SEMA 2023: Hammerhead Is Half Muscle Car Half IndyCar

In the quiet town of Westfield, Indiana, there’s a father-son duo that is creating artistry in motion. Their 1973 Pontiac Firebird named Hammerhead is a creation born from the passion and expertise of Russell Cameron and his son Cavan Cameron. Owners of Horizon Motorsports, this dynamic duo has transformed a once-forgotten relic into a jaw-dropping fusion of muscle car prowess and cutting-edge motorsports technology.

From Open Wheels To Wildly One-Off

Russell, a seasoned custom car builder, has dedicated his life to the mechanical artistry of automobiles. His love for all things mechanical, especially muscle cars, has been a constant thread throughout his journey. This passion led him to the racing scene, where he spent a few years in off-road racing and sprint cars from 1983 to 1989 before joining the IndyCar ranks. From 1990 to 2005 Russell was a member of various IndyCar teams as a mechanic and worked his way up into leadership roles. Once Russell retired from IndyCar he amassed what is possibly the largest privately owned stockpile of IndyCar components in the country, specifically, parts used on Champ Car race cars from the early to mid-2000s. More on that detail later.

The inception of Hammerhead can be traced back to the winter of 2020, when Russell and Cavan decided to build a car as an internship project for Cavan’s education. The younger Cameron is a mechanical engineering student at Purdue University, and the Camerons agreed that building a car packed with race car technology would be the perfect project for Cavan to learn what goes into a race car and apply what he was learning in school in a hands-on environment.

Being a fan of classic muscle cars and wanting to build something unique, Russell began looking for a 1970-73 Pontiac Firebird. He came across the car you see here as he was scrolling through eBay one day. The decision to start with something like the second-gen Firebird was twofold. “I like the lines of the ’73 Firebird, but we also needed a car that was fairly wide from the factory,” Russell explains. “To get all of the IndyCar suspension under the body, we knew the final width would be in the 82-inch area, and we didn’t want the body to end up looking overdone or cartoonish. So starting with a wide car like the Firebird helped.”

Building A Car Around A Suspension

What makes Hammerhead truly special is not just its wild aesthetics, but the meticulous engineering that went into its transformation. Beneath the thousands of hours of handmade bodywork and aero you’ll find more IndyCar technology than you could imagine anyone putting into a street-legal muscle car.

Remember that huge inventory of IndyCar parts that Russell has? This Firebird has as many of those components as he and Cavan could work into the build. “We basically designed and built the chassis to use all of the IndyCar suspension and transaxle, and then modified the body however we needed to for it to fit the chassis,” Cavan says.

The chassis is a tubular one-off creation designed and constructed for performance, safety, and ease of maintenance. The entire chassis was finish-welded by Cavan and features a unique way of mounting the engine, torque tube, and Xtrac six-speed sequential gearbox that enables the entire powertrain to be dropped out of the bottom of the chassis as a complete unit. This design feature is important because the engine has been set back 28 inches, almost entirely behind where the firewall is. Because the engine is extremely set back, there are access points inside the cabin, but maintenance and repairs are much easier with the powertrain out of the car.

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You may be wondering why the engine is placed so close to the center of the chassis, and the answer is a simple one: the IndyCar suspension takes up all of the room in the engine bay. When the hood is removed, it’s a bit of a surprise to see the absence of an engine. The upper and lower control arms, steering components, anti-roll bar, and uprights are all the same components you would find on Reynard Champ Cars in the early to mid-2000s. The horizontally-mounted coilovers are Ohlins TT-44 shocks with Hyperco springs, also from the Champ Car parts bin. In the rear of the car are the same Champ Car control arms, uprights, and coilovers.

The rolling stock on Hammerhead is an interesting detail. Originally, Russell and Cavan mounted the 15-inch forged-magnesium Champ Car wheels they had in the warehouse. Although the wheels fit with the IndyCar theme of the build, Hammerhead needed something a bit more modern and aesthetically pleasing. The only issue was the wheels use an IndyCar-specific center-lock design – not something you can just order online or find at your local wheel and tire shop. Forgeline Wheels joined in on the project and built a custom set of its TA3R forged aluminum wheels to fit the IndyCar center-lock dimensions. The TA3R is a three-piece wheel engineered specifically for the load demands of the Trans Am Series TA1 racing class. Hammerhead rolls on large 18×10 wheels in the front and steamroller-sized 18×14 in the rear. Michelin Pilot Sport Legends Competition Slicks are the rubber of choice for fast lap times and breaking records. The car can be brought to an abrupt stop thanks to Brembo six-piston disc brakes at all four corners.

The Power And Aero To Break Records

Under the hood, or more accurately behind where the firewall would normally be, sits a twin-turbo monster LS engine built by Late Model Engines (LME). Based on an aluminum LSR block, the 400 cubic-inch powerplant is filled with high-end components, including a Magnum crankshaft and Enforcer connecting rods from Callies, Diamond pistons, and a custom LME-spec camshaft. A pair of Brodix/LME cylinder heads are topped with one of LME’s billet intake manifolds with twin LSA 90mm throttle bodies. The engine is force-fed air by twin Garrett G35-900 turbos that are mounted at the rear of the car on either side of the Xtrac transaxle. All of the turbo piping and connections are from Vibrant Performance. The LME-built engine is capable of 1,800-plus horsepower and sends all of the power through a Tilton clutch to the paddle-shifted Xtrac transaxle. A Motec M150 PCM system controls the entire car from front to rear, along with collecting loads of data. Tuning of the car is orchestrated by Johnson Tuning of Greenwood, Indiana.

The body modifications by Horizon Motorsports are extensive and nothing short of artistry. The wide body was entirely fabricated out of metal by Russell and Cavan. The aero components made from carbon-fiber and kevlar are also all hand-made by the Camerons. Every exterior modification was performed with ultimate performance in mind and gives Hammerhead the appearance of a street-legal race car, which it is. Inside, the carbon and suede upholstery, Motec dash/data logger, and a full tubular chassis with a roll cage create a cockpit that’s as comfortable as it is race-ready. Safety is paramount, with Hammerhead equipped with all necessary measures to ensure a secure ride.

The name Hammerhead holds sentimental value as Russell’s daughter, Clara, playfully named the car due to its resemblance to a shark when upside down. The journey to completion took two years and a staggering 12,000 hours, but the result is a testament to the Cameron duo’s unwavering commitment to their craft.

Hammerhead made waves during SEMA in the Vibrant Performance booth and stopped people in their tracks to take in the countless details. The Camerons were even approached by representatives from Microsoft to feature their creation in the FORZA video game. Larry Chen, one of the most talented and well-known automotive photographers, had a photoshoot with Hammerhead and chose it as his favorite car at SEMA 2023. The Camerons will have Hammerhead on display in the LME booth at the upcoming Performance Racing Industry Show in Indianapolis from December 7th through the 9th. After that, Cavan will be getting seat time during testing in early 2024 and then it’ll be time to unleash Hammerhead on race tracks across the country. With the amount of engineering and design put into Russell and Cavan’s creation, their goal to break track records seems well within reach.

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Jeremy Nichols

Jeremy loves to go fast, whether that's on two wheels, four wheels, or boating. With a willingness to compete at almost anything, Jeremy shoots competition long-range rifles matches and races road bicycles and enjoys building vehicles for people.
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