Project Lucky 13, our theft-recovery 2013 Chevrolet Camaro SS has finally cleared its throat and roared to life. The LS7 voice box powering this second-chance road-racer has been plumbed, wired and was ready for an exhaust system befitting it’s bruiser past.
We wanted to make sure the exhaust note and accompanying performance would do justice to our project, so we turned to the specialists at Hooker Headers for a cat-back system from their Blackheart line.
“The Hooker Blackheart line was originally intended to be a premium exhaust for late-model applications, but we wanted to do it at a price point that would be competitive, all made here in Bolling Green, Kentucky. The majority of people with these systems run them on street cars, but additionally, the autocross crowd seems to be taking off with these systems. We do have a few drag racers that run our system, too,” introduced Keith Jessee of Hooker.
Choosing The Right Exhaust System
The premium exhaust characteristics added to the overall decision to use the Blackheart system on our Camaro, but the specifics of the performance gains were equally enticing. For a car intended to see road course and autocross track time, like Lucky 13, useable power delivery is far more important than peak power. The engineers at Hooker recognize the needs of specific enthusiast markets and tailor their systems accordingly.
“The autocross crowd likes how the system is more affordable, it offers a good balance between horsepower, torque and ease of installation. We’re not going for that 1-percent of maximum power at one RPM, we’re looking at the torque curve across the rev range. We want useable power,” Jessee explained. Research and development goes beyond the dyno cell though, taking into account the wants and demands expressed throughout automotive culture.
“We have a whole team of Blackheart designers and engineers, they’ll do their research to start off with, and of course they go to car shows and races all the time because they are car guys. They’ll also look at forums, Facebook pages and they they’ll look to see what people want,” he continued.
Installing Our Blackheart System
Since Lucky 13 was gutted before we got it into our shop we didn’t have to contend with any cramped engine bays or disassembly. We did, however, have no shortage of damage control to work through – undoing the thieves’ handywork.
The goal with Lucky 13 from the beginning has been to build a performance handling package, pumped up with power, but still be able to pass California emissions. By swapping an LS7 into the Camaro we needed to retain OEM emission controls so we picked up a set of Z/28 exhaust manifolds (PN 19302762) from Chevrolet Performance as well as a set of take-off catalytic convertors locally so as not to restrict the deep-breathing 427 with stock SS components.
Normally the Hooker Blackheart exhaust steps up from 2-3/4 inch up to 3 inch, but because we went with Z/28 exhaust manifolds and cats, we modified the kit to have a true 3-inch system off the outlet of the catalytic convertors. The Hooker kit comes with a flipped reducer integrated inline that we did not use for our custom application. After a little trimming of the exhaust tubing and welding on a small section to mate to the cats we could proceed as normal. If you have factory SS cats, you can also use the Chevrolet Performance Hookup Kit (PN 23454579) to skip this step.
“The reason they did that is they wanted to step up to 3-inch to increase the flow, but there are also things that change with the sound as you go to a larger diameter pipe. The Hooker guys try to aim for more of a deep, aggressive sound rather than a raspy harsh tone,” Jessee explained.
The first part from the Hooker kit is the X-pipe just downstream from the catalytic convertors. The whole system is as simple as six slip joints, a few clamps, and also reuses the OEM rubber hangers. “We designed the Blackheart systems to be as simple and straight-forward to install as possible,” assured Jessee.
We asked about the decision to include an X-pipe rather than an H-pipe or full true dual system, Jessee replied; “The X-pipe gives you another chance to separate exhaust pulses and even out the pressure on the other end. You also have a change in sound with an X-pipe. An H-pipe sounds different than an X-pipe, and that sounds different than true dual exhausts. If you listen to a car when it has true duals, and then install an X-pipe in it, it almost sounds like the engine is turning faster.”
With the X-pipe installed, we could fit the separate axle-back pipes, again using the pre-fabricated slip-joints and clamps we positioned everything to our liking before tightening everything down.
The final and most important element to the Blackheart system was the mufflers. Like the rest of the system these straight-through mufflers are stainless steel, but feature a polished case. All the Hooker systems are available in a choice of 304 or 409 stainless.
Design-wise it’s clear why the mufflers deliver such an aggressive tone. “They’re really a relatively simple muffler design, it’s essentially a bullet-style muffler with some fiberglass packing in it with polished stainless cases and an embossed Hooker logo. The tips are double-walled for aesthetics,” explained Jessee.
The slash-cut design of the tips echoes the profile of the rear bumper, while the larger diameter and stout muffler design offer aggressive looks.
Impressions and Results
With the Hooker Blackheart system installed on Project Lucky 13, it was time to hear our 5th Gen run. The initial startup with the Hooker system is startling, anyone in the parking lot will turn their head to see what just fired up. As the engine controls calm down and the catalytic convertors light off, the idle returns to a normal rumble.
The idle volume is not offensively loud, rather just enough to enjoy. The Blackheart system definitely preserves the late-model sound profile of the Camaro, no tinny or metallic note is produced unlike so many musclecars of the past.
Under normal driving conditions the Hooker system is assertive, it reminds you it’s there. It is still possible to carry on a conversation, but expect your exhaust to be the baseline of any tunes you might be listening to. Under load and spirited driving the Blackheart exhaust shouts itself as you would expect from any muffler constructed with such a minimalist approach to packing, baffling, or any sort of noise attenuation. Don’t get us wrong, this system is not open-headers-loud by any means, and the sound quality shows the acoustic tuning Hooker engineers sought to design.
Project Lucky 13 put down a solid 473.01 horsepower and 452.51 lb-ft of torque. Both curves offer lots of area under the curve for useable drivability, and the torque curve is as flat as anyone could wish for.
For the future, Hooker is looking into further developments in the Blackheart line, specifically to accommodate dual-mode operation. Gen 6 Camaro and C6 Corvette systems are already available…
“We’re venturing off into some new territory, with our dual-mode systems. A lot of cars have dual-mode from the factory, we’re trying to integrate that into our system. We’re also trying to make it easier to add that into a car that didn’t have it. That will be a new Hooker product.”