Rarely in life, and the surreal life of magazine world, do things go as you planned or hoped. Such was the case when Chevrolet invited me out to Virginia International Raceway for an evening presentation and morning track outing to launch the 2012 Camaro ZL1. Things certainly began auspiciously; a gentleman greeted me at the Charlotte/Douglass International airport holding an iPad with a ZL1 image on it as we made our way to the first destination in perfect mid-sixty-degree weather. A scenic 62-mile drive, in a 2012 Camaro SS, through North Carolina and Virginia with the sun beaming had us reach VIR in late afternoon where two red and orange ZL1s welcomed us. That evening as those responsible for the ZL1's creation and development gave the full rundown on the car including Suspension Engineer Aaron Link, Powertrain Engineer Tony Roma, Camaro Chief Engineer Al Oppenheiser, and lead designer Tom Peters. Using a host of ZL1s, including an automatic version tipped over on its side to demonstrate, the crew ran through all of the changes made to turn the 2SS into a supercar at the sports car price of $54,995.
Starting from the beginning, the desired performance was established and then calculations were made to determine what specifications (such as tire size, power, etc) would be necessary to accomplish that using the fifth-gen chassis. The LSA engine was a great starting point for the Camaro team, which chose to optimize the induction system quite a bit using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) for a 30% reduction in air flow restriction. The intercooler brick also received some massaging for improved air flow and heat transfer. When all was said and done the tweaked Cadillac motor was making 580 horsepower at 6,000rpm and 556 lb-ft of torque at 4,200rpm. Of course matching that higher output, the Powertrain team would also have to beef up the driveline to match. A dual mass flywheel, twin-disc clutch, and the "MG9" version of the Tremec TR6060 would give the 30% increase in torque capacity over the SS version with a stronger output shaft and an additional main shaft roller bearing. A refined synchronizer design and a 5.1:1 ratio shifter were added to improve its feel. For the automatic version, the 6L90E pirated from the Cadillac CTS-V boasts many improvements from the SS's 6L80E including torque capacity and a special sump in the pan (to prevent starvation). Pre-staged upshifts vastly increase shift times in the manual mode, which is a full manual override unlike many of its competitors. So if you want to hit the rev limiter, have at it hoss!
The crew then tackled the most advanced Magnetic Ride Suspension system on the market (known as MR 3.0), which is a dual wire, dual core setup that is far quicker than any previous iteration. It offers up to 40% better dampening force and faster fall-off rate, thanks to an ECM that calculates optimum dampening 1,000 times per second. The MR suspension also combines with electric steering assist (with a constant variable ratio) and a sophisticated (five mode) traction management system to help the end user get the most out of the chassis. There is even a launch control (manual trans models) for drag racing on a prepped surface that is similar to a two-step but adjusts the RPM and spark depending on weather, traction and many other factors.
Throughout the presentation and the experience, one thing was very clear. Many of the engineers behind the ZL1 are racers and hot rodders, in fact Aaron Link and Tony Roma can wheel a car around a road course as good as any amateur racer. With this crew behind the ZL1, you can bet that they wanted a car that someone could confidently beat the snot out of at any track (road course or drag strip) and drive home. And thus many of the features seen throughout are made to accommodate such abuse such as the 9.84-inch iron rear end with hugely asymmetrical axles that utilize CV joints even beefier than what is found on the front axles of the turbo diesel Silverado HD. In fact, special CV joints had to be designed just for this car using new technology.
The engineering team even went so far as to test the rear by dumping the clutch at the drag strip many a time on a several sets of drag radials with 18, 19 and 20-inch wheels. In fact, Tony Roma said they even modified the lower control arm design to better fit an 18-inch drag wheel. Meanwhile, Al Oppenheiser was adamant about making coolers for the differential, oil, transmission, and even braking cooling ducts standard on the ZL1. The diff cooler is said to change the fluid temperature by up to 100-degrees. Higher durometer bushings were used in the cradle and differential to account for the added grip, and changes were made internally to the fuel tank to prevent starvation. The wheel bearings were stiffened, and the CTS-V based front brakes were given thicker two-piece rotors to hold up better on open track days. Even the brake pads are suitable for track days without the excessive noise and dust that we are accustomed with aftermarket pads. Oppenheiser said they are so confident in the durability of the ZL1 that the warranty will even cover racing.