Let's cut right to the juicy part: What's it like to drive a Solstice stuffed with a 400-horse, 6.0-liter, LS2 V-8? Imagine the spine-tingling thrill of piloting a nimble sports car with low-end torque in abundance, where too much is just about right; where a subtle stab of the go-pedal induces all the wheelspin you could possibly ask for and more, with tail-out driving at the slightest provocation, then you'll relish this V-8 version of the Pontiac Solstice GT.

With its Mallett LS2 engine conversion, along with a number of enhancements from Mike Jonas of Stainless Steel Brakes (800/448-7722 www.ssbrakes.com), this Solstice is more fun than any car has a right to be. No matter what you want to do, it's ready to be your new best friend. The LS2 Solstice possesses lightning-fast acceleration, the sweetest exhaust note this side of a new GTO, and genuine excitement every time you push your right foot to the firewall.

You want numbers? Mallett's testing [HPP was not present for these tests.-Ed.] produced company claims of 4.4 seconds from 0 to 60 mph. That's two full seconds quicker than a stock Solstice. And it'll run up to 100 mph in less than half the time (10.2 versus 21.0 seconds).

The V-8 Solstice's 0- to 60-mph acceleration figures are comparable to a Corvette's despite the difference in weight between them because the shorter gearing on the Solstice requires an extra shift to get to 60 mph. Its transmission channels torque to the Solstice's independent rearend that features a 3.91:1 ratio. The gears are housed in a rear axle derived from the Cadillac CTS, which was chosen for its excellent performance characteristics and high torque capability. A limited-slip rear differential is available. It uses a pre-loaded, friction clutch-type design and divides power equally between both rear wheels during normal driving conditions, but in low-traction conditions, the differential transfers torque to the wheel with better grip. Not only that, the Solstice is one tail-waggin' puppy, so it takes some finesse to keep it off the wall and headed in a straight line down the strip.

We're not griping, though. This is a real sports car, a wild hair that requires your full attention. You really have to drive the Solstice, and with your inputs, be they steering, braking or acceleration, all become an integrated part of the sensory experience. No autopilot wanted here-that's the real fun of this vehicle.

This type of full-tilt boogie shouldn't come as that big a surprise to high-performance Pontiac readers. Dropping a hot V-8 into a lightweight body is a time-honored and highly successful approach to producing exhilarating performance. Look at the original GTO and Firebird. This two-seater however, is more akin to Shelby's Cobra.

Like the underpowered AC Ace that was infused with 289 Ford power via Carroll Shelby to create the legendary AC Cobra, the Solstice could really use a shot in the arm if blistering straight-line performance is the goal. After all, the 2.4-liter, Ecotec four-banger puts out a modest 177 hp. Although GM has a turbo version of the Solstice in the works as you read last month ("Solstice GXP: A Serious Boost In Perform-ance"), and adding 83 hp will certainly improve acceleration and maintain a balanced package, it's still not 400 hp.

As you can see, Mallett Cars knew that fact all too well. The company saw the opportunity to blend the brute power of the LS2 with the sports car prowess of the Solstice and seized it. Mallett Cars Ltd. (440/243-8550 www.mallettcars.com) was founded in 1997 by racing veterans Chuck and Lance Mallett. They're known for building some of the fastest signature-series C5 Corvettes, along with C6 Corvettes and V Series Cadillacs. With all this firsthand experience breathing on Corvette engines, whattya do next? Stuff one into a Pontiac Solstice, of course.

It's not a simple swap, yet Mallett Cars engineered the transplant as a complete package, and did extensive track and street testing to ensure the car handles better than stock with that big load of LS2 firepower up front. The cars are equipped with Genuine and Official Licensed Products of GM including the OEM catalytic converters for emissions compliance. This package retains stock features such as cruise control, ABS brakes, and all OBD-II diagnostics. Mallett Cars backs the Solstice with a two-year, 24,000-mile warranty, and the package costs $19,995 (see package specifics in the sidebar).

Digging into the actual mechanics of the engine exchange, a couple of aspects helped simplify matters. For one thing, there's sufficient space under the hood, and the stock drivetrain is stout enough (the five-speed manual comes from a Chevy Colorado and the rearend from a Cadillac CTS, as previously stated).

The challenging part is fabricating new engine mounts and a bellhousing that fits the Solstice trans. Even harder is the electronics, since the V-8 has twice as many fuel injector leads as the stock engine. That required a spaghetti-plate full of new wires, and crunching the engine computer with new fuel maps and other tedious programming chores.

With all these mods, you might expect the engine bay to end up looking only slightly better than a sausage factory, but that's not the case. The installation is as sanitary as a clean room for a computer chip designer. You'd think this car had rolled right out of a Pontiac dealer's showroom, rather than the skunkworks at Mallett Cars.

