Car Reviews First Tests

Drift This! We Test the “Donk’n Donuts” 1995 Chevrolet Caprice Classic

Yes, we tested it. No, this isn’t an April Fools’ story

Yes, we tested it. No, this isn’t an April Fools’ story

“Do you think it’s safe to test?”

Stoic testing director Kim Reynolds looked even more serious than normal as he loomed over my desk.

“Kim,” I responded, “I think they drifted it, for what I imagine was at least an hour of filming. It didn’t break—or tip over. We can do our routine tests.”

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But he persisted, pondering, as Kim does, about the physics involved with stopping from 60 mph a 4,300-pound (1,950 kg) car with 26-inch wheels (that’s a lot of rotational mass) or sending it down a dragstrip for the first time in its existence (concerned it could break U-joints or the driveshaft trying to get those giant wheels rotating and the car moving from a standstill). Then there’s the part where Kim’s noggin really starts buzzing, about the eventuality of repeatedly throwing this 6-foot-5-inch-tall sedan into alternating left-right 100-foot-radius turns on our figure-eight course.

“Where’s the weakest link?” Kim asked. “I think we should reserve the right to say when something is unsafe.”

“Let’s bring our helmets,” I said.

“Good idea,” Kim affirmed.

Meet This

The next morning Kim and I got a much closer look at the “Donk’n Donuts” soon-to-be star car of the new MotorTrend streaming video series Drift This. In 1995, it rolled off the line in Arlington, Texas, as a Chevrolet Caprice Classic with the base 200-hp 4.3-liter V-8 and four-speed Turbo-Hydramatic 4L60 transmission. The Caprice transacted for $5,500 USD some 24 years and 94,870 miles (152,678 km) later—but it took five 12-hour days to complete its transformation.

First was the obvious 20-inch lift accomplished with a custom four-link suspension to accommodate the aforementioned colossal wheels wrapped with Delinte Desert Storm D8+ tires, 305/30R26 all around. The fuel-injected engine remains stock with the exception of the 80 shot of NOS (nitrous oxide) delivered at 60 percent throttle and the chopped (loud) exhaust.

Also, the transmission was replaced by the car’s builders—Jimmie Caldwell, Dominic Biro, and Dylan Hughes—with a more robust Gearstar-built 4L60E that was fitted with a Yank 3,800-rpm stall-speed torque converter. Why? It’s an allowance to promote part retention so it wouldn’t tear itself to pieces. Naturally, the stock driveshaft wouldn’t be long or strong enough to reach the rear end that now houses a 5.11:1 ring gear—another measure taken for longevity. Originally, it was a 3.23:1 gear, which would make it much harder to turn the rear wheels and thus result in more stuff breaking.

To promote drifting, the differential is also a “locker,” meaning the rear wheels are locked in their rotations. Rounding out the mechanicals, the rear drum brakes were replaced with Wilwood discs with an inline hand brake à la drift cars. And none of it looks cobbled together. Despite the silly presentation, this is a serious pro-level build.

Stop This

First in the barrel, I set out to perform the 60–0 braking test. I used the steering wheel—appropriately borrowed from a boat—to hoist myself up to the driver’s seat. Seat belt? On. Brain bucket? Also on.

Merely getting past 60 mph to nail the brake pedal was a long, noisy endeavor with the extra-slushy torque converter and tall tires. On my way, I gently tugged the hand brake to ensure it was, indeed, functional and found it needed to be pumped a couple times to come up to pressure. Originally, this Caprice had antilock brakes. “Does it still?” I wondered.

The first stop was probative, and I used varying amounts of brake pressure to determine what would happen under full-on threshold braking. The result was 165 feet with what I would generously call “directional stability problems.” The brake bias was all over the map, but it didn’t lock up, and I had confidence in the system as a whole despite the squishy pedal.

A U-turn between the dragstrip’s concrete K-walls, separated by 58 feet, revealed the rear end was indeed a locker, and the tires bucked and fought it out to determine which one was the boss. My second stop needed 154 feet, the third 152, and the fourth and final stop was 154 feet with the beginnings of brake fade. A new ’93 Caprice we tested back in the day needed 133 feet to stop from 60 mph.

Send This

On the dragstrip, my left foot held the car in place with its brakes (with right hand pulling the hand brake) as I raised the rpm as high as it would go. No telling what that number was (no tach), but I released the brakes and sent it. It left with a slight tire chirp, so it must have reached its 3,800-rpm stall speed. The Donk’s power delivery was what I’d call gooey. The upshifts were reasonably smooth but authoritative.

Donk’n Donuts makes a whole lot of noise without much snap. Think V-6 pickup: It goes and feels like that, but much louder. All sound, not much fury. I couldn’t detect the nitrous coming online, but it must be doing its job. Zero to 60 mph took 8.8 seconds and the quarter mile 16.9 seconds at 80.5 mph (129.5 km/h). Not too shabby considering that same ’93 Caprice with the optional 260-hp 5.7-liter V-8 did so in 8.5 seconds and 16.6 seconds at 83.4 mph (134.2 km/h).

Each subsequent run grew slower. Although it felt like I was getting too much wheelspin, onlookers shouted, “Nope, not one bit!” So I wasn’t meeting the 3,800-rpm stall speed and the transmission was sapping acceleration. Time to move on, and besides, I wanted to conserve the tank of NOS and what was left of the brakes for Kim and the figure eight.

Figure This

After he saw the pro-level modifications, Kim was less hesitant than he was the day before, but his new concern was tire pressure. When we inspected the car in the morning, prior to testing, the fronts were set to 38 psi and the rears to 60 psi. Because we weren’t going to try to drift—at least not on purpose—we decided to lower the rears to match the fronts. Kim’s new worry: “What if that’s what keeps it from tipping over? What if it’s supposed to slide instead of grip—then tip?”

He donned his helmet, climbed in, and set out—tentatively at first. And guess what? Kim did eight hot laps, and the car kept its rubber side down. His best lap time was 28.5 seconds, or about the same as a 2019 Chevrolet Silverado RST. From Kim’s trackside notes: “It makes a huge amount of noise but doesn’t really accelerate that fast. (The giant wheels?) Its brake feel is terrible (spongy hydraulic) and fades to close to none after two laps. The brakes are really inhibiting the laps, as I can’t enter the corner as fast as I’d like because I can’t rely on it stopping. Once cornering, it mostly understeers but rotates languidly now and then into a slight tail-out. I’m surprised the cornering isn’t more eventful.”

Described by Kim as “more silly than scary,” our Donk experience proved the build quality from the crew at Drift This is top drawer. Nothing exploded, tipped, or got crunched. In hindsight, we had less to fear in testing it to its limits than we would have in, say, driving to an actual doughnut shop. Can you imagine how many drivers would be jockeying to snap some sweet pics for their Instagram feed? Tap, tap, tap, “Look what just drove by!” Crunch. Now that would be dangerous.

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1995 Donk’n Donuts (Chevy Caprice Classic)
BASE PRICE (AT 94,870 MI) $5,500
PRICE AS TESTED $15,000 (including mods)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 6-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 4.3L/280-hp/350-lb-ft (est) nitrous-injected OHV 16-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 4-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,301 lb (56/44%)
WHEELBASE 115.9 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 214.1 x 77.5 x 76.7 in
0-60 MPH 8.8 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.9 sec @ 80.5 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 152 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.78 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.5 sec @ 0.57 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 5/10/6 mpg (est)
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 674/337 kW-hr/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 3.01 lb/mile