For GM and its Chevrolet division, 2012 seems to be 1969 all over again. After all, you can stop by any local Chevy dealer and place an order for plenty of Camaro performance. Let’s see, there’s the SS (as in Super Sport) model with its 6.2 liter V8 making well over 400 horsepower. There’s even a Camaro COPO Stock Eliminator Concept in development, no doubt with racers in mind.
Now, the legendary ZL1 is back.
Chevy is clearly having fun with this brand revival. According to the official Chevy.com site, the ZL1 is touted as “barely street legal.” Delving deeper, one gets an appreciation for not only the historical context of the famous RPO (Regular Production Office) code, but its importance to the Camaro mystique. As taken from the website: “In 1969, 69 regular-production Camaros were installed with the ZL1 all-aluminum racing engines. In that moment, those mythical 69 cars became the pinnacle in Camaro performance.”
The word “mythical” isn’t used lightly. Those original ZL1 cars are seldom seen, and few survivors exist. With Camaro sales humming right along, GM decided to do something about the lack of ZL1s on the road.
Re-envisioning legendary model names into modern muscle cars, all the while raising the performance bar, is not an original idea. But what is unique, if not ironic, is the way Chevy has gone about reinventing this revered classic. No more is this apparent than in sweeping changes of the driving characteristics of new ZL1. The original was a pure race machine, as in quarter-mile warrior. The 2012 now is a world-class sports car displaying a nimbleness and handling prowess unheard of back in the peak muscle car years. Times have changed, and so too has the ZL1; It has evolved.
The ZL1 is a new-age muscle car, blending performance and comfort, a theme that is central to the car’s rebirth. This Camaro does just about everything amazingly well… for everyone. That’s quite an accomplishment, even for Camaros and especially for Chevy engineers.
On the heels of the incredible Corvette ZR1, the newest Camaro ZL1 follows in its footsteps (more like tire marks) by way of a similar LS motor: the supercharged 6.2 liter V8. 580 horsepower and 556 lb.-ft of torque is blistering fast. Though it’s missing the wild see-through Corvette ZR1 “shaker” hood, the Camaro is fitted with a unique engine cover along with a strut tower brace. Don’t worry, the Camaro’s hood still offers a cool-looking functional air extractors.
The ZL1 comes standard with a list of features that even rivals the Corvette flagship, if not outright challenges any other exotic supercar. Magnetic Ride Control, functional air extractors, lower air dam splitters, brake cooling ducts, and belly pan all contribute to making this Camaro the most refined, best handling F-body to date. It is so advanced, it’s as if a Corvette engineering team decided to re-skin a prototype at the last second with a Camaro shell.
Inside, the ZL1 offers a heads-up display (ala Corvette) with bolstered suede microfiber seat inserts (embroidered with logos). A flat-bottom race-inspired steering wheel greets your mitts. Most distinctive, and equally important: on the console is a boost gauge. This is the first factory Camaro to be supercharged, a reminder of just how far the Camaro, especially the ZL1, has come. (2nd-gen Pontiac Firebirds only had the 301 V8 turbocharged and the 3rd-gen Firebird had a Buick turbo V6 3.8 available.)
The ZR1, in so many ways, is a dual-natured beast. Fast and ferocious one minute, docile boulevard cruiser the next. Though that can change as fast as the driver blinks an eye and stomps the go-pedal.
Did I forget to mention the ZR1 is also available in a convertible?
As seen at this past July’s Car Craft Summer Nationals held at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds (http://www.carcraft.com/summer_nationals/2012/intro_page/), the 2012 ZL1 Camaro is indeed real.
Parked along with the COPO Camaro Stock Eliminator Concept, the GM Performance Parts tent area was crowded, to say the least. There were so many enthusiasts swarming over this car, it was nearly impossible to get an unobstructed camera shot.
ZL1 Camaro. It’s been a long time coming, but so worth the wait. Don’t think of it as a stretch to call this the best Camaro ever. As bold and unpredictable as this entry is, Chevy has outdone itself.
For more information on the ZL1 Camaro, visit http://www.chevrolet.com/camaro-zl1-sports-car.html.