How do the car's specs compare, before and after? With a V-8 in the bay, the welterweight Solstice almost becomes a middleweight, nearly 220 pounds heavier than stock, and about 200 pounds shy of a convertible Corvette.

Obviously with more mass up front, the balance is a tad more nose heavy, so some suspension tweaks are part of the operation; namely, stiffer springs and shocks. Other mechanical alterations include a custom air intake, a LUK Pro Gold clutch assembly, Corsa mufflers, and a larger four-core radiator. Additional option packages offer air conditioning, Penske remote-reservoir shocks, 19-inch custom wheels, Michelin tires, and brakes from Stainless Steel Brakes (see the Mallett Web site for more).

While hot rodders traditionally think about going fast first and stopping later on, that's not the case with the well-sorted package on this particular Solstice. SSBC's Mike Jonas, the owner and builder of this one, bolted on a set of his Tri-Power three-piston calipers at all four wheels. These rims are even bigger than Mallett offers-Budnik 20x9.5 inchers, wrapped with Bridgestone Potenza rubber (245/35ZR20).

The brakes were a needed upgrade, because testing of earlier versions of the V-8 Solstice revealed increased stopping distances and a loss of pedal feel. Though not listed as part of the Standard Package on Mallett's Web site, the SSBC brake upgrade is recommended by the company. Bigger and better binders were not the only mod handled by Mike, an experienced and enthusiastic hands-on builder of a wide range of musclecars, show trucks, and street rods. His Pontiac projects include a '97 Pontiac Firebird Formula, an '02 WS6 Trans Am, a tuner Sunfire, and a couple of customized Vibes, along with a Tiger Gold '65 GTO he lent a hand to ("Yesterday and Today Tigers," Oct. '05 HPP).

Mike heard all the idle comments about the Solstice looking like a "girlie car," but he felt it had the basics of a great machine. All he had to do was give it a tougher look in keeping with the big cojones under the cowl. Drawing on his car-building experience and contacts, Mike added a number of personal touches to differentiate this Solstice from all others. They include blacking out the grilles, the addition of custom, molded-in hood scoops, driving lights, and blinkers up front. A custom spoiler and center exhaust outlets were added out back.

For a final finish on the bodywork, Aero Collision, a local body shop and fabricator, applied a coat of factory white and a skunk stripe in True Blue from House of Kolor. Why the blue-on-white paint scheme? A friend of Mike's owned an early Trans Am with some racing history, and he really liked the color combo of the car. Now Mike hopes to make his own history in this Solstice, with a number of events planned in the coming months.

He feels the Solstice is essentially a current-model Cobra-and it certainly kicks out the rearend like a Shelby. Don't expect to see a rollbar, though, because it won't fit without substantial reworking of the body.

Mike says the chassis is so good on the Solstice, even with the stock engine, that it's more than up to the LS2's prodigious output. Although he's the first to admit the four-cylinder version is underpowered, he says the car handles like a Corvette. "It'll come off a freeway at 80 mph and just suck right into a curve," he says. "It's a damn good-handling package right out of the box." With a V-8 up front, though, "You've got to feather the throttle. It's a tail-wagger for sure. And with the extra weight up front, I'd like some more poundage in the back end." Maybe a battery relocation kit?

But wait, there's more. (Not for long, though, because Mallett plans to produce only 100 cars.) If you want some really stupid speed, go for the 505hp Z06 engine-or better yet, the 600hp supercharged version. Nobody ever told Mallett to bang this drum slowly.

The Mallett V-8 Solstice
(Prices and content per Mallett Web site as of press time)

Standard Package - $19,995 (does not include car)

  • V-8 LS2 engine
  • LUK Pro Gold clutch assembly
  • Mallett custom modified lowered shocks
  • Performance springs
  • Polyurethane rear control arm (A-arm) bushings
  • Polyurethane differential mount bushing
  • Corsa stainless mufflers
  • Custom two-core aluminum radiator
  • Carbon-fiber coil covers, black
  • Mallett body graphics
  • Mallett graphics embroidered on seat headrests
  • Show car detailing
  • Mallett serial number plaque and badging
  • 2-year, 24,000-mile warranty

    Preferred Package - $21,900 (does not include car)
  • Everything in the Standard Package PLUS:
  • Air conditioning (vehicle must have been originally equipped with A/C from factory)

    Loaded Package - $29,995 (does not include car)
  • Everything in the Preferred Package PLUS:
  • Mallett / Penske non-adjustable shocks
  • Big brake upgrade
  • Mallett one-piece forged five-spoke wheels, powdercoated (specify color)
  • Michelin PS II tires P265/35ZR19

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