originally a very good friend of mine’s project car. At that time it was only a V6 roller, but after he bought a K-member and cage kit for it, I think he realized how long and expensive it would be to build,” Serrano explains.
“I was originally building a Mustang and once I saw the black Camaro I knew this was the car I wanted to build. We immediately made a deal and the project kicked off. I did not have much help on the design of the combination other than people telling me a single turbo on a big-block Chevrolet engine wouldn’t work, and I feel like we have proven that thought process wrong.”
Despite nearly two decades of experience ‘playing with cars’, Serrano struggled with this build quite a bit during the process, as nobody was building this type of one-off street car at the time for him to rely on or seek advice from; the car comes in at a portly 3,900 pounds, which is a huge disadvantage at the track and makes chassis tuning quite the challenge. Assistance during the build process came from Rubright Racing and Frank Soldridge of PSI Speed Inc., both of whom provided what assistance they could to get Serrano up and running.
The Wolfe Racecraft chromoly roll cage was installed by Serrano’s longtime frenemy, Jace Nester. The two have a healthy love-hate relationship which was on display on the day I shot these photos; Nester’s twin-turbo LS-transplanted Mustang can be seen in the below photo, and will be featured here on Front Street soon in a feature of its own. Listening to them talk smack at one another for a couple of hours on a Sunday morning was hilarious, and the rivalry between them drives each to be a better racer.
The engine is based around a Dart block and Brodix BB2 cylinder heads machined by Lorenzo D’Amore and the team at Lorenzo’s Fast Flow Cylinder Heads, displaces 565 cubic inches through the use of a Callies Magnum crankshaft, Manley billet connecting rods, and Manley forged pistons.
A custom Comp Cams camshaft with lift figures of .780-inch on the intake side and .750-inch on the exhaust combines with 260 degrees of intake duration and 268 degrees of exhaust duration to keep the engine in its happy place. Jesel rocker arms and Crower Xtreme valve springs manage the airflow, which is inhaled through an Edelbrock Super Victor intake manifold and Wilson Manifolds intake elbow.
The real money is made by the 118mm turbocharger from Precision Turbo & Engine, and the entire works is controlled by a BigStuff3 engine management system tuned by Cimino. Even more impressive is that this car makes so much power through a $250 set of street rod block-hugger headers designed to maximize clearance in the tight confines of the Camaro’s engine bay – there are no custom $3,000 stainless headers here.
A Trans Specialties Powerglide couples with a PTC Titan torque converter to send the power to the Moser Engineering nine-inch Ford housing. In order to handle the power, Serrano chose a Strange Engineering aluminum through-bolt case. Moser’s 40-spline gun-drilled, star-flanged axles receive the power from a set of 3.90:1 gears and transmit it to the ground through a set of double-beadlocked 15×10 Weld RT-S wheels and Mickey Thompson 275/60/15 ET Radial Pro tires. Up front, a set of 17×4.5-inch Weld Alumastars complete the look.
The engine combination was built to make big power, but getting that power to the ground at the track on a radial tire, proved to be another challenge in itself. Amazingly, this car still relies on a stock-style torque arm from BMR Suspension to go with the TRZ Motorsports antiroll bar/Panhard bar combination in the rear of the car, with BMR’s stock-style replacement parts in the front.
But without the personal experience required to sort the chassis tuning out on his own, Serrano made the mistake of looking for advice from a number of people who didn’t help the situation any – until he turned to one champion in particular.
“I had more chassis issues with the car than tuning issues for the most part. Everyone telling me I needed this or that made the car very inconsistent. I finally talked to Ron Rhodes [of X275 fame] and he told me I needed a real strut and shock on the car,” says Serrano.
With that in mind, he went out and purchased a set of Santhuff struts and shocks, and finally was able to put the power to the ground and make the chassis work consistently. Once that became the norm, harnessing the power became the challenge, and he turned back to Soldridge and local tuner Dominic Cimino of DC Performance, who was working the keys on the laptop at Dyno Wars.
“Both of them had a huge hand in getting the car to become consistent, and taught me a lot about what it really means to fine tune a car like this. It’s one thing to build it, but it’s another to have the attention to detail to make it run,” he says.
“The most challenging part of the build was not getting discouraged with setbacks and failures. There were plenty of mistakes which resulted in big bucks to fix, but not quitting is something I am especially proud of. I have to thank my close friends for that – and my wife Lisa for putting up with me,” sums up Serrano.
He’s not done, either, as “the gorilla is coming,” he says. I can only wonder at the meaning of that statement, but I have a distinct feeling it’s bad for the competition.