Throughout his racing career, Dale Earnhardt Sr. wasn't much for settling for second best. His Rookie of the Year award and seven NASCAR Winston Cup Championships only solidify the statement. He's also a four-time IROC winner-quite possibly the motivational turn that secured his admiration of the Chevrolet Camaro. Well, that and the fact that, as a teenager, he and his dad built a '67 race Camaro back in 1967. As success came for Dale, so did more Camaros. His competitive nature, on and off the track, played a huge factor in the development of the "Intimidator" SS Camaro. But there was another reason: To build a car that would kick the proverbial rear ends of any late-model Roush Mustang.
"We would sometimes work on our own cars after-hours at the shop," remembers former DEI Race Relations Director, Steve Crisp, "And across the street, the Roush guys would be working on their late-model Mustangs. Every time they would fly by, Kerry Earnhardt, Dale's son, would joke with his dad about how mean those cars were. Well, Dale had been provoked enough and decided he would design a Camaro to beat up on those Mustangs."
As owner of a Chevrolet dealership since July of 1986, Dale always had a vision of one day being able to sell limited edition, upgraded Camaros à la his hero, Don Yenko, did back in the late '60s. With the stock LS1 having plenty of room for additional potency (heads, cam, exhaust), the '00 Camaro was the perfect candidate for the mods. The only thing left to do was to put together the ideal plan for the performance upgrades.
GM's Scott Settlemire, also known as the "F-bod Father," got word of Dale's intentions and put him in touch with Matt Murphy of GMMG Inc., a company known for doing wicked upgrades to the fourth-generation Camaro. Murphy's history goes deep into upgrading the performance and visual aesthetics of late-model Camaros, which made him the "go-to guy" to collaborate with Earnhardt on the Intimidator project. Murphy ran with Earnhardt's performance and visual feeds and put together a Camaro that would enable any high-performance enthusiast to own a late-model hot rod with the reliability and street manners of a daily driver, which could also kick serious ass when necessary.
Per Earnhardt's request, the limited run of 83 '01 Camaros would carry some distinct styling cues of the first-generation Camaro including period-correct SS badges and American Racing's 200S wheels that pay tribute to the classic Trans-Am cars of the era. This winning combination of old-school looks and modern LS horsepower proved that in 2001, a factory hot rod could still be purchased off a dealership's showroom floor-a Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet dealership only-but a dealership nonetheless. It was a parallel reminiscent of purchasing dealer-upgraded Camaros back in the muscle car glory days of the Yenko, Dana, and Baldwin Motion cars-Dale's vision exactly.
Four-time NHRA Pro Stock Champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. and his brother Mike are hard-core second-generation drag racers and sons of legendary drag racer and Jeg's Mail Order Performance owner Jeg Coughlin Sr. Needless to say, the younger Coughlin's know their way around muscle cars, and just so happen to be huge fans of the Earnhardt's-Jr. and Sr.
While taking some time between the NHRA Drag Racing series, the Coughlin brothers made it a point to take a shop tour of Dale Earnhardt Incorporated (DEI) in Mooresville, North Carolina. As luck would have it, their arrival was just one day before the official unveiling of the Intimidator SS Camaro. Steve Crisp offered the Coughlin's a shop tour of the facility. During the special tour, Jeg noticed a garage that had coverings over the windows and inquired with Crisp about the contents of the seemingly "off limits" garage also known as the Deer Head Shop-an exclusive area that isn't part of the normal tour.
Crisp allowed the Coughlin's in and explained that Dale Sr. was about to unveil the Intimidator SS Camaro project the next day. A quick tutorial on the subject and a peek under the car's black cover revealed the Dale Earnhardt-designed 2000 prototype. This instantly grabbed the Coughlin's interest. Enough so that they both laid down deposits on the limited-run hot rods then and there-the first to do so. But instead of ordering car numbers 1 and 2, both drag racers chose their NHRA competition numbers: Mike #28 and Jeg Jr. #25.
