► Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE review
► LHD only, no plans for Euro sale
► A shame: it's laugh-out-loud brilliant!
Chevy fans love an RPO code. A Regular Production Option, to give it its Sunday name, is a three-character alphanumeric code used by General Motors to work out which options a car has during the build process – and is crucial years afterwards when restoring or valuing it.
There’s an RPO code for almost everything, and while only a true Chevy geek would get frothy over the mention of vintage RPOs like U28 (ashtray light) or K76 (65-amp alternator), some, like Z28, Z06 and ZR1 have become brands in their own right.
ZL1 is another. Back in the late 1960s it meant an all-aluminium 7.0-litre V8 that doubled the price of the dragstrip-bound Camaro racer it was fitted to. These days it’s Chevy’s range-topping Camaro road car, a wickedly fast everyday-usable coupe or convertible in the vein of Porsche’s 911 Turbo. But if the ZL1 is 911 Turbo, the double-RPO ZL1 1LE is more GT2 RS. And like the GT2, even standing still this thing looks like it means business.
We test the regular Camaro V6 back in 2011
Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE: the tech specs
The satin-black bonnet features a carbonfibre air extractor, the jutting front splitter and canards (or dive planes) look like they’d be as handy slicing pedestrians as lap times, and perched on the rear lid is a vast spoiler good for 136kg of downforce at 150mph. Under the skin there are adjustable front camber plates and anti-roll bar, and trick spool-valve dampers from F1 supplier Multimatic (who also worked on the Ford GT).
It looks pretty terrifying and, in the wet, on its trackday-spec Goodyear Eagle F1 3R rubber, that’s pretty much how it feels. Even on dry roads the colossal 305-section front boots (as wide as the rears on a Ferrari 488…) wander around like a pinball and the tight damping feels overly abrupt.
There’s no more power from the standard ZL1’s 650bhp supercharged V8 but tick the 1LE option and you kiss goodbye to the 10-speed automatic transmission option and say hello to a brace of engine, diff and transmission coolers to keep you lapping until the fuel runs out.
The gearshift is surprisingly light and the pedals are brilliantly placed for change-smoothing right-pedal blips. Pop the clutch in the pitlane, keep your foot in and you’ll hit 60mph in 3.5sec. Interestingly, you still get paddles on the wheel, though here they’re used to switch the rev-matching software on and off.
How does the maximum Chevy Camaro drive?
Cost considerations mean the 1LE does without the carbon-ceramic brakes fitted to the old Z28. But the steel stoppers – six-pot Brembos at the front, fours at the back – are more than man enough for the job, hauling down what at 1732kg is still a relatively weighty machine and, crucially, doing it again and again without ever seeming to fade.
And that means the only thing likely to spoil your fun is the rate at which you’ll drain the 72-litre fuel tank. Because out on a circuit the ZL1 suddenly makes all the sense in the world. Now those monster front tyres that were so distracted and disinterested on the road become hyper-focused on following your instructions. And here the dampers’ scorn of body movements pays off.
There’s almost no understeer, and oversteer only when you call for it. You can drive it neatly or draw massive black lines on every corner, and the only real disappointment is the relatively modest 6500rpm redline (well, it’s disappointing if the car you drove immediately before was a high-revving Porsche).
It’s a brilliant package. Friendly enough for novices to hone their craft in, nuanced enough to keep track diehards interested. At a recent US track event I had the pick of a McLaren 720S, AMG GT R, Lamborghini Huracan Performante and a stack of other top-drawer metal but spent more time in the 1LE than any of them. The Camaro wasn’t the quickest, but it was one of the most appealing.
And the cheapest by miles. The 1LE package adds $7500 to the $62,495 price of a ZL1, which equates to a bargain £53,000, or half the price of a 911 GT3, a car I know from a back-to-back test is no faster around a track.
That’s the story in the US, at least. Here in Europe, and specifically Britain, wrong-hand drive and the prospect of massive import duties means few of us will get the chance to take to the track and go postal in the brilliant ZL1 1LE.
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