MILFORD, Michigan – Chevrolet made sure the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 had balance, handling, and brakes before the name went on. That’s what the first-generation Z/28 was; an American performance car that put handling before straight-line performance. Chevy says the new car goes around turns better than its own ZL1 — or the Ford Shelby GT500 — and thus is faster around a road racing track despite delivering a meager 505 horsepower.
The Bowtie Brigade says that the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 compares best with the Boss 302 Laguna Seca among Mustangs, but even more so with the Porsche 911 GT3 and the Nissan GT-R. On Tuesday, Chevrolet published the 2014 Camaro Z/28’s Nürburgring lap time of 7:37.40, which was completed in light rain. That’s four seconds faster than a Camaro ZL1 and, Chevy says, better than published times for the Porsche 911 Carrera S and the Lamborghini Murciélago.
Although a “gentlemen’s agreement” among automakers prevents Chevy from making it official, the company believes it can post a time as low as 7:31.9 when it returns to Germany in search of a dry ’Ring.
As with the early models, this is what the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 is all about. It’s a relatively lightweight track car — at 3837 pounds, it’s about 80 to 100 pounds less than a 1LE — that you can drive to and from the circuit, but not too often if you want to preserve the 305/30ZR-19 Pirelli Trofeo R tires. Air conditioning and stereo speakers will be optional on the Z/28, which will retail for more than the ZL1 when it goes on sale late in the first quarter of 2014, so probably in the $57,000-to-$60,000 range.
Avoiding air conditioning saves 28.4 pounds. Other “light-weighting” includes the 19-inch wheel and tire package; the tires have smaller outer-diameter tires to minimize oversteer. Fifteen-inch Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes cut another 21.2 pounds, and Chevy has removed the tire-inflator kit (except for Rhode Island and New Hampshire to meet state requirements) and has removed the trunklid trim. Headlamps and taillamps are from the V-6 version of the facelifted 2014 Camaro, also to save weight.
Camaro design chief Tom Peters notes that the 2014 facelift helps Chevy set up the Z/28 better for racing, with its thinner upper front grille and larger lower fascia air intake. The plastic rear bumper and lower rear fascia are wider than before, which works in harmony with the Z/28’s wider wheels and tires and corresponding wheel-opening flares.
That’s no 302 cubic-inch V-8 under the hood, but instead the C6 Z06’s naturally aspirated LS7 engine, rated 505 horsepower and 481 pound-feet per SAE. It’s the small block with the historically big-block number on the valve covers, 427, as in cubic inches (its displacement actually rounds up to 428). It’s likely that the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 serves as a build-out for the LS7, though for this car there are unique parts, including Pankl titanium connecting rods, Mahle pistons, and a unique intake with K&N cold-air induction and exhaust headers. It will be assembled in GM’s high-performance build center, recently moved from Wixom, Michigan, to Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Chevrolet claims the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28’s Torsen Helical Limited Slip differential cuts 0.7 second off the car’s Lutzring time. A prominent front splitter, the black rear spoiler, hood vents, rockers, and Gurney lip flares create 440 pounds more downforce than the Camaro SS. Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve, a damper technology supplied by Multimatic of Ontario, gives much more precise suspension damping than shim dampers by directing the suspension fluid through a hole in the damper mechanism. Multimatic also supplies the technology to Formula 1’s Red Bull Racing and has supplied it to just one other road car, the Aston Martin One-77.
In case you haven’t noticed, Chevy engineers have pulled out all the stops for the Z/28. Handling and the very powerful brakes, designed to give consistent pedal feel with no fade even on the track, combine to make it quicker around a road course than more powerful competition.
Chevy demonstrated this by giving us rides, not drives, around the Lutzring, and the truth is that we never could have matched the speeds of the three GM test drivers, who accelerated deep, deep, DEEP into Turn One. The car feels far more balanced, at least from the front passenger seat (yes, there is a back seat) than any Camaro preceding it. On a few of the turns, we could feel the rear tires give up a slight bit of oversteer in order to direct the car down the road. Chevy claims 1.08 g of maximum lateral acceleration. Beyond Turn One, the test driver’s braking came so hard and so late that it almost felt like driver error, though clearly it was simply a testament to the car’s sporting abilities.
Who will buy the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28? Chevy expects 3000 to 4000 customers over two model years, which hints that the all-new Alpha-platform Chevy Camaro is set for the 2016 model year, although there could be an overlap such as we’ve seen with the new Cadillac CTS with the old CTS-V. A few early VINs will surely go straight to bubble-wrap, while rich guys and women with enough weekend time to go to private tracks will buy the most track-capable Chevrolet until a Z06 replacement comes along, and a handful of misguided buyers will drive them on the street until the heat, the tires, or their dental fillings do them in.