First Drive: 2012 Callaway Silverado SC540 SportTruck
Stealth Bomber: Callaway's Supercharged Silverado Hauls Way More Than Grass
While the Callaway name is synonymous with special-edition Corvettes and a host of other optimized products ranging from carbon-fiber components to golf equipment, the brand rarely comes up in the same sentence with pickup trucks. Until now.
Callaway is leveraging its performance image into a whole new arena of vehicles, significantly enhancing a variety of Chevy pickups and SUVs. Why the shift? "It's a Callaway you can drive every day," says Chris Chessnoe, Callaway's program manager for the Corvette, Camaro and SportTruck.
Of course, there's no reason a Callaway Corvette like the 606-horsepower SC606 Grand Sport pictured below can't be a daily driver, but a pickup has advantages in both cabin and cargo capacity for trips to the hardware or grocery store. Yet those duties don't have to be humdrum runs. Stomp the 2012 Callaway Silverado SC540 SportTruck's throttle and you've put the spurs to 540 ferocious horses from its supercharged 6.2-liter V-8. Compare that with the stock output of a Silverado powered by the naturally aspirated 5.3-liter V-8 engine at 315 hp. Note that even though the Callaway SportTruck models all run 7 pounds of boost like the SC606 Grand Sport, the overall power output is somewhat less because the blower case is 1.9 liters instead of 2.3 liters.
Even so, the acceleration on the SC540 SportTruck is transformational: One moment you're cruising along, looking nonchalantly down from your cabin window at exotic, low-profile sports cars. The next, your rig goes ballistic, showing them your tailgate as other drivers stare wide-eyed in disbelief. Getting bested by a pickup just ruined their day, and you're smiling smugly all the way back to the hay barn.
Yet this performance pickup is not some high-strung, temperamental muscletruck. Callaway engineers were able to attain these increased power levels with virtually no reduction in fuel mileage, along with predictable drivability and meeting emissions standards for all 50 states. That sounds like having your cake and eating it, too
The Callaway SportTruck's understated styling treatment preserves its mainstream utility. No pretentious spoilers or gaudy graphics here. Just some tasteful badging and embroidery for a factory flavor -- only better. The only other visual tipoffs indicating its Callaway connections are the carbon-fiber trip pieces and dual exhaust tips, along with upscale rolling stock.
Updated dampers, springs, and anti-roll bars are at the the core of the Callaway truck's suspension upgrades, which are chiefly responsible for delivering improved handling and body dynamics - a particularly challenging task with such massive vehicles. As a part of the suspension system's implementation, the truck's ride height has also been reduced by 2.5 inches at the front and 5 inches at the rear axle, primarily to decrease spring and damper displacement and lower its center of gravity.
Although this predatory stance makes for flatter cornering, it admittedly impedes towing and hauling capabilities. For those who require a rig that can handle a trailer and other pragmatic applications, a 4WD version based on a 2500HD Silverado with a stock ride height is available as well.
Indeed, Chessnoe points out that well-heeled ranchers like the idea of a street machine disguised as a work truck, so they can classify it as "farm equipment" on their tax returns. We can just imagine the excuses for dropping the hammer: "Hey Ma, I'm heading out to the north 40 to check on the herd in my Callaway." (And of course you'd have to lay down some rubber on a backcountry road on the way there.)
The SportTruck's restrained, conservative image has been company founder Reeves Callaway's mindset right from the get-go. It all started back in the early 1970s, when the musclecar era was running out of steam. Due to the energy crisis, along with safety and environmental issues, engines dropped in power output and were further strangled by rudimentary smog-control systems.
Dismayed by the emasculation of American performance, Callaway drew on his background as a champion SCCA racer and instructor at the Bondurant School to enhance the performance of a BMW 320i. Working out of a garage behind his home in Old Lyme, Connecticut, he developed a prototype turbocharger for the car.
