COPO Lives! Camaro ZL1 – The Fastest Camaro Yet?


Gallery in multiple 3D, & 2D formats below the jump.
Though many Camaro enthusiasts were expecting Chevrolet to introduce the Z28 version of the current, new, Camaro at the Chicago Auto Show, I doubt they were disappointed when that announcement failed to materialize. Instead of reviving the Z28, Chevy dug deep into their performance heritage for an even more legendary brand: the Camaro ZL1, to be offered for sale sometime in 2012.

The original ZL1 was the king-daddy of all performance Chevys, even more powerful than the L-88 Corvettes. Like many muscle car iterations in the 1960s, fundamentally the ZL1 was about a big bad engine in a lightweight car. Unlike other COPO (Central Office Production Order) cars like the Yenkos, that involved [well connected] Chevy dealers working their magic on the order forms, the ZL1 originated within Chevy itself. Chevy performance honcho Vince Piggins authorized the installation of 427 cubic inch V8s into a small run of 1969 Camaro. Those weren’t ordinary L-72 427s, though, they were the all aluminum race versions that powered Jim Hall’s Chaparral racers. Though factory rated at 430HP, the ZL1 undoubtedly put out over 500HP and the ZL1 Camaros have long been considered to be the quickest street legal car Chevy has every built, capable of doing low-13 second runs right out of the box, with stock tires. Tuned versions dipped into the mid 11 second range. Only 69 examples were built.

With such an illustrious fore bearer setting the bar so high, the new ZL1 had better have the performance to match the legendary name. From the ZL1’s features that Chevy announced, it looks like it will have the right stuff. Starting with a supercharged and intercooled 6.2L LSA V8 rated tentatively at 550 HP and 550 pound-feet of torque, that power is transferred through a six-speed manual gearbox and controlled with 14″+ diameter brake rotors and Brembo calipers (6 piston in front, 4 in the back), magnetic ride control (with touring and sport modes).

The ZL1 also gets distinguishing exterior styling that includes a different, splitter equipped fascia, air intakes for brake cooling, and side rocker panel extensions. The fascia isn’t the only aero aid, as the ZL1 will come with a revised rear diffuser, and a different rear spoiler. As with the ZR-1 Corvette, the ZL1 Camaro will have a trick hood, only unlike the Corvette’s window on its LS9, the ZL1’s hood has a matte black carbon fiber insert. While it stylistically evokes the 4X2 chrome hood inserts from the ’69 SS Camaro, it’s actually functional. The insert is claimed to extract air from the engine compartment and increase downforce. The performance package is finished off by a dual-mode exhaust system whose sound output is varied in response to engine speed.

There were only 69 original ZL1 equipped Camaros made, and with a price tag of over 4,100 1969 era dollars for the ZL1 engine option, it actually took GM a few years to sell all of them. While no MSRP was announced, you can expect that there will be a premium to be paid for the ZL1 package but I doubt it will come close to doubling the cost of the car as the the original did. All those teenagers who lusted after a 1969 ZL1 are now grownups with disposable income. I expect that Chevy will sell every ZL1 they can build.

At the Chicago show there was some discussion among the attendees as to where that leaves a potential Z28.
When the Z-28 version eventually arrives, will it slot in above or below the ZL1? I think that Chevy pulled a relatively esoteric icon, the ZL1, from the archives so they could create something comparable to what Ford is doing with the multiple Mustang models including those modified by Shelby. The Shelbys allow Ford to sell super high performance versions of the car without diminishing the value of the Mustang GT (or Boss 302, now) brand names. I spoke with Chevy designer Tom Peters and while he wouldn’t confirm that when the Z-28 does arrive that it will slot in below the ZL1 in terms of price and power, he did mention Ford’s many Mustang versions with a somewhat wistful tone of voice. Also, Chevy has sold thousands and thousands of Z-28s and any new version will likewise be positioned to have that kind of embrace from consumers. By using an esoteric (yet storied) nameplate for the ZL1, that won’t diminish the Z-28 brand in the eyes of most Camaro fans when it arrives and isn’t the fastest, most powerful Camaro ever.

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