2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 vs 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 - At The Strip

A. J. Mueller

Editor's note: This is the second installment of a three-part comparison test between the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and the 2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. Yesterday, the Camaro upset the GT500 around Gingerman Raceway. Tomorrow, we will explore on-road behavior and render our final verdict.

Ford and Chevy have always strained to outdo each other when it comes to developing pony cars, and their devoted enthusiasts have long built up that tension by trying to settle which car company is king at the drag strip. This mix of dedication and animosity led Ford to birth a 662-hp Shelby GT500 and prompted Chevy to resurrect the ZL1 moniker for their most powerful production Camaro ever, and we spent a day at Milan Dragway in Michigan running them against each other. And, yes, one was quicker than the other.

Before revealing which car went the length in less time, let's set three things straight. One, drag racing isn't all about quarter-mile times. It's as much about car control as it is your time slip. Going faster isn't worth much if a car can't do it safely. Two, "your results may vary," due to track conditions or temperature, or your driving skill that enhances or dulls them. Three, manufacturer loyalties be damned: you're looking at a five-figure, 200-mph Mustang and its Mega Camaro nemesis. Love only one if you must, but respect them both. With that said, let's see what these cars can do once they're staged, starting with the Camaro.


The 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 coupe

The original 1969 Camaro ZL1 would run low-13s on stock rubber when other pony cars of the same generation wouldn't get close to that even on a pair of slicks. More than four decades later, the new ZL1 has a lot to live up to. The fact that this is the most potent production Camaro ever, powered by a 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 with 580 hp and 556 lb-ft of torque, is a good start, but you need more than grunt to move a car down the strip. Not relying solely on displacement, Chevy enhanced its Camaro with go-fast electronics including a launch control system.

Chevy created five modes that enhance launch control, the highest mode tuned specifically for the VHT-prepped surfaces at the strip. Hit the ZL1's stability control button twice and toggle through the gauge cluster menu to traction management "mode five," which shuts off stability control, and sets traction control to "race," and the magnetorheological dampers to "track." Then all you have to do is stage, put the clutch and accelerator pedals to the floor, and slot the gear lever into first. The system modulates launch rpm to maximize available traction. When the green light comes on, lift your left foot and the ZL1 goes from predicting perfect launch rpm to managing how much assistance is needed to stop the rear 305-section tires from smoking and start moving the Camaro out of the hole. Launch control isn't available on cars equipped with the automatic transmission, but that's OK because we think the manual is a must in any ZL1.

The six-speed Tremec TR6060 feels meaty and well built, and there's never a moment's doubt that the trans can handle engine output. For the ZL1, Chevy designed the shifter in-house, and it feels just as good on the strip as the available Hurst short-throw unit in the SS does, but much more fluid in street driving. The best feature of this gearbox, however, is no-lift shift, which means you can keep the accelerator pinned down while changing ratios. The key to perfecting the no-lift shift, according to Camaro chief engineer Al Oppenheiser, is short-shifting. Not way before redline but just enough that the 1.9-liter supercharger has time to produce boost between gears.

Taking the ZL1 the length isn't very dramatic. The exhaust isn't earsplitting, and the front tires stay true and straight. The car's head-up display is unneeded, because there's plenty of time to glance down at the standard tachometer between shifts. The car is extremely predictable, easy to control, and it doesn't try to put you into the outside wall every time you lift off the throttle. It's not a frightening experience at all, which isn't what you'd expect from something packing 580 hp. We loved hot-lapping the Chevy. After each pass, we'd roll the windows down and crank the air conditioning, forcing the car's electric fan to come on, helping lower temperatures in both the engine and the supercharger's intercooler. Then we would drive through the staging lanes, back to the tree, roll up the windows, and turn off the air conditioning, ready for another run. The car never hiccupped or showed any signs of fatigue, which made us do even more consecutive passes. We weren't once let down by the ZL1's performance.

The car is both a lion and a pussycat. It's extremely powerful and very satisfying to drive in a straight line. That said there's not a lot of theater in doing so. There are no heroic saves or mid-strip slides. For that stunning spectacle, we turn to the car we ran against the Chevy.

