February 9, 2011
“The most powerful, most technologically advanced Camaro ever” is how Chevrolet introduced its ZL1 at the 2011 Chicago Auto Show. “We’ve chosen a name from the most elite and exclusive Camaro in history,” said Rick Scheidt, vice president of Chevrolet marketing.
The ZL1 moniker first came about in 1969. It was the designation of an all-aluminum racing engine that represented the then pinnacle of Camaro performance, making more than 400 horsepower. Only 69 were built (plus another couple of Corvettes with the same engine) and they have since attained a mythical status among enthusiasts.
Thanks to a supercharged 6.2-liter V8, the 21st-century ZL1 has plenty of muscle to flex: 550 hp and 550 pound-feet of torque. The usual Camaro drivetrain has been beefed up here, along with the addition of a six-speed transmission set up for super-fast gear changes.
A new aluminum hood with a carbon fiber insert accommodates a less-than-subtle power bulge while sending cool air to the forced induction system as well as having an aerodynamic effect. Further aero tweaks include air splitters at each end and a small rear wing set on the trunk lid.
The Magnetic Ride Control suspension system has been calibrated to handle the ZL1’s extra force. A driver may choose from Tour or Sport modes. Chevy has gone with 20-inch wheels wrapped in Goodyear rubber developed specifically for this car. And just behind those wheels is a set of brakes from the highly respected Brembo company (Ferrari is another Brembo client). Steering assistance is electric, a solution which so far has failed to provide of a lot of feedback and feel that performance car drivers so value and crave, but it has the virtue of not taking any power from the engine. These things are getting better, so by the time the ZL1 is ready to hit the streets in 2012, its steering setup could be just fine.
The cabin is adorned with leather trim around the gearshift lever and flat-bottomed steering wheel, and there’s also a suede insert or two – to give off a race-car feel. Even so, there are still some decidedly luxury items, such as Bluetooth, a head-up display, premium audio system and a backup camera.
No pricing has been mentioned yet, but since a 2011 Ford Shelby GT500 Coupe, also with 550 hp, costs $48,645, that could be a feasible ballpark.
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.