Berger Chevrolet has been building special Camaros since the first-gen roiled tarmac 42 years ago, but considering the number of tuners scurrying to complete their visions of what the ultimate aftermarket 2010 SS Camaro should be, it might seem that Berger's a bit late to the current party. Perhaps, but the prolific west Michigan dealer has something that the others do not: a special market heritage that defines and epitomizes the company's valiant muscle car history.

None of the other principals in this retro-fray are bona-fide new-car dealers, the point being that anything sold through the dealership network must be 100 percent squeaky clean or the seller conceivably faces something less than jail time. Some outfits offer a 700hp LS9 transplant as well as twin snails on a 427-cubic-inch motor and output that easily crests 1,000 hp. Call that lunatic fringe, and as we all know, these days the lunatic fringe has nearly become the status quo.

Despite the new Camaro's porky sides, you really don't need all that meat in order to have a good time. The Berger SS isn't meant to be the Godzilla of all time, but rather a buttoned-down GT car that would be at home on any road in the world.

The 376-cubic-inch LS3 (426 hp/420 lb-ft) is a big leg up, but the bigger-is-always-better arena and $60,000 specialty vehicles need more numerical sack, so you aspire to a company that has built millions of superchargers, a great many of them destined for OE applications. The hook is dead-on reliability and longevity. Though there is certainly more power to be had after the purchase, the Berger package utilizes a Magnuson MagnaCharger MP 2300 TVS supercharger system, in essence a big, hairy bolt-on.

The intercooled MP 2300 uses four rotors featuring a high-twist 160-degree helix that takes less power to drive, reveals cooler discharge temperatures, and is much quieter than any other Magnuson blower of history, nearly silent, in fact. Additional efficiency is directly related to a bypass valve that reduces parasitic drag during normal driving. In the Berger repertoire, the supercharger is the sole power adder; no tubular headers or computer tweaking beyond an ECU re-flash. The produce is 550 hp and 475 lb-ft at the flywheel with 6-7 psi of positive manifold pressure. Horsepower is 497 at the rear wheels on Magnuson's tune.

The excess waiting to be unleashed probably won't pass emissions, so Berger runs Magnuson's CARB-certified tune on the ECU. This includes a 36-month or 36,000-mile powertrain warranty to take the place of the one Berger voids. The addition of a 160-degree thermostat, a high-flow airbox, tube headers, and low-restriction cats will enable somewhere between 570-600 hp at the wheels. Berger has a local tuner working on an upgrade that will be available only through this gentleman's skunkworks to accomplish those numbers. Not a bad bunch of grunt without even busting the heads off the motor.

How's that 497 hp translate to a curb weight of 3,849 pounds (and more than 4,000 with driver)? Though we have no firsthand information of these feats, we've read of 0-60 reflections in similarly equipped Camaros spanning 3.5 seconds and quarter-mile rants from 12.5 (stock) to 11.7 seconds at more than 120 mph, the latter achieved with drag radials. Since we had only a few hours of driving time with the stock SS and its enhanced image and were dodging intermittent showers all the while, we were unable to do our own calculations, but seat-of-the-shorts input says that such claims are distinctly possible.

So, yes, we expected that power would not be an issue, but what surprised was the demeanor of the stock SS. The first time you put wheels to road, it's obvious that the build quality is miles above the fourth-gen issue, immediately relegating that car to tin-can consciousness. The '10 feels like a Caddy CTS-V, buttoned up and so tight and solid you'd swear you were dreaming. Torsional stiffness abounds and lays a very firm foundation for the car's outstanding handling ability. As a bonus, the piece is as quiet inside as a bank vault at midnight. The world-class ZETA II platform, as developed by Holden, enables all this and sets the stage for enhancement.