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Bcoles1
I get tired of Ford lovers that are never happy with the credit they get. If you gave me 5000.00 dollars more on the Camaro I would blow the Ford out the door. Price as tested!!!! Ford needed a performance package and an Svt track package to win.
blkthomas
I agree there seemed to be some bias in this story.. off the bat Im a FORD fan, and I can agree the Camaro has a more advanced suspension.. but drag racing IS all about who get across the line first (no matter how you do it)!! we all have our favorites but really.. lets be fair and give credit where its due. Fast is fast, and the yard stick is the same..
shaker281
HMMM, no bias, eh? In part 1 the first author was so giddy he almost peed his pants over a .7 second edge , now the second author starts part 2 by saying "timeslips aren't everything"! If I planned to make a living writing for auto enthusiasts, I wouldn't have been so quick to destroy my credibility and that of my employer.
redbloodedxy
redvette77:Yeah, ok redlips -- "least biased" according to who?GM = Government Morons
redvette77
@redbloodedxyAutomobile Magazine are the least biased publication in the business. Fact. Now simmer down.
redbloodedxy
More slanted writing from professionals! Automobile: How much is Gov't. Motors paying you? The article never mentions the Camaro's horrible gas mileage, cartoonish styling, bad ergonomics, or that cheesy plastic piece of crap covering the motor in Freudian fashion. Instead, you guys write about the Mustang's brute force off the line as if it were some kind of problem. Really ?? The GT500 is a marvel of engineering at a bargain price -- a terrific package! Real race cars have manual transmissions! Anybody can drive the girl-a-matic Camaro and look good -- big deal.
spitball
I still want a Shelby but I'm glad our money did some good for Government Motors!
redvette77
@ RFloritThere is no Japanese or European car that you can buy for less than 60k, and will beat these two vehicles. Even if there were, it still wouldn't matter. They are pony cars. And pony cars are something you either understand, or you don't. They are something special.
tulsvt
@redvett, That does make me feel a little better, there is a Dodge one on my screen now. The fact is that these are both great cars. Who would have thought that we would have 2 American Pony cars for sale with 580+ HP. I can say that unless they made the cluch extra heavy in the 13's, his gripes about the cluch are unfounded. The cluch in my 2012 Shelby is no heavier than it was in my BMW 328 although the shift feel of the TR6060 does suck. @RFlorit, I would love to know what Japanese car you can buy for less than $60K that will whip either of these cars.
Cbad
Hey Florit, do everyone a favor and let us know where one can find a 3 year old 911 Turbo for $60K! Before posting such garbage you might consider doing a minutes worth of research...
garbargc
ummm.. drag racing IS about trap times. There are no two other cars that are more so marketed and built to appeal to fans and owners who care about exactly that -- bragging rights as to which gets down the quarter faster. I have convinced myself the authors of these comparisons render opinions independent of sponsor $, but as others have written, this case looks suspect... Declare the Ford the winner.
RFlorit
12.3/11.7 quarters? 1:44 laps at Gingerman? Sounds great for pony car standards but these are $60K plus sports cars with $20K car interior plastic, $25K car chassis. Do the research, for that dough you can buy european, japanese (or corvette) and whip these two, buy a Cayman S and shave 8 seconds at Ginger with half the ponies of these two, buy a three year old 911 turbo and whip them at the quarter by 1.5 seconds, drooling at these two is fool's gold.
redvette77
@ tulsvtTry not to read too much into it. When I read the same story, there was a Lincoln advertisement on one of the pages. The simple fact is that the authors of these articles are paid to give us their opinions of the cars. They are doing just that, take it or leave it.
32V-SVT
Where are the Videos?!?!?!
Ry_Trapp0
"One, drag racing isn't all about quarter-mile times."...that's funny, you had this to say in part 1..."This test is about which car can turn a lap fastest."so numbers only matter when the course that's being timed has turns, huh?"Every single pass in the GT500 and ZL1 was a ball, and was so involving that we couldn't care less about our time slips."wow, you guys sure did care about those lap times at gingerman though, involvement and 'having a ball' be damned!wow, i can't wait to see the 3rd part! i wonder who is gonna win?![/sarcasm]
pointby
Just wow. I love both cars for what they are. It is a great time to be a muscle car enthusiast. But please, "1/4 mile race is not just about the time slip". Really? So following that logic I am guessing if the GT500 was 2 seconds faster yesterday it still would have lost. Let me guess who will win the next segment about every day driveability... Clearly it will be the car with MRC but also the lower gas mileage, the tiny windshield and the big blind spots. Oh and useless gauges behind the shifter. After all, its not just about ergonomics, or speed, or exhaust sound or....
tulsvt
Funny, when the ZL1 wins a 2+ mile track test by 7/10ths of a second, it is declared the obvious winner. When the Shelby wins a 1/4 mile drag by 5/10ths of a second and 11 MPH, all the "objective" auther has to say is they are both good cars... Wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that it is a Chevy ad on this page instead of a Ford ad?

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