Track test: Chevrolet's supercharged Camaro ZL1 burns rubber
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When Holden announced it would stop making cars in Australia from 2017, it seemed that Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) was doomed. If there were no Aussie Commodores, surely there couldn’t be any HSVs?
Fast forward to 2020 and we’re all still absorbing the news that the Holden brand will be retired for good this year – but HSV is still standing. Doing long, leery skids, even.
It’s had a go at a super-tricked-up pickup based on the Holden Colorado, the Sportscat; although that can’t continue now that Colorado is on notice.
In the meantime, HSV has also been sharpening its skills at turning left-hand drive Chevrolet products into right-hand drive models for Australia and New Zealand.
And that’s where the future lies: you’ll have heard plenty of talk about a possible GM Special Vehicles (GMSV) presence here post-Holden. And while there’s nothing official yet, you can bet HSV will be at the centre of it.
HSV has just launched the Silverado 1500 pickup truck in RHD, but its glamour model is still the Camaro coupe — especially the flagship ZL1.
The ZL1 is an outrageous machine, as it should be because it comes at an outrageous price: $173,990 in manual form or $175,990 with a 10-speed automatic.
The supercharged LT4 V8 makes 477kW/881Nm and of course it’s rear-drive. Just double-checked and yes, that’s correct. Nearly as much grunt as a V8 Supercar racer. Gulp.
For those with less extreme tastes, there’s still the Camaro 2SS ($105,990), packing 339kW/617Nm from its naturally aspirated LT1 V8. And even that’s a mean machine.
HSV production of the RHD 2SS has finished for now, but it’s still very much in stock for NZ through 2020. Expect more news of this and other models when that whole GMSV thing is sorted.
But back to the ZL1. It’s a model that comes with a fearsome reputation, partly from the on-paper stats (massive outputs, rear-drive, it’s American) and partly based on war stories from those who’ve had little moments in the wet. And some large moments.
No denying any of the above, but after a day on track at Hampton Downs in the ZL1, the thing that stuck with me most of all was the sheer sophistication of this big Camaro. Yes, it packs a huge wallop and the adrenaline kicks in a lot sooner than with most fast cars.
But the 10-speed automatic gearbox is incredibly slick, the chassis communicative and (most importantly) the traction/stability control is highly adept at giving you just enough rope to enjoy yourself without interrupting the flow of any given corner. Which is just as well, because you get the impression it’s working all the time.
The Camaro ZL1 is a loud American muscle car in exactly the way you’d expect and hope. It’s just that it’s a smart one as well. A production ZL1 with the optional 1LE pack (mainly suspension and aerodynamics) stormed around the Nurburgring Nordschleife in 7:16.04 sec in 2017.
Conditions for our drive were admittedly optimum. For a start, we had the Club Circuit at Hampton Downs all to ourselves; you feel confident when you have free reign at a racetrack.
It was a dry, hot day. Sticky. The car was stickier still because it was wearing the original Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3R summer tyres it comes fitted with from the US. They’re road legal, but don’t perform as well as they should in the dry-to-wet handling test required for Australian Design Rules, so the RHD showroom models wear Continental ContiSportContact 5P tyres that offer a broader range of grip. You can buy the old rubber back for $1000 if you want.
Oh, and one other thing. We had Holden, sorry HSV, hero Greg Murphy in the passenger seat offering encouragement, advice and sometimes grabbing the steering wheel; if I didn’t know better I’d think I was messing up those corners.
“Don’t follow the lines on the track — they’re from the drifters,” says Murph. Now he tells me.
It’s true that this kind of money allows you a long shopping list of high-performance cars.
You could even argue that if you’re not in the know, the Camaro ZL1 doesn’t look anything near $176k worth. It’s not going to wow the neighbours.
But nothing off the showroom floor in NZ matches this Chevrolet’s configuration and courageous performance/RWD handling package.
It’s an awesome thing.