It may be an unimportant, or perhaps a completely irrelevant question. What do you get when you cut the top off of the most powerful Camaro ever produced? Well, you get the most powerful and exhilarating Camaro Convertible ever produced.
I recently had the opportunity to take the new Camaro Convertible ZL1 for testing that included seeing some beautiful areas of Michigan. Country roads I had never traversed before. The icing on this powerful cake was the exhilarating ride this drop-top supplies for its passengers not to mention the fun I had at the controls.
Chevrolet starts with the Camaro ZL1, which has more power than any production Camaro ever produced. I know you Camaro buffs and going to contest this because of some of the unofficial COPO versions of the 1960’s. But those don’t count here. The ZL1 comes right out of the Chevy factory with 580 blood pressure raising horsepower and 556 pound-feet of torque. This is power that will get your attention, and capture your heart.
The ZL1 nomenclature comes from a legendary all-aluminum racing engine developed in the late 60’s and was installed in just sixty nine, 1969 Camaros. It was meant to and became a vehicle achieving mythical status.
It is this attraction that brought Chevrolet to build the Camaro ZL1 Convertible. They wanted to build an American classic automobile that will match and exceed that of many European icon vehicles. With 580-hp the ZL1 bests the 2012 Aston Martin DB9 Volante’s 470-hp, 2012 Mercedes SL63’s 518-hp and even Porsche’s 530-hp 911 Turbo. This Camaro can keep some pretty impressive company. I believe they achieved their objective.
Two six-speed transmissions are available for the ZL1 Convertible. I prefer the manual gear box, although the automatic with its manual-mode paddle shifters is an awfully close second for me. I was duly impressed by the solid feel to the manual shifter. It betters my favorite, the Porsche 911 Carrera, because this is the first truly American muscle car that has created smoothness and precision for easy shifts.
If an automatic makes sense to your mixture of driving, then you will not be disappointed with the 6L90 version in the ZL1. Not only does it feature steering column mounted shift paddles it also has three shift modes. Controlled via a console mounted switch the driver is able to select Drive, the standard setting; Sport, calibrated for maximum performance in automatic mode or Manual, where the driver maintains control of all shifting. One aspect with the manual mode I appreciate is Chevy gave the driver control. On up shifts the transmission will not shift to the next gear even if you hit redline. The fuel cutoff will activate to save damage to the engine. Of course, you will feel the fool as the engine chokes for power.
Beyond the incredible power, one feature that I noticed right away and one that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end, is the detail put into making the perfect exhaust notes. The sound emanating from this car is magnificent. From the very first turn of the key this engine roars to life and is every bit a part of the experience. I like to keep my car’s rpm levels up believing I have more control over the automobile, which is also the case here. I so enjoyed the sound of this engine and exhaust that I remained in lower gears just to hear that beautiful American V-8 music.
The convertible was part of the long range plans throughout the development of the ZL1 Coupe. The Convertible was on the back burner so nearly all structural fortification was done long before the first ZL1 convertible was built. Very little extra bracing was needed and it shows how solid the chassis feels. A front shock tower to tower brace was utilized as was a transmission support brace, an underbody tunnel brace and stiffer front cradle was used. An “X” brace was installed under the front portion of the chassis and a “V” brace at the back.
Even going over some of the roughest railroad crossings I’ve ever encountered, the Camaro’s body felt solid. There was so little windshield shake it was hard to believe I was, indeed, driving a convertible.
The brute force behind the ZL1 is not so brutish in application. This Camaro is surprisingly easy to drive and comfortable too! The engine is a large 6.2-liter V-8 that has a supercharger bolted on top. This is a new usage of old technology and one that works very well. New developments in engine, supercharger and electronic elements have allowed huge inroads for developing large power gains while retaining fuel economy. Now realize this is a nearly 600 horsepower performance automobile , so you are not going to get hyper mileage. But with 18 mile per gallon highway numbers, you can see performance vehicles have come a long, long way.
Aerodynamics plays a major role in getting the Camaro ZL1 able to meld power and fuel usage. The front fascia channels air around the vehicle while increasing flow to cool brakes and other components. The hood’s carbon fiber insert and vent increases aero forces and better cooling. A racing inspired front splitter, tire deflectors and under car belly panels with NACA-style ducts complete the package.
Though I did not want to give up the keys to the ZL1 upon my return, I did because sitting on the other side of pit wall at Gingerman Raceway was a brand new Camaro SS equipped with the 1LE performance package that was just approved for racing by the SCCA. But, more on that in a later column.
The Camaro ZL1 is one of those vehicles that not often comes along that stirs your senses and in some crazy way is able to fit into your practical side. At least that is how I am trying to justify buying one.