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Auto Show:  2011 Sema Auto Show

2012 Chevrolet Camaro - SEMA Auto Show

author photo by Colin Ryan November 2011

The SEMA show and the Chevrolet Camaro go together like Starbucks and cappuccinos. This pony car is far from frothy, though. It provides an excellent base for the modding crowd to go crazy. Even the company that makes it can't resist trying out various ideas.

"The SEMA show is the perfect venue to test new customization concepts and inspire new owners to start modifying their cars," said Chris Perry, VP of global marketing and strategy for Chevrolet, who have brought four such projects to this year's aftermarket bash.

"A design statement achieved with current and future accessories" is how the company describes its Camaro Red Zone Concept. This convertible model has a lowered suspension, 21-inch wheels, silver accents on various components and the whole thing is finished in Crystal Claret red paint.

The Synergy Series Concept turns the previous car's color scheme on its head, by being predominantly silver with red highlights. The suspension has once again been lowered and the wheel arches are filled this time with black 21-inch wheels. Perry says this concept car features "the best of the best" regarding available accessories. It has a predominantly black leather interior with a Silver Ice instrument panel. A Hurst short-throw gear shifter brings a little more techy stuff to the mix. Chevy will be gauging reaction from the SEMA audience because this might become a production model.

"Techy" is a theme pursued more fully by the 1LE Concept. This car has an adjustable sports suspension with magnetic ride control, a six-speed close-ratio suspension, high-performance tires and beefed-up brakes. The 1LE badge is something of a legend among long-time Camaro fans and this model is "an all-out race car package that pays tribute to that special option from the past," said Al Oppenheiser, chief engineer for the Camaro.

ZL1 is another designation to send Camaro-heads into overdrive. And it just so happens that a production ZL1 is slated for 2012, with much of the same technology as the ZL1 Carbon Concept displayed here. That means another magnetic suspension, stronger anchors and a flat-bottomed steering wheel trimmed with suede to accompany the production car's 580 horsepower and 556 pound-feet of torque from a supercharged V8. Only this one-off has an extra helping of wicked-black carbon fiber. "Even if its styling doesn't intimidate you," said ZL1 program engineering manager Tony Roma, "its performance on the track will."

Perhaps the craziest Camaro show car - and certainly the most eye-catching in a lustrous Spectraflame green - is the Hot Wheels concept. The Camaro and the Hot Wheels company go way back. When these fast-moving (and fast-selling), 1:64-scale toys first came out in 1968, there were 16 models, known as the "Sweet Sixteen." The Camaro was one of them and has since gone on to become a highly prized collector's piece, worth thousands of dollars.

Designers at both companies worked on their vision of a real-life Hot Wheels Camaro, using a painstaking paint process to get the looks right. A toy replica is available for purchase from As for the life-size model, Chevy says it's still only a concept, "for the time being."

If the initials COPO don't ring a bell, hang in there, it's worth it. These letters have a rather mundane meaning: Central Office Production Order. It was a bit of late-1960s bureaucracy for fleet orders and company-owned cars. But some enterprising people managed to manipulate the system to buy Chevy cars factory-fitted with more powerful Corvette engines. And then these enterprising people would race them on the drag strip.

Now Chevrolet has created the Camaro COPO Concept, "a clear indication that Chevrolet intends to homologate the Camaro for sportsman drag racing," according to Jim Campbell, GM's VP of performance vehicles and motorsport. Aside from a full roll cage and solid rear axle, the COPO car can take one of two engines beneath a hood that hosts an outrageously large induction vent: a naturally aspirated 427 cubic-inch (7.0-liter) V8, or a supercharged 327 cubic-inch (5.3-liter) V8. The former, called the LS7, usually sits in a Corvette Z06 and is good for 505 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. The latter, the LS9, is the same engine found in the range-topping Corvette ZR1. It makes 638 hp and 604 lb-ft.

Chevrolet has a great heritage in drag racing, a state of affairs it would like to see continuing. Interested Camaro pilots should check out periodically for further updates.

At last year's SEMA event, a range of awards was inaugurated. The Camaro won "Hottest Car." Chances must be good for a second straight win.

See more coverage of the 2011 SEMA Auto Show.

COLIN RYAN has driven hundreds of cars thousands of miles while writing for BBC Top Gear magazine, Popular Mechanics, the Los Angeles Times, European Car, Import Tuner and many other publications, websites, TV shows, etc.
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2012 Chevrolet Camaro - SEMA Auto Show - Autotrader