The flattest, smoothest strip of concrete in the world is a three-mile runway in Florida. This was once the Shuttle Landing Facility runway at the Kennedy Space Center where the Space Shuttle took off and landed. It’s now the home of Johnny Böhmer Proving Grounds where automakers and private owners run their vehicles to get real-world performance results.
From a Bugatti Chiron to a Ford F-150 Raptor, top speed tests for distances up to 2.3 miles have been recorded at the Proving Grounds. This YouTube video shows a 2019 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE thundering its way to a top speed record of 142 mph for the half-mile on the runway. Satisfyingly loud and fast, this Camaro has many advantages that give it that heart-thumping speed, as we’ll soon find out.
The ZL1 muscles in
Before we even consider the 1LE track-focused package, the front-engine, rear-wheel-drive ZL1 stands as Chevrolet’s high-performance Camaro. To understand why this beast is so fast, it helps to know what’s under its hood. The brawn behind the ZL1 is its LT4 engine, a 650-hp supercharged V8 with 650 lb-ft of torque.
This particular Camaro has a six-speed manual gearbox that comes standard. Chevy also offers a 10-speed automatic transmission option with paddle shifters that it claims to be faster than the stick. No matter which transmission you choose, it’s still blazingly fast with a 0-to-60 mph time of 3.5 seconds. Its top speed, according to Chevrolet, is 202 mph. After the top speed test in Florida, we truly believe that the ZL1 can go that fast.
The car weighs 3,820 pounds, which is 628 lbs lighter than its rival the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody. The ZL1’s other rival the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 outweighs it by 408 pounds. Judging by its performance at the Proving Grounds, the Camaro’s lightness is a decided advantage.
A track-primed Camaro
The 1LE track-ready package brings the ZL1’s acceleration, braking, and cornering to another level. First, its adjustable suspension uses a Multimatic DSSV damping system, which gives the car great wheel and vehicle control. Fans of the Chevy Colorado pickup will recognize this system as being similar to the one used in the excellent ZR2.
To keep the engine track-cooled, the package also includes 11 heat deflectors for the engine oil system, transmission, and differentials.
Chevrolet has reduced the Camaro’s curb weight by installing lighter wheels and dampers, plus a lighter rear window. Then there are those super-grippy Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3R tires and high-performance 4-piston Brembo brakes. Finally, features such as the big splitter and the dive planes on the front end as well as the carbon fiber rear wing produce extra downforce, making the car more stable on the track.
50 years of ZL1 history
The ZL1’s history reaches back to 1969 when its engine was designed for the Can-Am road racing series. Although it was never intended for production cars, a visionary auto dealer named Fred Gibb used Chevy’s special order system to produce the ZL1. At the time, the ZL1 was a lightweight 427-cubic-inch engine that Gibb used to replace the heavier iron big-block that originally was installed in the Camaro.
Since then, the ZL1 has had the distinction of being Chevy’s ultimate performance Camaro and still manages to edge out its competitors today. Even with 50 fewer horses than the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, the ZL1 with the track-ready 1LE package matches it in a zero to 60 heat. It beats the 717-hp Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody in the same heat by one-tenth of a second.
Taking off and landing on a runway originally designed for the Space Shuttle with a top speed of 142 mph just confirms what we already suspected: the ZL1 has clearly earned its place among the fastest muscle cars you can buy this year.