As a unique feature, each Intimidator SS would carry Dale Earnhardt's personal signature on the new silver dash face. Unfortunately, only 33 of the gauges were signed before Dale's untimely death at Daytona in 2001. This meant that out of the 83 '01 Intimidator SS Camaros, 51 were left unsigned. Fortunately, having ordered their Camaros early on, both of the Coughlin cars came with the personally autographed dash face. The only difference between Jeg and Mike's Intimidator Camaros: Jeg ordered the T-top and Mike the hardtop. In fact, you could only order your Intimidator SS with two options: T-tops and traction control.
When we arrived to photograph Jeg's car, it only had 316 miles on the clock, so it's safe to say he values the car from the standpoint of collectability. Mike tells us, "My Intimidator SS comes out twice a year: Once during the Daytona 500, and again on Dale Sr.'s birthday."
The Coughlin brothers couldn't be happier with their very special fourth-gens. With a performance-enhanced LS1 that belts out 381 hp, it's easy to understand why.
The GMMG chambered exhaust delivers a wicked tone and reaps the benefits of increased air velocity from the high-flow carbon-fiber airbox lid and black MAF sensor ends.
The six-speed manual transmission is treated to a Dale Earnhardt Short Throw Shifter, while a posi rearend accommodates the 3.73 cogs and ensures the Camaro stays glued to the boulevard even in a moment of unavoidable illicit street behavior. You never know when an unsuspecting Ford Mustang might provoke.
The interior plays home to a race-inspired theme that pays tribute to Dale's NASCAR Winston Cup Monte Carlo SS via the silver-faced dash and white Hurst shifter knob. The seats and floor mats are dressed with the embroidered Intimidator SS logo. While the numbered console plaque provides the car number, the dash plaque indicates the horsepower and torque numbers-a stealthy reminder that this car means business. They're all subtle touches that make no attempt to overpower the roots of the early Camaro's initial design plan.
The exterior reeks of the Intimidator badness with deep, black pigment poured throughout, and a stinger deck stripe amassed in gray for added "sass" on the otherwise ordinary SS hood. It's a direct tribute to Dale's friend, Jon Moss, and the GM prototype ZL1, also adorned in black with a gray hood/deck stripe. To keep the retro theme going, Dale tied in the vintage Trans-Am style of the late '60s, by incorporating the aforementioned 17x9 Magnetallic Gray five-spoke American 200S wheels on all four corners.
Not stopping there, the blacked-out taillight panel gives kudos to the '67-72 SS 396 Camaros. The revised progressive-rate front and rear Eibach springs help the car maintain performance in the corners while playing a prominent factor in the menacing appearance of the 1.5-inch lower ride height.
"While driving this very special Camaro," GMMG's Matt Murphy says, "It's hard not to imagine Dale sitting next to you and saying, 'Well, get on it, HIT IT!' "
If there is any doubt that the Intimidator SS is a force to be reckoned with, this collectible Camaro SS will forever be a "humble" reminder that first place was the only acceptable position for NASCAR's most well-known racer-Dale Earnhardt Sr.
The Intimidator SS Camaro
•85: Dale Earnhardt Intimidator SS Camaros were built.
•1: '00 (prototype owned by Dale Jr. and the only one Dale Sr. ever drove).
•1: '01 prototype.
•83: '01 numbered cars.
•1: '02 (non-numbered, specially built for Kelley Earnhardt).
•33: Total silver-faced dashes were signed by Dale Sr.
•Car numbers with signed dashes: 1-12, 14-28, 46, 50, 52 and two prototypes.
32 signed in black ink and 1 signed in blue ink.
•Both prototypes were T-tops.
•Car Number 13 was held out per Dale Sr. being superstitious.
•Last car is number 83.
•30 deposits were taken before Dale Sr.'s death.
•400 requests were received the week after the accident.
•Intimidator SS #3 is owned by DEI and is believed to have less than 40 miles on the odometer.