First Look: 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

It’s the car Camaro fan boys have been screaming for, and while the name may not be what everyone expected, the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is loaded with more than enough ammo under the hood to take on its main bogey: the Ford Shelby GT500.

First, we must explain the iconic moniker. Aficionados of early Trans-Am racing will note that the ZL1 badge was reserved for Chevrolet’s top-tier — and most powerful — Camaro that battled Shelby’s GT500 on America’s back roads and back straights. Street-licensed ZL1s are some of the most sought after musclecars around as only 69 serialized 1969 model year cars were ever made.

To live up to the name, and to create the “highest-performing Camaro” available today, GM simply reached into its vast performance parts bin. Engineers first implanted a healthy 6.2-liter supercharged LSA V-8 engine into the bay. The small-block mill with bespoke heat-resistant aluminum heads pumps out 550 horses (at an estimated 6100 rpm) and 550 pound-feet of torque (at an estimated 3800 rpm) thanks in large part to a four-lobe intercooled Eaton supercharger and dual-mode exhaust. The exhaust system opens its baffles at higher rpms to give the ZL1 an even meaner tone when pushing hard. GM says a handful of other ZL1 specific bits were added to its powertrain, but would not spill all the details until final testing is completed over the remainder of 2011.

Tremec’s high-torque capacity “MG9” TR-6060 six-speed manual gearbox routes all power to the lightweight 20-inch forged rear wheels wrapped in sticky Goodyear Supercar F2 rubber. The short-throw box comes replete with dual-mass flywheel and twin-disc clutch (the setup is similar to that of the Corvette ZR1).

Next came the sculpting of the Camaro’s chiseled body. Designers penned a functional aerodynamic physique that is a substantial upgrade over a simple body kit. The menacing front clip with its wide lower intake and prominent splitter is flanked by a set of vertical inlets housing fog lights. A carbon fiber insert serves to lighten the louvered aluminum hood further. Sculpted rocker panels direct fleeting air more efficiently passed the rear end (which also sports a reworked diffuser). The entire ensemble is said to increase downforce and lower drag.

Speaking of speed, each corner gets gigantic Brembo binders measuring 14.6-inches front/14.4-inches rear to scrub any unwanted momentum. The six-piston front calipers clamp onto two-piece rotors, while the rear four-piston units bite hard on single-piece vented rotors.

Of course, additional torque and horsepower means additional stress on the whole drivetrain, so builders beefed-up the ZL1’s cast-iron differential housing, driveshaft, and limited-slip differential. They also replaced the stock Camaro’s axles with stronger units.

Being competitive in more than just a drag race meant giving the Zeta platform a Magnetic Ride Control suspension. The setup employs magnetorheological shocks whose dampening can be adjusted between two modes – Tour and Sport – while on-the-fly. A responsive, more dynamic handling calibration on any road surface is the result, GM promises. Redesigned rear stabilizer bars now have drop links placed outside of the control arms for “crisper” control. Engineers also added a redone electric power steering system that, like the rest of the car, is currently being fine tuned.

With performance largely addressed, designers turned their attention to the cockpit. Drivers will immediately notice the flat-bottom suede-trimmed three-spoke steering wheel; rounder, less cumbersome shift knob; and a set of studded aluminum pedals. All three pieces should diminish complaints of awkward Camaro controls. A Corvette-inspired Heads-Up Display indicates speed, g-forces, and engine rpm, among other things. Sporty microfiber inserts compliment the bolstered and badged adjustable seats, while suede lines the dash. A “four-pack” gauge cluster showing boost and component temperatures keeps front riders duly informed.

Although it may be less refined than other Camaros, the 2012 Camaro ZL1 looks fit for a fight with Ford’s brawniest snake. Consider this age-old feud rekindled.

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Buying Guide
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0-60 MPH:

6.1 SECS


17 City / 28 Hwy

Horse Power:

312 @ 6500