Project Blackout Gets a Grip (and a New Look!)

Not to be mistaken for any run-of-the-mill soccer mom’s grocery-getter, our 450-horsepower, LS2-powered “Project Blackout” is now packing some serious heat. You might remember from past features that our goal was to be able to propel this big beast down past the traps well within the 12’s. We started by adding some much needed Kooks long-tube headers and a Corsa Touring Exhaust system to free up our LS2’s exhaust. From there it was on to a NOS Progressive nitrous wet-system and a Yank 3,600-stall torque converter to spin a set of Nitto Drag Radials. This would be instrumental in pulling this big tank off the line and propelling it down the straightaway. With our Trailblazer ready for testing, we were very happy to see that 12 second time slip in our hand at the end of the day.

But, alas, our work wasn’t quite done. One key issue we found with our bustling ‘Blazer was its woeful lack of around-the-town traction. The factory rolling stock simply didn’t provide us the bite that we desired and the Nitto Drag Radials, although awesome for drag racing, didn’t quite have the refined ride manners that we knew the owner’s wife would want. Plus, all the horsepower in the world doesn’t amount to a whole heck of a lot if our Super Sport doesn’t look any different from the mid-sized SUVs parked in front of the nearest Starbucks. Frankly, our Trailblazer SS was looking too much like your standard everyday family SUV, and that simply wouldn’t do. Figuring that we were in the market for some much needed gains in the road manners department (reduced road noise, increased wet or dry traction and improved handling), we decided to give our Chevy a new custom look to boot.

We decided it was time for Project Blackout to live up to its name. Falling in line with the current “murdered out” trend of all black cars, we decided on the inkiest black rims we could find. Wishing to retain some semblance of a factory-original machine, as if Chevrolet offered such a package, we found a set of solid-black factory-looking wheels produced by Factory Reproductions that really fit the bill. Wrapping those big rollers were a set ofYokohama ADVAN ST tires. But would these big meats provide us more than just some really handsome looks? We were ready to find out.

Although our Trailblazer could eat up the quarter mile in less than 13 seconds, we just weren’t satisfied looking like every other mid-sized SUV on the road. We wanted to create a look that appeared to be a factory option and not too “blinged” out.

Getting the Right Rolling Stock

While the factory SS wheels are good looking, they are, after all, factory, and who wants to leave well enough alone? Not us, that’s for sure! We did want to look sort of like it could have been a OE option, so we had to get creative with our wheel/tire combo.

We’ve had our eyes on these inky-black replacement Trailblazer SS wheels from Factory Reproductions for some time now. A big hurdle in finding replacement rims for the Trailblazer is trying to get a wheel that fits the car perfectly. Yet, since Factory Reproductions patterns their wheels expressly to the factory OE specs, the problem is completely avoided. Factory Reproductions is out of Chino, California, and not too far from our shop, so we thought we’d pay them a visit.

Opening their doors back in 1998, founders David DeBerry and Doug Heideman got together and realized a massive gap in the OE reproduction wheel marketplace. Seeing an opportunity, the duo produced their first Camaro IROC wheels. Today, they offer 30 different Corvette wheels ranging from the C4s through the C6 platforms; all of the current Dodge LX platform vehicles which includes the Charger, Challenger, now-defunct Magnum wagon and Chrysler 300s; to the Trailblazer SS.

Factory Reproduction offers many options from Domestic to Import to European reproductions in an even-wider variety of finishes. Each wheel goes through a three-coat process which results with the wheel meeting and sometimes exceeding OE standards.

The key to Factory Reproduction’s success is not just re-popping completely factory-original wheels for direct replacement, but to offer these same wheels in a variety of different finishes; be it Gloss Black to Flat Black; Chrome to Competition Gray; to all sorts of body color hues. Depending upon the application, the availability for customization is nearly limitless. Factory Reproduction’s Doug Heideman explained, “All [Factory Reproduction] wheels go through a three-stage painting process: a primer coat, base-color coat and a final clear coat, which meets or exceeds the specifications of the OE manufactured wheels.”

When it came time to pick our replacement rims, we’d like to say it was a tough decision but we’d be lying. For those wanting to live a little more “large,” Factory Reproductions offers a massive 22-inch diameter wheel for the Trailblazer in either Gloss Black, Matte Black, Competition Grey or Chrome finish. The Trailblazer SS of course, has the clearance to handle a larger diameter 22-inch size with no problem, and since the exact offset is already equated, there’s no questions whether the wheel will fit in the fender well or not. While we did consider going up to a 22, we opted to stay conservative and go for the 20-inch rim in Gloss Black to complete the Project “Blackout” look.

We were impressed with the seemingly flawless finish of Factory Reproduction’s Gloss Black wheels and knew they’d make the perfect rim for our “Blackout” project Trailblazer.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

The Yokohama ADVAN STs are designed for high-performance mid-sized SUVs like BMWs, AMGs, SRT8 Jeeps, and of course, the Trailblazer SS. Its large shoulder blocks and low profile is engineered for optimal lateral stability during cornering.

