You see them pop up from time to time: images of civilian vehicles modified for use in combat, adorned in patinated metal armor with beefy tires crammed into stock wheel wells and soldiers, rebels, or some other kind of combatant standing proudly alongside the vehicle like a shot from behind the scenes in a new action adventure movie.
Recently, this trope has arisen again on social media in the form of a story about a retired Danish special forces officer using a modified 1979 Camaro to “deliver much-needed medicine and supplies to civilians in 1990s war-torn Bosnia.” The images and story suggest that the powerful muscle car saw heavy modification in the form of bulletproofing and other defense technology sourced from the U.S. Air Force, as well as some good old-fashioned tuner modifications seemingly straight out of the 90’s arcade game “Cruisin’ USA.”
Just as many of the comments pointed out, the story and the pictures elicit images of a real-life Mad Max, blasting through Bosnian combat zones, repelling bullets and smashing through barriers with the “mine pusher” mounted on its nose. When you see stuff like this, you can’t help but ask yourself, “man, why don’t we see more guys with souped-up hot rods in combat?” Well, to be honest with you, the answer is simple — and probably disappointing. We don’t see stuff like this in combat because it just wouldn’t really work the way you see in the movies.
There’s a reason you often see heavily modified cars riding in trailers on their way to the track — it’s because the more stress you put on the components of a vehicle’s engine and drive train, the more prone they are to failure. When you’re pushing significantly more power through a component than it was designed to sustain, the longevity of that component is usually dramatically reduced. It’s not enough to make an engine produce more power if you plan on driving the car regularly. The fuel system needs to support it, the transmission needs to withstand it, the rear end (in cars like the Camaro above) needs to survive it, and the drive or CV shafts need to transfer the power to the wheels without compromising the car’s ability to turn (anyone that’s ever tried to back up and turn in a four-wheel drive vehicle with locked diffs can attest that the best way to put power to the wheels isn’t always the best way to steer).
A 200 horsepower shot of “nitro” as explained in the post above (more commonly referred to as nitrous oxide) would have to come in one of a few potential varieties: wet, dry, or direct port injection. It’s worth noting that the 1979 Camaro equipped with a 5.7 liter V8 only came with about 170 horsepower. That car, in perfect showroom condition, ran the quarter mile in more than 17 seconds. As a frame of reference, that means that the Camaro shown above was much slower than a modern Honda Accord even on its best day. Twenty-ish years later and with a “200 shot of Nitro,” that car would still be more likely to break down than win any races. Incorporate armor (which is either too little to prove useful or so burdensome that the suspension of the car shown must have been replaced with something significant to return it to a near-stock ride height). So, in the end, even 200 horsepower worth of nitrous would likely make that Camaro just about as fast as an up-armored Humvee — but with significantly less practical use in a combat zone.
Assuming the nitrous is delivered properly (which means it would likely need to be a “wet” set up that included modification to the fuel system and some sort of engine management, if not direct injection), the engine itself likely wouldn’t survive more than doubling its stock power output two decades after it was built, and even if those old piston rings didn’t just surrender to the pressure, the rest of the drivetrain would also be living on borrowed time. This isn’t to say that you couldn’t just throw a dry nitrous kit at an old Camaro and still drive it every day with a bit of luck, but in a combat zone — where your life depends on your vehicle’s reliability — it’s not the kind of dice rolling you really want to be doing.
The Camaro above has surfaced time and time again on the internet alongside claims of its stealth capabilities, being bulletproof, and outrunning all sorts of trouble. To be honest, I can say with a high degree of certainty just by looking at the pictures that most of these claims are seriously exaggerated or outright nonsense. Oddly, few claims have surfaced about it having a rebuilt bottom end with forged internals or any other supporting modifications that might make it survive all that abuse.
Vehicles that are designed and built for combat are, by their very nature, significantly over-engineered for day-to-day driving. They are designed to be under-stressed so that they can withstand that abuse you’ll subject them to during life or death situations without failing — and then doing it all again the next day without replacing any parts. Civilian sports cars that have been heavily modified to produce more power are, by their very nature, over-stressed. That’s why most of my friends that tool around in hot rods do so with actual tools in their trunk, and why we often replaced complete engines or transmissions in our race cars between races back during my wrench turning days.
Is it possible to make an everyday sports car into something useful in combat? Probably — but it would cost more and be able to do less than the types of vehicles we already see serving those purposes. Armored and armed SUVs, for instance, have already proven capable for private security firms and mounting large weapons on reliable pickup trucks like the Toyota Hilux (commonly referred to as “Technicals”) has become commonplace in many war-torn nations, but there’s a reason we still don’t see souped-up, fire-breathing Mustangs or nitrous injected BMW M3s in combat. Namely that, a low slung sports car dumping out more power than it was ever designed to sustain just isn’t very practical, cost-effective, or useful in places where the roads may not be perfectly flat and clear of debris — and without a pit crew to replace the parts that break as you power through a firefight, you’ll soon be left with nothing but a badass looking paperweight.
A single armored Humvee can cost the U.S. government close to $250,000. If a Corvette with kevlar inserts could do the job better, it would actually represent a significant cost savings for the U.S. tax payer. The problem is — it couldn’t.
And neither could a 40-year-old Camaro.
Image courtesy of Mad Max on Facebook