not really, the one your thinking.
There's a word for any driver who thinks he's in charge when behind the wheel of the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 SLP: delusional.
This is not just a muscle car, it's a one-car biker gang — hell on four wheels, packing a supercharged 750-horsepower 7.0-liter V8 and six forward gears. This thing is always traction-limited. Its massive rear tires turn to jelly at quarter-throttle. Even with the bolognas lit, it explodes from point to some other random point.
And you'd better be ready to grab some gears. Everything happens so quickly in the 2011 Chevy Camaro ZL1 it's impossible for your mind, your hands, your feet or your respiratory system to keep up. And it sounds like war.
We may have just found the perfect Camaro.
The $80,000 Heart Transplant
This is not the GM-made LSA-powered Camaro ZL1 that's due in 2012. Until December 31, 2011, SLP Performance of Toms River, New Jersey, has the rights to the ZL1 name and it's making the most of it.
The company, which has been souping up GM's pony cars since the early 1990s, charges $80,000 to convert a manual-transmission-equipped Camaro SS into a ZL1. Yeah, that's $80K plus the cost of a Camaro SS — base price, $32,750. Assuming no discounts, that's $112,750 minimum. Not cheap. But practically no one ordering one of the 69 ZL1s SLP is building this year is likely to stay at the minimum.
That 69-unit production run commemorates, duh, the 69 ZL1 Camaros Chevrolet built during the 1969 model year. And like those cars, SLP's new ZL1 is powered by an all-aluminum 427-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) V8. This one isn't a Chevy big block, however, but an SLP-assembled variation on the LS7 that's installed in the track-ready Z06 version of the Corvette.
The ZL1 isn't just a bunch of stickers spread over a Camaro with a bolt-on supercharger.
To build the ZL1 engine, SLP stuffs the LS7 block with a forged chromoly crank, SLP-specific cam and hard-core forged rods and pistons. Then it caps everything with lower-compression LS3 heads running premium valvetrain elements. Throw in high-performance versions of ancillary components and the result is a voracious/insatiable/wicked/blistering engine.
The Z06's LS7 runs a thick 11.0:1 compression ratio and, without the help of forced induction, is SAE net-rated at 505 hp on premium-grade fuel. SLP's 7.0-liter only runs at 10.3:1 compression but is boosted by an Eaton TVS 2300 blower — that company's latest variation on the classic Roots-style supercharger with four-lobed rotors on 160-degree twists. Heaving in 10 psi of boost and aided by SLP's "Blackwing" cold-air induction system, SLP fabricated headers and an SLP-built exhaust system, the company says it's good for 750 hp. There's reason to believe them.
Inside Line had both a ZL1 coupe and convertible to test. Recently Engineering Editor Jason Kavanagh put the convertible on the chassis dyno at MD Automotive. Exactly why Jay is dressed like Che Guevara in this video is open to speculation.
Inside Line tests in California, and considering the 91-octane swill available here, that 617-hp performance at the wheels is mighty indeed. With the better fuel available in other parts of the country, 750 ponies at the flywheel before parasitic drivetrain losses is plausible.
Also consider the ZL1's near-flat torque curve that shows more than 550 pound-feet of twist down around 2,400 rpm, a 610 lb-ft peak at 4,200 rpm and production of more than 500 lb-ft even as the fuel cutoff hits at 6,300 rpm. If you want more low-end thrust than that, go rip off a GE90 turbofan from under the wing of a 777.
SLP hasn't certified the ZL1 for sale in the People's Republic of California, anyhow. If we won't feed it a high-protein diet, we don't deserve it.
Fortified to Excess
To put SLP's supercharged engine in an unfortified Camaro would be dangerous. To put it in a Camaro that's not redecorated to attract attention would be bad marketing.
The Tremec six-speed manual transmission (versions of which have been used in the Dodge Viper) is left pretty much alone and treated to an SLP short-throw shifter. A Corvette ZR1 clutch assembly and SLP flywheel make sure the power makes it to the transmission at all. In back, SLP-made heavy-duty half-shafts are fortified for extreme abuse.
And trust us, this car can take abuse.
While the basic geometry of the Camaro's suspension remains, SLP adjustable coil-over shocks and oversize anti-sway bars increase roll stiffness and bring the car down to the ground.
Brembo brakes are used all around — 16-inch vented rotors up front clamped by six-piston calipers and 15-inchers in back with four pistons squeezing down. Outboard of those are 20-by-9-inch front and 20-by-10.5-inch rear SLP lightweight forged alloy wheels. The tires are Michelin Pilot Sport PS2s with 245/45R20s in front and 295/35R20s in back.
