I came of driving age during the horsepower craze of the late ‘60s/early 70s, but even my adolescent fantasies never envisioned a 580 horsepower Camaro straight from the manufacturer.
The front view of the rally yellow 2013 Camaro ZL1 Coupe sitting in my driveway is downright sinister. Yes, the vehicle looks like Satan’s own ride in a cloak of black paint, but the bright yellow with black stripe only tones it down to the point where it still looks like the meanest bully at the drag strip.
The low air splitter is topped by huge openings above and below the bumper. The hood features a carbon fiber center with four holes for extracting air. At night, a push of the key fob illuminates the HID headlights and the adjective “feral” comes to mind.
As you slide into the leather bucket driver’s seat, your hands grip the Alcantara steering wheel, and you wonder if this is the same design that racecar drivers used when they powered their Chevys to class wins at Le Mans and Daytona. The shift knob is wrapped in the same non-slip material and tops a remarkably short shift lever. There’s also a swath of it covering a goodly portion of the dashboard. The overall effect is of a stock Camaro that just stepped out of a fine men’s clothing store clad in the best the custom shop has to offer. No, there’s nothing feminine about the ZL1.
Under that carbon fiber-adorned hood is an all-aluminum 6.2 liter supercharged V-8 engine. With 580 horsepower and 556 lb-ft of torque, it offers a lot more forward surge than the Camaro SS. It’s hard to describe just how good it feels to be thrust back into your seat on takeoff. A 0-60 mph time of 4.1seconds, and a quarter-mile time in the 12-second range only hint at the fun in store, as does the promised 184-mph top speed. The engineers really nailed the exhaust note. The sound from the quad chrome exhausts exudes a sense of menace that’s currently under control, but beware.
Launch control is added to StabiliTrak stability and traction control. Just two pushes of the traction control off button and you engage the program that limits engine rpms and wheel slip to get a great launch every time. Unfortunately, despite massive 20-inch Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar Gen 2 tires mounted on great looking black wheels, I experienced a lot of tire slip.
Sadly, the weather didn’t cooperate, and five of the seven days I had the ZL1, it rained. Given how easy it was to break traction on dry pavement, I didn’t care to test my mettle by driving this brute in the rain.
One item that made the ZL1 much less of a pavement pounder was the set of magneto-rheological shock absorbers. When you toggle between tour and sport, the fluid in the shocks thickens and the ride goes from firm, but not punishing, to downright racetrack ready. The ZL1’s ability to carve corners is nothing short of amazing.
I know a fellow who has a 630-hp. V8 engine installed in his 1968 Z28 Camaro who seemed like the perfect person to weigh in on the ZL1’s merits. His overall impression was how amazingly smooth the engine is. (This was echoed by a younger Trans Am driver
who also went for a ride). The Z28 owner wasn’t pleased with the rear axle hop that accompanied the acceleration from a five mph rolling start. In the Camaro’s defense, the temperature was hovering in the low forties and the Goodyears are about as far from a winter tire as Akron’s best can manage.
So the question that kept coming up was, “Should someone with no more qualifications than the ability to write a check for the $54,350 entry fee be allowed to drive this powerful pony car?” On the side of civil liberties, everyone has the right to buy whatever motorized toys they can afford, and as long as they behave themselves on public roads, what’s the problem?
On the flip side, I’ve had over 40 years of driving all sorts of powerful cars (OK, there were the Pinto years), and I still found myself needing to be on the top of my game to keep the ZL1’s rear end from wanting to step out every time I pulled out from a stop sign with more than ½ throttle. Yet, the ZL1 can earn a 19-mpg highway rating from the EPA and is more than capable of a reasonable highway cruise.
In the end, I have to come down on the extreme joy side of the equation. Here’s a vehicle that can outperform a racing car of just a few decades ago, yet it comes with a full manufacturer’s warranty, safety equipment and is available from your local Chevy dealer.
Maybe we don’t need those jetpacks they promised us back in the ‘60s. Perhaps the ZL1 is all the powerful propulsion product anyone could desire.