By Jeff Stork
I pretty much grew up in the back seat of a first generation Camaro- a ‘67 SS ragtop, and so I was pretty pleased to see the return of the Camaro back in the Spring of 2009. I thought that the sixth generation offering was attractive in a respectfully retro way that was very true to Camaro’s roots, but even in SS trim I fell short of seeing it as an out and out performance car.
Well, like the little boy from Jerry Maguire who grew up and became a bodybuilder, things have changed. Chevy must have poured a whole lot of Muscle Milk into their pony car, because the ZL1 is like no Camaro you’ve ever seen, and muscle doesn’t even begin to describe this supercharged monster.
It’s not just an engine- so much of the ZL1 is special to the car that it’s like a Camaro body shell was dropped on a racing chassis. In fact, over a third of all the parts are unique according to Chevy. Yes, the 6.2-liter LSA engine (borrowed from the CTS-V) is impressive- what’s not to like about an all-aluminum supercharged V8 that delivers 580 horsepower and a whopping 556 lb-ft of torque, and has an exhaust note nothing shy of heavenly? Nothing. Seriously, I’d like to make the exhaust note into an alarm clock and wake up to it every morning.
But as I noted, ZL1 is much, much more than an engine. The test car had a six speed manual Tremec gearbox, there’s also a six speed automatic available as well- both specially modified to handle the torque of the LSA. The whole chassis is special- from the third generation magnetic ride control with three settings including “track,” 20” special wheels and tires, and monster Brembo brakes, to the front cross-tower brace and rear sway bar, this is one highly tuned Camaro.
It’s the only Camaro with electric power steering and what Chevy calls Performance Traction Management- which ties together the ride control, launch control, traction control and electronic stability control. In fact. the whole chassis package is so special they decided to offer it on the SS as the 1LE Track Package. The result? a Camaro that sticks like glue and handles do well that you start looking for the BMW badge. And for a car that can be a balls-out screamer, it’s remarkably smooth and nimble for around town driving. It’s almost like it has two distinct personalities, and we’ve all dated someone like that.
As any competitive bodybuilder can tell you, Muscle don’t come cheap. The ZL1’s base price including freight is $55,950, and our test car featured $1995 Recaro seats, $795 Navigation, a $600 carbon fiber hood insert, $500 worth of microfiber suede interior trim and to top it all off a $1300 gas-guzzler tax adding up to $61,140 which is serious money in anyone’s book. In fairness it should be noted that the cars offering comparable performance can cost many tens of thousands more- but it’s nonetheless a new and steep altitude for the Camaro.
Of course nothing is perfect. With Red Hot paint the color of lava, enormous black wheels, a giant hood scoop and that oh-so-heavenly-but-loud engine noise, the ZL1 doesn’t exactly keep a low profile. Speaking of low, the coupe’s oh-so-low roofline makes for a cramped cabin and I’ve never seen a sixty-thousand dollar car that more needed a memory seat and didn’t have one. And I guess I’ll take the hit for the less-than-10-mpg observed fuel economy.
But at the end of the day, the most powerful Camaro ever is one hell of a well done GT. It screams when you ask it to, it sticks to the road and goes where you plant it - with no body roll and even a remarkably decent ride. It’s got that whole Ann-Margret “Kitten With a Whip” thing down pat. And while I couldn’t figure out how to fold the Recaro seats forward, there wasn’t really anyone I wanted to put in the back anyway.
So why would anyone want a nearly-600 hp supercar that can easily exceed any speed limit in Palm Springs in first gear? Because on the right road, it’s superb.
Oh, and the muscle boys loved it. :)
Model is fitness instructor Chris Bates. Photos by Jeff Stork