In the auto world, the letter Z isn’t just important to Nissan fans. For over half a century, Chevy has used the 26th letter to denote some of the hottest cars its ever made. There was the 1962 Z06 Corvette, the Z/28 Camaro, and even regrettably the Z24 Cavalier. But for serious Camaro fans, the holy grail muscle car is the ultra-rare 1969 ZL-1 Camaro – a 427 V8-powered, 500-plus horsepower drag car that was just barely street legal. Chevy made just 69 of those, and today surviving cars can be worth upwards of $500k. From 2012 to 2015, Chevy revived the ZL1 (minus the hyphen) nameplate, and let’s just say it was a lot more popular the second time around.
Like the original car, the the ZL1 was less of a trim package and more its own animal. Based on the SS, 30% of its parts were unique. And in the power department, it lived up to its ancestor: a 6.2 liter supercharged V8 cranking out 580 horsepower and 560 pound-feet of torque, making it the most powerful production Camaro of all-time. When Chevy debuted the current-generation Camaro, it was only a matter of time before it introduced a new ZL1; the only question was if it could top the sheer madness of the last one. Now we know, because it’s here. And, yes, it certainly can.
In its press release, Chevy declared: “2017 Camaro ZL1 Vs. Everybody,” and frankly, if we were the betting type, we’d probably put our money on the Camaro. Debuting just ahead of the New York Auto Show, the last car’s 580 horsepower now feels like ancient history in light of this simple statement:
Acceleration for the ZL1 is delivered with a new supercharged 6.2L V-8 engine estimated at 640 hp (477 kW), and either a six-speed manual transmission with active rev matching or an all-new 10-speed automatic.
Remember when the hottest factory Camaro you could buy was the 245 horsepower IROC-Z? Yeah, we don’t either.
The last-generation ZL1 was powerful as hell, but that big engine had a lot of car to pull around – 4,374 pounds worth to be exact. Chevy did a noble job of making it aggressive in the corners (it came standard with GM’s Magnetic Ride Control Shocks), but the new car is over 200 pounds lighter than the outgoing ZL1, with a stiffer chassis, better brakes, and a much improved suspension. This means the supercharged V8’s 640 ponies and 640 pound-feet of torque will have a lot less work to do, and with the base Camaro’s surprising tendency to carve corners, this new ZL1 could easily become the next great American thorn in the side of the Porsche 911 Turbo.
On top of the six-speed manual familiar to many Camaro owners, the all-new 10-speed automatic is noteworthy. Chevy says it has “unique calibrations and hardware developed exclusively for the ZL1,” which means it’s probably be slightly quicker than the row-your-own. It also announced that by 2018, it will be available in eight model across the GM lineup.
Elsewhere, the ZL1 benefits from a “cohesive suite” of upgrades, including: “an updated Magnetic Ride suspension, Performance Traction Management, electronic limited-slip differential, Custom Launch Control and Driver Mode Selector.” Over 100 hours of wind tunnel testing went into making the ZL1 aerodynamic, and a revised front fascia, new hood with carbon fiber insert, wider fenders, and wing spoiler will make sure your new pride and joy won’t be mistaken for a plebeian SS model. The ZL1 also boasts unique 20-inch wheels shod in Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires, and six-piston Brembo brakes with massive 15.35 inch brake rotors, ensuring you’ll safely get from 60 to zero about as fast as you’ll make it from zero to 60.
And speaking of zero to 60 times, well, we just don’t have them yet. The last ZL1 could do it in 3.9 seconds, and top 180 miles per hour. Simply put, this one will be faster. The last car started at $57k, making it a performance bargain, and bona-fide Dodge Hellcat/Shelby GT350R fighter. The new one will probably be a bit more, but still within the range of its Detroit rivals – and far less than any European car that could match its performance. The ’60s may always be remembered as the golden age of muscle cars, but with 600-plus horsepower ZL1s rolling out of Chevy factories, we can’t help bout feel like we’ve got it a little better.