When it came time to find a quality tire to go with the Factory Reproduction wheels, there were many options to choose from. We were leery to go with too low of a profile tire for a couple reasons; first, really low profile tires tend to be too hard, some even pick up the ridges in the road made by the painted lines! Secondly, we wanted to maintain a little bit of driveability with this SUV. Going up driveways and over speed bumps can feel like riding shotgun in a Conestoga wagon when the ride’s too stiff. For these very reasons, we opted for Yokohama’s ADVAN ST tires. The ADVAN STs were designed specifically for today’s higher-performance mid-sized SUVs. Does that sound odd to you? It shouldn’t. Nearly every manufacturer has a hopped-up SUV; Chevrolet, GMC, Cadillac, Jeep, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Lincoln, and even Hyundai.

“Our Yokohama ADVAN ST is specifically-designed to meet the demands of today’s high performance SUV and Sport trucks,” stated Yokohama’s Gregg Vandermark. “Speed and load capable, the ADVAN ST addresses the braking, handling and speed required of the high-end SUVs/Sport Trucks by their owners as only an ultra high-performance tire can. That’s why for the Chevrolet Trailblazer SS project we felt they were the perfect application.”

Much more than just a great-looking high performance SUV-load rated tire, Yokohama’s ADVAN ST series are engineered to maintain all of the luxuries of a…well, luxury SUV (most notably reduced road noise and vibration) while providing gains in traction, tactility, handling prowess and stopping grip. Dancing this line between aggressiveness and street drivability, the Yokohamas are impressively Y-speed rated up to 186 mph while being load capable. That’s right, you can still use your SUV like the truck it’s platform originally was based upon!

The 305/45/20 was a much needed width improvement over our factory 255/50/20s. Next, we need to mount these meats and see how they square up to our nitrous-boosted grocery-getter of doom!

Putting the Shoe on the Right Foot

Since we knew we’d be trial-fitting the new rims and tires ourselves, we hoisted “Blackout” up on some 3 ton rated jack stands and rushed the new rolling stock to our local tire shop to get mounted and balanced. That, and joked about scaring our insurance company by saying we left it in a “bad neighborhood” overnight.

Careful not to mar the glossy finish, we had our big Yokohamas mounted and balanced. Many of today’s muscle cars and trucks come equipped with some pretty decent-looking factory wheels and tires. But what happens when you want to throw, say a 305/45/20, on the back of your ride with a factory 8-inch wide wheel? You go with this!

The W-Shaped multi-directional and circumferential grooves are designed to help evacuate water for a great rubber-to-road grip during wet road conditions. While we typically don’t encounter much precipitation here in Southern California, it’s nice to know of our tires’ capabilities.

Getting the wheels back to the powerTV shop, we didn’t have to do anything more than put some air back in the rear bags to increase the clearance height in the tail to accommodate the taller tire.

Reveling in the Results

Now a completely “murdered out” Trailblazer SS, Project Blackout truly lives up to its namesake. And all of this new rolling hardware isn’t just for looks either. While we weren’t able to make it to the track, we were able to do some “seat of the pants” testing and were pleasantly pleased with the results.

While we don’t condone breaking any traffic laws, we were champing at the bit to get our newly-shoed Trailblazer out on the asphalt. Since we were rolling street tires and not drag slicks, there was really no reason to heat up the rubber before stomping on the gas. With just one good hard hit, we could feel the difference in the seat of our pants. Our Trailblazer leaped from a halt, quickly biting and pulling hard. Did the new Yokohamas provide better traction? You bet they did.

While this was never meant to be a fully-scientific road test, we wanted to get really good first person reactions. Handing the keys over to Blackout’s lawful owner, Eric Schumacher, we let him put the Trailblazer through the paces. Eric vanished for what felt like hours, and came back with an all-too-telltale smile. “This thing handles so much better!” Eric exclaimed. “Seriously, I could barely take it through a hard corner like I can now.”

Funny the difference a good set of good tires makes.

The Yokohamas also delivered in the “driveability” department as well. Familiar with how rough low profile tires can be, the ADVAN STs were quiet and smooth while still being sporty. We weren’t jostled around as we crossed over lanes or up driveways. But the real test was just letting it sit in the parking lot. From every angle imaginable, we were wowed with the mile-deep glossy black rims and the big, broad look of the wider tires. Does “Project Blackout” live up to its name? You bet it does.

Trying our hardest not to go hog wild on city streets, we put our Project Blackout through the wringer. Hard turns, harder stops, and even harder acceleration pulls, our new Yokohama rubber lived up to its promises of improved road manners to a “T.”

Eric went on to promise to take his “murdered out” Super Sport to the track for some much-needed passes down the quarter mile in the near future. “With these new wheels and tires, I’ve gotta see what it’ll 60-foot.” No doubt the wider 305 footprint gripping the asphalt will be a big help.

So, what’s next for Blackout? Eric laughed, “I’ve been thinking about adding heads, a cam and intake.”

Be sure to check out the entire photo gallery.

About the author

Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw is a self-proclaimed "muscle car purist," preferring solid-lifter camshafts and mechanical double-pumpers over computer-controlled fuel injection and force-feeding power-adders. If you like dirt-under-your-fingernails tech and real street driven content, this is your guy.
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