An automotive journalist praised the boosted horsepower, but inaccurately implied that Callaway was already in production with turbo kits. In reality, though, Reeves had just the one prototype unit. When the orders started coming in, he established a production facility right in his garage -- thanks to a little help from some friends -- in order to meet the demand.
That Connecticut Yankee "can-do" attitude still permeates the company's corporate philosophy today, with an emphasis on integrated engineering, refined aesthetics, and technological innovation. The seed that Callaway planted in his garage has grown into a tree with several branches that include performance and competition engineering for automotive manufacturers, along with special expertise in advanced composites. (And the Callaway conglomerate has also extended into non-automotive fields such as golfing products, horticulture, winemaking, and other pursuits.)
Yet for automotive enthusiasts, it's Callaway's impressive pedigree of enhanced, special-edition Corvettes that capture the spotlight. "Corvettes are still are core market," notes Callaway's commercial manager Mike Vendetto. "But right now we have more trucks and SUVs in production, probably due to pent-up demand from our dealers."
Whatever the type of vehicle, Reeves eschews the description "tuner" as if it implies some sort of feverish boy-racer's "wings and things" restyling efforts in a backyard garage. No, this diversified, well-established company maintains that its cars and trucks are as far from tuners as stealth fighters are from toy rockets.
Taking a closer look at the specifics to justify this assertion, the Eaton Roots-style supercharger features a smaller, subdued-looking black powder-coated housing. Internally, however, it's a much more sophisticated unit than those bulky, bad-boy blowers bristling through the hoods of street rods and musclecars.
Even though the Roots type of supercharger has been around for better than a century (it initially was used to circulate air in mineshafts), Eaton's latest version is greatly advanced, with Twin Vortices Series (TVS) rotors. It's used on the ZR-1 Corvette and many other applications.
How does this new setup differ from those old Jimmy puffers? There's more twist (160 degrees) in the four-lobe rotor configuration, along with higher-flow ports, both of which enhance air-handling characteristics without increasing the overall size of the unit. In other words, it's a more compact design with less weight, yet provides greater output.
To keep up with the increased volume of airflow, Callaway engineers inserted injectors that pump out more fuel. And a patent-pending, liquid-to-air intercooler, integrated with the intake manifold base, ensures a lower temps for more air density and thus additional fuel combustion, all of which means what Callaway vehicles are best known for: power.
To handle this increased forward momentum, options on this particular package include nine-spoke alloy rims and BFGoodrich rubber, plus Le Mans GT brakes (sourced from a respected performance specialist). And all these performance goodies are covered by a standard, three year/36,000 miles limited warranty (an extended five year/100,000 mile warranty is available as well).
If either the 1500 or 2500 pickups aren't your preference, SUV versions are being delivered as well, such as on the Suburban, Tahoe, and Avalanche (which serves double duty as both a pickup and SUV, if you prefer having both configurations). The lineup offers outputs ranging from 450 to 540 hp (depending on engine displacement), with an up-charge package price starting at $17K.
Rather than selling vehicles factory direct, Callaway works closely with Chevrolet dealers as outlets (30 nationwide as of this writing, with more on the way). That approach simplifies service, and gives dealerships something extra-special to display in their showrooms. We met up with this Callaway SportTruck during a cross-country jaunt to a number of prospective dealers from the Southeast to the Northwest, through the Rockies and back to SoCal, and this well-muscled pickup handled the long-haul route without a hiccup. Not all sport trucks can make that sort of claim, but it's right keeping in with Callaway's company DNA.
|2012 Callaway Silverado SC540|
|BASE PRICE||$23,000 (regular cab, standard bed Silverado WT with the 5.3L engine option)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$40,000 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front engine, RWD, 4 pass, 2+2-, 4-door truck|
|ENGINE||6.2L/540-hp/522-lb-ft OHV 16-valve supercharged V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||N/A|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||230.2 x 80 x 70 in (mfr est)|
|0-60 MPH||5.0 sec (mfr est)|
|QUARTER MILE||13.4 s @ 103 mph (mfr est)|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||121 feet (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||N/A|