Though suspension aficionados say that the stock Camaro leans more than they'd like but sticks to the pavement nonetheless and that they discern a jitter in the steering as the car passes over uneven pavement, we noticed none of that in the stock SS. We did experience a rear end that stepped out noticeably in the turns while we pushed the brakes or added power, though. The crew at Pedders Suspension (www.peddersusa.com) did, too. Pedders home base is Australia, the same continent that hosts Holden, so the two have come together like cat and mouse.

To absolve the platform (with an excellent 52/48 weight bias-hint: battery's in the trunk) of its venial (FE3) suspension sins, Pedders developed a series of polyurethane subframe bushings to supplant the ones in the rear suspension cradle as well as another set for the control arms in front. Further, the Berger edition maintains the Chevrolet 0.95-inch (23mm) diameter anti-sway bar (AKA the "lawyer bar") that is certain to maintain understeer way before the rear tires lose adhesion, thus erasing fear of litigation, or so it has been said. To amend that concept, the Berger Camaro is fitted with a Pedders 1.06-inch (27mm) front bar and specific endlinks along with poly control-arm bushings. The factory coil springs/struts have fallen to Pedders' externally adjustable replacements; the progressive-rate springs drop the front and rear a little more than an inch from the stock ride height. By our humble estimation, the ride quality is about the same as stock but wheel control is better. The 16.0:1 rack steering was untouched.

Even with a 550hp engine preceding it, the standard 11-inch single-disc clutch seems quite up to the task. While we didn't necessarily abuse it, we know that others already had, including this car's owner, Matt Berger. No matter, just about everybody in the clutch biz has upgrades engineered for excessive behavior. The unit in Matt's toy was smooth, chatter free, and grabbed tight right off the mark. The Tremec six-speed (3.01, 2.07, 1.43, 1.00, 0.84, and 0.57:1) is paired with standard 3.45:1 gears in the independent axle, a combination that proves just about perfect for daily driving. Hell, you could get off the mark in Second gear with nary a shudder. The gates on the Hurst changer are tight and its throws exceptionally short, so the first attempts at flat-shifting found our clutch leg lagging a bit.

While we did our share of laying rubber and banging gears out there on hinterland roads, we detected not a wisp of wheelhop. The halfshafts sprouting from the coconut measure 30mm on the left and 40mm on the right, as torque moves in a clockwise direction. This disparity reduces torque oscillation from side to side and ultimately reduces axle tramp.

Brakes? We got 'em here, folks. Four-pot Brembo calipers scissor 14- and 14.4-inch discs all around (we'd be willing to bet that somebody will soon be offering retro-fit kits using this system for earlier cars). The pedal offers easy modulation and the grip is right now.

In factory livery, the 20-inch wheels are 8 and 9 inches wide. To our mind they put more unsprung weight on the car than anyone needs, but since they're a market-driven item, they cannot be denied. Berger kept the tall dimension but widened the hoops to 9.5 and 10.5 inches and lopped off a little bit of weight via the manufacturer. Forgeline SO3S modular rims hold Pirelli P Zero rubber with 275/40 and 305/35 aspect ratios. By minding the offset, Berger was able to fit the larger back rubber without sweat or hammer work (some guys run 315s).

Camaro "by Berger" purists will delight in the traditional paint scheme and appliqué: custom Rally stripes, blacked-out tailpanel and inner grille area, SS fender badges, retro front and rear Bow Tie emblems, numbered dash plaque, and Prescribed Power emblems as well. Berger cars have always included snarling chambered exhaust, in this case a cat-back system that blurbles warmly at idle but gets downright bloodthirsty when you rap the throttle or are flashing down the interstate at a buck-forty trying to outrun the (imaginary) cops.

What's this kind of fun funnel from your kid's college fund or the pile you were saving for retirement? Make your best deal on an SS and then pony up another $19 large for the bragging rights. Better hurry, though. Matt said he was only going to build 20 '10 hellions and that order was nearly complete as of last September.

SOURCE
Berger Chevrolet
2525 28th Street SE
Grand Rapids
MI  49512
616-828-5918
BergerChevrolet.com
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