It's been nearly eleven years since the Z/28 nameplate was last affixed to a Chevrolet Camaro, but it's been 45 since the moniker actually signified a Camaro purpose-built for track use. The all-new 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, which debuted at the 2013 New York Auto show, changes all that.
When Chevrolet wanted to send its new Nova-based pony car racing back in 1967, it set its sights on the Trans-Am series, which mandated a five-liter engine (302 cubic-inch). In order to homologate that engine and some heavy-duty suspension upgrades for competition use, the Camaro Z/28 debuted later that year, and soon became a major player on circuits across the country - especially when placed in the hands of the legendary Mark Donohue.
The new 2014 Camaro Z/28 may not be a homologation special like the original, but according to GM president Mark Reuss, it's the ultimate expression of the fifth-generation Camaro. If nothing else, it certainly looks the part. Like all 2014 Camaros, the Z/28 gains new front and rear clips, complete with a slim grille opening, rectangular lower air intakes, and rectangular, wrap-around tail lamp clusters that vaguely resemble those used on the full-size 1966 Chevrolets. Like all SS models, the 2014 Z/28's hood louvers are an active aerodynamic aid, designed to reduce aerodynamic lift while simultaneously extracting heat. A massive front splitter also helps keep the front end planted on terra firma, while elongated rocker sills are designed to increase lateral stability at high speeds.
Thankfully, there's plenty of go to match that all the Z/28's cosmetic bravado. As leaked VIN code documents hinted months ago, the 2014 Camaro Z/28 is, in fact, powered by GM's 7.0-liter LS7 V-8. That's the same engine used in the wicked C6 Corvette Z06, and it retains that car's forged-steel crankshaft, titanium intake valves and connecting rods, and 11.0:1 compression ratio. The only Z/28-specific parts are restricted to intake and exhaust systems designed to fit the confines of the Camaro's structure. GM isn't delivering finalized output ratings, but says the Camaro-spec LS7 should deliver "at least" 500 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque - close to the 505 hp and 470 lb-ft offered in the Corvette Z06.
Z/28 customers should know how to operate a clutch, as a Tremec six-speed manual transmission - complete with close-ratio gearing and a 3.91:1 final drive ratio - is standard equipment. There is no automatic option. Like all Camaros, power is sent to the rear wheels, but Z/28 rear axles gain a helical limited slip differential to help put as much power down as possible. Liquid-to-liquid engine oil and transmission/ differential fluid coolers are standard equipment.
Chassis upgrades not only include stiffer springs and suspension bushings, but spool-valve adjustable dampers, which allow drivers to fine-tune bump and rebound dampening to their taste. 19-inch forged aluminum wheels are standard, and Chevy says they save 42 pounds compared to the 20-inch wheels used on Camaro SS models. Although the Camaro ZL1 and 2014 Corvette boast Michelin tires, the Camaro Z/28 rides on Pirelli PZero Trofeo R rubber. Carbon ceramic Brembo rotors are standard as are with fixed, monoblock calipers at all four corners. Front and rear calipers boast six and four pistons, respectively, and the front brakes are cooled via ductwork
Sound hardcore? But wait, there's more. Camaros have never been lithe machines, so engineers labored to strip as much mass out of the car as possible. Windows are made from thinner glass, while niceities like HID headlamps and fog lamps are not available. Air conditioning is an option, while the audio system is completely gutted save for one speaker, which Reuss says is there for the door chime. The typical tire inflator kit is ditched in 48 of the 50 states (Rhode Island and Connecticut require it by law).
The only thing not ditched: the rear seat. "We felt it was important to keep the 2+2 configuration," says Camaro chief engineer Al Oppenheiser. "Chevrolet already has a world-class two-seat sports car in the Corvette." That said, GM did strip nine pounds out of the rear seat assembly, largely by replacing its stamped steel frame with high-density foam. The driver and front passenger are treated to Recaro buckets with Alcantara inserts and giant bolsters - but both are manually adjustable in order to save weight.
All told, Chevrolet says the 2014 Z/28 is 300 pounds lighter than a Camaro ZL1 coupe. If that estimate holds, that means the Camaro Z/28 should tip the scales at about 3820 pounds. That's still about 200 pounds heavier than the discontinued 2012-2013 Ford Mustang Boss 302, but roughly the same as a stock Camaro SS with a manual transmission. Better yet, each horsepower is saddled with 7.6 lbs, meaning the Z/28 has a better power-to-weight ratio than the Mustang Boss 302, which carried 8 pounds per hp.
The resulting product is one lean, mean, tarmac-scorching machine. Chevrolet says the 2014 Camaro Z/28 can pull up to 1.05 g on the skid pad, and Reuss claims the new Z/28 is as fast around the twisted Virginia International Raceway as an Ariel Atom, of all things. We'll have to wait a little while to put the new Z/28 to the test. Reuss says captive test fleet cars won't be built until this fall, and customer-ready vehicles won't reach dealerships until early 2014. Production will not be limited, but pricing remains a mystery. Officials say we can expect ZL1-esque prices; if true, expect an MSRP of $55,000 or more.