2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 - Evolutional ZL1
Chevy’s New Race-Ready Camaro Moves the Bar to a Whole New Level
From the July, 2012 issue of Chevy High Performance
By Steven Rupp
Photography by Steven Rupp
GM really nailed the ZL1 look...
GM really nailed the ZL1 look with the design of the front fascia, but it’s more than just a fashion statement. Instead of going with a traditional front air dam, GM incorporated a racing-type splitter to help the Camaro generate downforce. Best of all, it isn’t too low for around-town driving and as such isn’t a “track-only” item. Working with the splitter are also tire deflectors. These push airflow around the rotating wheels and tires, reducing both lift and drag. The deflectors make the ZL1 less sensitive to pitch changes compared to a traditional air dam, resulting in more stability at high speeds.
It was 2002 and sadly the last year of the Chevrolet Camaro. Those were dark days and some postulated that it was the end of an era. But, Chevrolet promised that the Camaro would come back. Eight long years later that promise was fulfilled in the form of the ’10 Camaro. Just like the fourth-gens, the new generation of Camaro was anchored by a commuter-friendly V-6–powered version, but all we cared about was the thumping 6.2L LS3 under the hood of the SS. The power was decent, however with a curb weight hovering around 3,800 pounds, every pony was needed. The handling was a bit heavy, but we had our beloved Camaro back and all was good. Still, we wondered what the GM engineers could unleash if given the chance.
Thankfully someone locked up the accountants and gave the gearheads at GM free reign to build the most badass Camaro ever conceived. It would have a blower, well, because blowers are cool. Even so the vision was that the new über Camaro wouldn’t just be an SS with a sticker package, a few fake scoops, and a supercharger; instead it would be a whole other animal named the ZL1.
Christened in honor of the ’69 427 big-block–powered ZL1 Camaros that GM churned out to rule the dragstrip, these instead would be geared toward the road course. To get this done, the engineers at GM adjusted and tweaked every aspect of the SS. In fact, 30 percent of the new ZL1 differs from the previous SS, and almost all changes revolve around improved performance.
In terms of power, the ZL1 is the most potent Camaro ever produced, by a lot. Its supercharged 6.2L LSA V-8 spins out 580 hp and 556 lb-ft of torque, but that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The goal was to turn out a track-ready ride full of the best technology available. Performance Traction Management and Gen III Magnetic Ride Suspension keeps the Camaro firmly mated to the asphalt under full throttle, while huge Brembo brakes reel it all down from speed. Other trinkets, often only offered as options on other cars, like brake cooling ducts and a differential cooler, are standard fare on the ZL1. In fact, the option list on a ZL1 is pretty short. Extra fuel pickups were added to the fuel tank for high g maneuvers, weight balance is 52 percent front and 48 percent rear, and the list of refinements goes on.
The ZL1 is the first Camaro to feature electric power steering, which adjusts steering effort to match the driving conditions. GM also performed a plethora of aerodynamic tweaks to get the car pushed down to the pavement at speed. On its standard Goodyear Supercar F2 tires it zips from 0-to-60 in 3.9 seconds, has a top speed of 184 mph, and has a full g of lateral grip. Put it all together and it makes for a Camaro like none before it. MSRP is right at $55,000 and that’s a lot of bang for the buck. After all, a well-optioned SS will set you back $35,000, and trust us, dumping $20,000 into it will not make it close to a ZL1.
The ZL1 has two bellypans;...
The ZL1 has two bellypans; one beneath the engine cradle and one near the rear of the engine area, just forward of the transmission. Both pans extend the entire width of the chassis and help to minimize airflow turbulence under the car. This is just one way the ZL1 creates 65 pounds of downforce at 150 mph. At the same speed a standard SS makes 200 pounds of upforce.
One iconic aspect of the ZL1...
One iconic aspect of the ZL1 is its carbon composite vented hood. This design contributes greatly to both aerodynamic downforce and engine cooling. In a standard SS, air trapped in the engine bay creates unwanted lift on the front of the car. The vents allow huge volumes of air to move through the bay while keeping the front Goodyears slammed to the asphalt.
The interior of the ZL1 is...
The interior of the ZL1 is much like the SS, only better. For 2012 there’s a new, and in our opinion much improved, steering wheel along with standard leather seating surfaces with suede microfiber inserts. For comfort on those cold track days the seats are heated. Other standard technologies include a nine-speaker Boston Acoustics audio system, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and parking assist with a rearview camera display hidden in the rearview mirror.
The ZL1 is ready to hit the...
The ZL1 is ready to hit the track right from the dealer. This is due to standard factory options like a rear-differential cooler, integrated engine and transmission oil cooler, and brake cooling ducts. The drivetrain was also beefed up with stronger axles, heavier-duty axle bearings, an iron differential case, and stiffer cradle bushings.
