The Dodge Hellcat siblings have gotten a ton of attention ever since they were introduced in 2015 and any Mustang bearing the "Shelby" name gets about an equal amount of attention, but there’s a third player in the high-powered American muscle car arena that doesn’t seem to get nearly as much spotlight. I’m talking about the Chevy Camaro ZL1. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but ZL1 variants of the fifth-generation Camaro have become a screaming deal on the used market.
A quick recap of what ZL1 means. The ZL1 badge first appeared on a SEMA concept of the Camaro in 2011 and it became a real-life production car for the 2012 model. It’s a Camaro that’s powered by the supercharged 6.2-liter LSA V8 engine shared with the second-generation Cadillac CTS-V.
In the Camaro ZL1, the supercharger made up to 7 psi of boost, resulting in 580 horsepower and 556 lb-ft of torque. It was mated to an automatic or 6-speed manual transmission and came with all kinds of upgrades that couldn’t be had on any other Camaro at the time like Magnetic Ride Control, Brembo brakes with six pistons in front and four in back, revised bodywork to improve cooling, special 20-in wheels and all kinds of other high-performance goodies to make this the king of Camaros.
This specific version of the ZL1 lasted until 2015 until it was replaced by the new sixth-gen Camaro, which also got its own ZL1 variant. It’s even faster and meaner than its predecessor and it seemed to grab a lot of attention when it was new (particularly the more track-ready 1LE version), but again, it just never seemed to get the same amount of attention as its high-powered American competitors.
So why can’t the venerable Camaro ZL1 catch a break? I truly think it might be because of the name. "Hellcat" and "Shelby" are more fun to say than "ZL1." People might even have a hard time remembering the name of the most powerful Camaro variant, especially since it’s so close to "ZR1," a moniker connected to the Corvette. "Shelby" and "Hellcat" are unforgettable names that stand out in the mind of every muscle car enthusiast and "ZL1" just sounds like it could be a Tahoe trim.
Whatever the reason may be that this muscular Chevy is underappreciated, that lack of street cred has translated to very attractive prices of fifth-gen Camaro models bearing the ZL1 name on the used market. These things can be had in good condition for under the $30,000 mark. We’re talking about pricing similar to a base, 4-cylinder 2020 Camaro. As of this writing, there are 15 used ZL1 models for sale on Autotrader for less than $30k and if you turn your budget up to $40k, you get 90 options. For reference, the 2020 Camaro SS starts at $37,000 and a new ZL1 will set you back at least $62,000.
If you’ve been craving an American muscle car with an absurd horsepower rating and you’re seeing Shelby and Hellcat models just a little out of your price range, give the Chevy Camaro ZL1 a shot. It’s a little older than the Hellcat and the current iteration of the Shelby GT350, which is part of the reason it’s the budget-friendly choice of the bunch. It’s just had more time to depreciate. And if you tell your friends you got a ZL1 and they don’t know what that means or think it’s just another Camaro, your tire smoke should get the message across. Find a Chevrolet Camaro for sale