The Muscle Car Diet

Posted by 4 Comments

Unless you’re talking about your gold stash or possibly that large-mouth bass you just caught, weight is the enemy. Whether on your person, or more importantly on your hot rod, hauling around a bunch of extra pounds will lead to undue stress and lost races. We can live with a little stress, but losing races is just too much for any self-respecting gearhead to endure.

Take our ’69 Camaro track car for example. We’ve been pounding on this car for years now. It’s seen four different engines, three transmissions, two front subframes and two rear suspension systems. With every update the car has gotten faster with better handling – but you know how it is, we want more. And to paraphrase Sir Colin Chapman, founder of sports car icon Lotus, we’re going to increase performance by adding lightness wherever possible.

Back in the day when the factories wanted to lighten up their special models for competition use they used, among other things, lots of aluminum body panels. This led to legendary factory lightweight cars such as the Z11 Impala and Super Duty Pontiacs, among others. Thanks to the enormous popularity of the ’69 Camaro, the aftermarket has produced a number of aluminum body panels that allow us to give our track car the factory lightweight treatment. That’s right – we’re going old school and will shed some pounds by replacing much of our car’s steel sheetmetal with new aluminum components.

So how much weight can we save by putting the Camaro on an aluminum-intensive diet? That’s the question we set out to answer in this article.

First things first: Just what does the car weigh now? We broke out the scales and loaded up the Camaro – the official “before” weight came in at 3193 pounds with no driver and about a half-tank of fuel.

So now we have our starting weight, we need to list the body panels we’ll be changing. In a nutshell, we’ll be swapping everything we can, including:
LH and RH fenders and extensions
Lower front valance panel
Front header panel
Rear deck lid
Front bumper
Rear bumper

We thought it would be informative to actually compare the weights of the steel panel or panels to the aluminum versions individually as well. This way you would know how much weight could be saved by swapping just a hood, or bumpers, etc. So we removed the steel components and weighed each one. Once we had those figures, we then weighed the aluminum panels. Results are listed below.

After we stripped the steel panels from the car, we began bolting on the aluminum. We noticed a couple things right off: First, the panels are very light (shocker!) and pretty thin, so it’s quite easy to bend and warp them! Secondly, it’s going to take quite a bit of work to fit these panels. We suspect this is due to the greater elasticity of the aluminum, which means the dimensions of the panels are slightly different from the steel panels after stamping. This isn’t to say an acceptable fit can’t be had with the panels, but it’s certainly going to take some time to get the gaps and body lines agreeing with one another. Of course, since our car is used pretty much exclusively on the race track, panel fit requirements aren’t as stringent as they would be on a show car or nice street car.

With the new panels in place, we rolled the Camaro back on the scales and were rewarded with a total weight of 3074 pounds. Considering our starting weight of 3193, it looks like we took 119 pounds off the car with the aluminum panels and bumpers. Even more important from the standpoint of vehicle dynamics is that most of this weight was removed from the front of the car. Removing weight from the front improves the front-to-rear weight distribution, which was 55%/45% front/rear when we started.

So we’re pretty happy with the results of the Camaro’s aluminum-intensive diet. Of course, the aluminum body panels are more expensive than their steel counterparts, so whether the weight savings offsets the added expense is something best decided on an individual basis. On a car where saving weight is a priority, such as a drag car or road racer, there’s no doubt taking 100+ pounds off the nose is worth it.

And we’re still not done with our car. Now that the body panels have been replaced, we’re doing a few more things to remove weight such as gutting the doors and removing the inner fenders. (Which surprisingly weigh 12 pounds each!) Our goal is to get the car down to 3000 pounds. And by installing aluminum body panels, we’re well over halfway to our goal.

The Numbers
Starting Weight: 3193 lbs
Ending Weight: 3074 lbs
Total Weight Loss: 119 lbs


Component Weights (in pounds)
Components Steel Aluminum
Hood 59 23
LH Fender w/ext 29 8
RH Fender w/ext 29 8
Valance Panel 11 4
Header Panel 5 2
Front Bumper 7 3
Rear Bumper 10 5
Deck Lid 32 10

YEARONE Part Numbers for Aluminum Components
2″ Cowl Induction Hood
LH Fender with Extension
RH Fender with Extenion
Front Valance
Front Header Panel
Front Bumper
Rear Bumper
Deck Lid

Categories: What's New

4 Responses so far.

  1. Lewis H. Bridges III says:

    Thats nice! Are there any aluminum body panels available for my 1967 pontiac GTO? – Chip

  2. Gerrard Brown says:

    I have a 69 Camaro road racer. Why didn’t you go with carbon fiber body panels? They are very expensive, but if you are going for minimum weight, that seems to be the logical choice. Safety being my #1 priority, I would not trust aluminum panels in a high speed crash. Carbon fiber is stronger than steel. Let me know your thoughts.

  3. Keith Maney says:

    Hey Gerrard, thanks for the comment. We chose aluminum for two reasons: First, it’s a catalog item for us and we hadn’t yet had a chance to play with it. Second, while we have dabbled in carbon fiber on a few cars, using it to such an extent on this project just simply wasn’t in the budget. Too many panels involved! After weighing the car for the article to determine the weight difference, we went back and added some bars in the engine compartment to stiffen the chassis a bit more and also provide additional front-end protection in the event of a mishap. Thanks again, and good luck with your car.

  4. Keith Maney says:

    Thanks Chip. We don’t know of any GTO aluminum body panels currently, nor of any plans for their production at this time. Sorry!

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