Dressed to Excess
Distinguishing SLP's ZL1 handiwork from mere Camaros are a special front fascia, a front splitter with a "carbon-fiber finish," a true carbon-fiber hood, a rear deck lid finished to look like it's carbon fiber, a rear spoiler that has the sneaky carbon-fiber finish, a blacked-out rear tail panel and a carbon-look rear diffuser.
Thankfully the ZL1 was painted low-key gray. A brighter color would have had it looking like a calliope heading a circus parade. As it is, however, it just looks hungry: ready to consume continents in big honking chomps.
Inside there's the expected embroidered floor mats and so many logos and dash plaques that SLP may have drained the world's supply of Zs, Ls and 1s dry. The best interior element, however, is the houndstooth cloth seat inserts that seem lifted straight out of a '69 Camaro. The rest of the seats may be covered in soft Katzkin leather, but it's the houndstooth that will attract attention.
The ZL1's front splitter scrapes when it runs over gum wrappers and, as with other Camaro coupes, its outward visibility is lousy. But those are just inconveniences and anyone can live with some inconvenience. It's the momentous challenge of herding the ZL1's horses that's staggering.
Dip into the ZL1's throttle and you may as well just slam the pedal to the firewall. It's not that the throttle lacks progressivity, but that the engine sound is so intoxicating that the temptation to wood it is irresistible. And once you give in to the urge, you're hooked like a junkie.
Then there are the staccato rumbles, spits and barks the engine makes once the driver lets off the throttle. Even when cruising at 30 mph, lifting off the throttle to turn into a CVS parking lot, the ZL1 sounds as if it's pulling into the pits for a driver change at the 24 Hours of Daytona.
Launching the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 takes a very particular technique. The trick is finding the precise rate at which the throttle can be applied without overwhelming the rear tires. So after a clutch dump at 2,500 rpm, the driver needs to gently roll into the throttle maybe a quarter-inch per second. And even with that tenderness, the tires will still haze up and fry.
With the traction control off, the best 0-60-mph time achieved with the 3,900-pound ZL1 coupe was a disappointing 4.3 seconds (4.2 with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip). Some decent fuel and more work on the launch would drop that time down into the high 3-second range. A set of drag slicks could knock that to the low 3s. The 4,168-pound ZL1 convertible, using the identical launch technique, also did the 0-60 deed in 4.3 seconds.
Over the quarter-mile, the ZL1 coupe went through the traps in 12.1 seconds at 120.9 mph. The convertible did it in 12.2 seconds at 117.2 mph.
In comparison, the 3,366-pound, 638-hp 2010 Corvette ZR1 runs from zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds and blows through the quarter-mile in 11.7 seconds at 126.7 mph. Weighing 534 pounds less than the ZL1 and not spinning its much wider 335/25R20 rear tires all the way down the length of the track are, it turns out, advantages.
The heavy ZL1 coupe's 110-foot stopping distance is impressive, and its big Brembo discs are designed for fade resistance. This Camaro could perform back-to-back panic stops for a week without much deterioration in performance.
Oversteer-on-demand is the only way we can describe the ZL1's handling. Its steering wheel isn't irrelevant, but it's close. It's not that the front tires don't bite, it's just that whatever happens up front is easily overwhelmed by applying power.
Brake into a corner and the ZL1's nose will push gently. A talented driver will recognize the moment the car has hit understeer, apply some throttle and let the car rotate around the front tires. The big challenge is not over-applying the throttle and spinning your $113,000 toy off the road backward. On fire.
If you have the touch, the ZL1 is otherworldly through the corners. If you don't have that touch, leave the traction control on and indulge in the sights and sounds that make the ZL1 such a high-drama spectacle.
On the skid pad the ZL1 orbited at 0.90g whether or not the traction control system was engaged. The PS2s have gentle breakaway at their limits, but it's not easy to sneak up on those limits with a car this powerful. The knife-edge balance between power and adhesion was even more of a challenge in the slalom, where the ZL1 swung through at 70.1 mph on one perfect run. The last stock Camaro SS we tested managed a 68.2-mph run.
Compared to a standard Camaro SS, the ZL1 coupe rides significantly stiffer, and the shocks seem to rebound more suddenly over bumps. It's not uncomfortable for the committed enthusiast, but his relatives may complain.
SLP has always been more ambitious than most tuners. Back in the '90s its Pontiac Firebird-based Firehawk models featured shockingly powerful, specially assembled small-block V8s and aggressively tuned suspensions when many shops were trying to pawn off cat-back exhaust systems as "tuning." The ZL1 isn't just a bunch of stickers spread over a Camaro with a bolt-on supercharger.
But the best thing of all is that this car speaks to the primal instincts of automotive enthusiasm. You don't need to know anything about cars to know the moment you see, hear and feel the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 approaching that it's something special.
Yup, we may have just found the perfect Camaro.