2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1: Simply supercar


The name “Chevrolet Camaro ZL1” doesn’t do this car justice.

Heck, a name like “Thunder Snow Warhammer” doesn’t even come close. Superlatives like “Great,” “Wow,” “Um,” and “Wha?” couldn’t even sniff its jock.

Camaro ZL1 sounds like an office printer to me.

The only way to get sonically close to what the Camaro brings to the table, we must devolve only into sounds.

Specifically, the low-tone, hypnotic, rumbling of a 6.2-liter, supercharged V8 engine does this car justice.

If you’re looking for me to pick words from the English language that get close, and I suppose I’ll do my best considering my profession as a lousy writer, I can do this: The 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is a triumph of all that is known and pedestrian in the automotive world. From ballistic performance, to preternatural sounds and stunning looks, the ZL1 could be the first car I’ve ever been in that can transcend language.

I’m fawning, I know.

Let me step back and attempt to put onto paper what I can.

First, the 2012 Camaro ZL1 didn’t come in a vacuum.

This car shares its nameplate with a dragstrip-ready version of a Camaro built in the late 1960s that was so esoteric and rare, it could rightfully command its own pilgrimage. That model, built in 1969 and limited to only 69 models, could cost three times as much as a normal Camaro those days, and produced nearly over 400 horsepower.

Turns out the 2012 version isn’t so different.

Clocking in at $56,295 base, the ZL1 is two-and-a-half times the price of a base model Camaro and produces nearly 600 horsepower.

The ZL1 competes head-to-head against America’s other sinfully delightful muscle car, the Mustang GT500, which produces even headier horsepower figures for roughly the same price. But both cars aren’t only about their engines, which I’ll describe later.

About the Camaro’s engine: The motor fitted in between the Camaro’s shoulders is nearly the same engine found in the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 and Cadillac CTS-V coupe, albeit with a few tweaks from either application. Combustion doesn’t happen this violently on the surface of the sun.

Stamp on the throttle in the Camaro ZL1 and you’ll run up to 60 mph in roughly four seconds. In 12 seconds, you’ll have traveled a quarter mile, and if you stick with it long enough — and with complete disregard to your wellbeing or driver’s license — you’ll hit 180 mph.

Which brings me to my second point: If speed in a straight line is a drug — and it is — the Camaro ZL1 has the uncut stuff because it does more.

Know the feeling on roller coasters where you turn the corner and your stomach feels like it’s sitting in the next guy’s lap? How would you like that feeling on your way to coffee in the morning?

Engineers at Chevrolet set out to create a Nurburgring-ready muscle ubercoupe that could handle the straights and the corners. They spectacularly succeeded.

The car deploys a magneto-rheological system — Chevrolet’s third generation —that varies the suspension’s response to road conditions. The chassis is meant to be firm while blitzing the track, more forgiving in donut runs. All this is handled by the ZL1’s onboard computer that constantly monitors road conditions, collects information from each corner independently and adjusts spring rate and damping accordingly. If the weather service were this accurate, we could predict the trajectory of raindrops to the blade of grass. In Kansas. A year from now.

You can see where I’m going with this.

Just as important to the turning process is the stopping process, which the Camaro does as well as anything else.

The 14.6-inch rotors in the front and 14.4-inch rotors in the back fade less than bad music from the 1980’s. Brembo calipers help stop the beast quicker and safer than plummeting into a concrete wall. Oh yeah, and the Camaro ZL1 has a rear limited-slip differential that shifts more power than the military.

If you’ve followed me this far, then let me make my third point, The Camaro ZL1 is a legend already.

There are cars that handle as well as the Camaro and go as fast as the ZL1 but they fall quickly into two categories: illegal or overpriced.

For $150,000 you could easily hop behind the wheel of something that has the same cornering speed as the ZL1 — they’re called the Audi R8 GT or Porsche 911 Turbo. Or, you could easily go to the grocery store in something that has four wheels, costs the same and goes just as fast, but it wouldn’t have a hood, doors, functioning exhaust, safety equipment, firewall … a midget car is what I’m describing. You couldn’t get it licensed.

That’s why the ZL1 is so special. Because American brains behind American muscle created nothing less than an American legend.

Maybe they should have just called it the Chevrolet Extraordinary.


Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He knows he’s wrong, but he’d rather hear it from you. Reach him at [email protected]