The proven 6.2L Supercharged...
The proven 6.2L Supercharged LSA V-8 migrated over from the Cadillac CTS-V and received more refinements like forged connecting rods and high-flow stainless steel exhaust manifolds. The Roots-style blower utilizes an efficient four-lobe rotor set and a space-saving intercooler. Out back the ZL1 has a dual-mode exhaust system, which uses vacuum-actuated valves to quiet the car during driving, yet lets it rock at idle and wide-open throttle.
The engineers managed to reduce...
The engineers managed to reduce airflow restrictions by 30 percent and they also optimized the intercooler brick for better airflow. The result is a supercharged engine that puts out 580 hp at 6,000 rpm and 556 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. We’re already having dreams of smaller pulleys.
The Camaro ZL1 is Available With Six Options
|Six-speed automatic transmission with TapShift controls||$1,185|
|20-inch bright aluminum wheel package||470|
|Exposed-weave carbon-fiber hood insert||600|
|The suede package. including sued microfiber accents on |
the steering wheel, shift knob, and shift boot
The ultimate test of any performance...
The ultimate test of any performance car is running at the famous Nurburgring in Germany where the ZL1 recently logged a lap time of 7:41.27 seconds. To put things in perspective, the fastest time is 6:48.00 in a Radical SR8LM (should that even count?). A ZR1 Corvette falls into Ninth Place with a 7:19.63, which puts the ZL1 Camaro into the 40th spot, a hair slower than a Porsche 911 Carrera S and a touch faster than a 911 GT3. Most notable is that none of those cars comes close to the ZL1’s $55,000 sticker price. In case you’re curious, a Camaro SS ran the course in 8:20.00, which landed it in 152nd place. We heard that Ford ran the new GT500, but for some reason they haven’t released times.
The ZL1 is the first sports...
The ZL1 is the first sports car to feature the third-generation of Magnetic Ride. This high-tech suspension system uses valve-less damping and Magneto-Rheological (MR) fluid technology to vary the suspension firmness to match the driving and road conditions. The new two-wire, dual-core damper design provides up to 40 percent greater damping force capability for better body control. In addition, the fall-off rate is faster, which means you’ll have a better ride when cruising down the highway. The ECU calculates optimum damping forces 1,000 times per a second. This means that at 60 mph the system adjusts the car once every inch!
Brembo’s brakes are standard...
Brembo’s brakes are standard fare on the SS, but for the ZL1 they’re even better. Designed for serious track use, the fronts feature 14.6-inch two-piece rotors mated to massive six-piston calipers. Out back 14.1-inch rotors are paired with four-piston Brembos; they should come with retinal detachment insurance.
We got to drive the new Camaro...
We got to drive the new Camaro at Virginia International Raceway (VIR), and let’s just say the car is a blast. Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to drop a deluge on us, so track time was limited and most of our seat time was on the surrounding roads. The ZL1 sounded mean when you wanted it to, quiet when it needed to be, and was just one fine piece of machinery. The magnetic suspension helped make the 4,000-plus pound car feel much lighter than it was and the electric power steering had a great feel to it at both high and low speeds.
One big part of the aero upgrades...
One big part of the aero upgrades to the Camaro is the ZL1’s rear spoiler. This wind tunnel–designed widget contributes about 150 pounds of downforce and only costs one measly count of drag. Plus, it just flat-out looks cool.
A standard feature on the...
A standard feature on the ZL1 is the Performance Traction Management (PTM) System. This integrates magnetic ride control, traction control, launch control, electronic stability control, and electric power steering response to up the Camaro’s performance quotient. First introduced in the ZR1 Corvette, the PTM’s launch control feature (in manual trans cars only) automatically modulates engine torque for optimal acceleration.
A boost gauge was added to...
A boost gauge was added to the gauge pack to help track atmospheric pressure under the blower. The ZL1’s six-speed manual trans is a tricked-out version of the Tremec TR6060 found in the SS. It features a stronger output shaft, additional main shaft roller bearing, refined synchos, and a GM-designed short-throw shifter. Mating the trans to the blown LS engine is a twin-disc clutch with a dual-mass flywheel.
One option that really sets...
One option that really sets the Camaro apart from the competition (code for Mustang GT500) is the availability of an automatic transmission. The 6L90 automatic was specifically designed for the ZL1 Camaro. It allows for Second gear starts on cruising around town and 3port Mode for more aggressive driving. With 3port the transmission stays in the lower gears longer and adjusts for more aggressive shifts. In full-manual mode the trans will not upshift, even at fuel cutoff. Notice the NACA-style air ducts that aid in transmission cooling. You can also see the transmission pan’s sump that comes in handy during high g turns. CHP