Pahrump, Nevada -- While the 2014 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show features dozens of aftermarket companies eager to help you soup up your car, Chevrolet hopes owners of its Gen V Camaro (2010-2015) will instead turn to their nearest dealership for go-fast hardware. Here at Spring Mountain Motorsports park, Chevrolet Performance showed us two Camaro concepts fitted with dealer-installed upgrade parts.
Chevrolet Performance wants to offer a wide range of parts from its high-performance variants -- the Camaro 1LE, ZL1, and Z/28 -- so owners of older V-6 and V-8 SS models can upgrade their cars with improved handling and braking. While customers can -- of course -- pick and choose parts individually, the SEMA concepts shown here have a specific list of upgrades designed for particular types of driving.
“We take the mystery out of going fast,” Chevrolet director of performance parts Mark Dickens says. “Customers can build a car to suit their driving interests.”
Testing Camaros back to back
Chevrolet brought stock and modified versions of the Camaro to Spring Mountain Motorsports resort for back-to-back comparisons. We start our lead-follow session around a 1.5-mile configuration at Spring Mountain's expansive track in a standard 2015 Chevrolet Camaro SS to give us a baseline. As we recalled from prior encounters with the Camaro SS, the car is loud and fast, and it grips the road, too, but there’s a level of vagueness in the steering feedback and in the way the body rolls on the suspension that keeps this street racer from being a scintillating track car.
The Ultimate Street Performance Camaro SS concept shows drastic improvements. The most important modifications include stiffer anti-roll bars, a strut-tower brace, and 20-inch wheels with Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar G:1 tires from the Camaro 1LE, plus a high-flow air intake, tougher wheel hubs, and larger brakes from the Camaro ZL1.
The new suspension transforms the way the Camaro transitions between corners. Turn-in is quicker, the car takes a set into a corner without first rolling and pitching (Chevrolet claims 25 percent less body roll), and the car has a much more neutral feel entering a corner. We can brake later, thanks to the confidence imbued by the firmer pedal, and get on the power sooner because we sense the rear tires are better planted. This is how we'd want our Camaro SS set up for track use: predictable, taut, and willing to attack corners.
At the Chevrolet’s Milford Road Course handling track in Michigan, test drivers report the Street Performance Camaro SS is nearly 6 seconds quicker than a standard car, recording a lap time of 1:59.3.
Let’s get serious with the track variant
The next step up is the Ultimate Track Camaro SS concept, which as the name suggests is far more oriented to the track than the open road. From the catalog of parts used to create the Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, this concept car gets a free-flowing intake and exhaust for the V-8 engine, a helical limited-slip differential with racier 3.91:1 final-drive ratio and a differential cooler, Multimatic's expensive DSSV (Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve) dampers, brake-cooling air ducts, and an aero package claimed to produce downforce.
From the Camaro ZL1 come upgraded brakes and stronger wheel hubs. From the Camaro 1LE come wheels and tires. And from the Chevy Performance catalog comes an LS3 Power Upgrade kit that comprises ported cylinder heads, new camshafts, and a reprogrammed engine computer.
The Ultimate Track Camaro SS car set a record lap on the Milford Road Course time of 1:56.4, pretty close to the 1:53.7 lap cut by the $75,000 Camaro Z/28.
More than just loud
Once behind the wheel of the UT Camaro, it’s easy to notice the throbbing idle that new cylinder heads, cams, and programming have given the 6.2-liter LS3 V-8, while the Z/28 exhausts let it roar like the Corvette Stingray. There's 30-40 hp more than the stock V-8’s 426 hp, and the redline climbs from 6,500 rpm to 7,000 rpm.
Yet the real revelation is the way this Camaro goes around corners. For starters, it is significantly tauter and exhibits nearly zero body roll, largely due to spring rates that are stiffer than those of the regular Camaro SS by 85 percent in front and 65 percent in the rear. In addition, the excellent DSSV dampers that help make the Camaro Z/28 so capable transform the way the SS coupe settles itself both in the transitions between corners and over the many elevation changes of the Spring Mountain track. It all makes for a Camaro that laps with the composure and sophistication of a more expensive sports car.
We can also feel a major difference in the car’s personality, thanks to the helical-type limited-slip differential. As you lift the throttle on entry to a corner, the differential unlocks and helps the Camaro swing toward the apex of the corner, and indeed we can cut a much tighter cornering line without adding any more steering input. Put your foot down, the diff locks up and the car's line noticeably straightens, letting you power out of a turn far earlier than in the Camaro street car.
Hey, we’re human, too
All this capability, however, can make drivers overconfident. Well, it made us overconfident, anyway.
On our second lap, we exit one sweeping right turn with too much throttle, and as the differential tightens up, and we perform a lurid slide that leaves black marks on the track behind us. Before we have time to feel embarrassed, the driver behind us does exactly the same thing as our lead-follow instructor laughs over the radio.
We say our over-exuberance is a testament to how much confidence the chassis gives drivers. Chevy engineers say they'd only recommend this setup to true track-rats, who would likely swap out the tires for something stickier and then fully disable the stability control.
One glaring question remains: Why would muscle-car fans pony up for these parts rather than simply buying a more capable Camaro, or heading to the aftermarket?
For starters, Chevrolet hopes buyers who already own a fifth-gen Camaro will appreciate that they can simply enhance their existing car rather than buying a brand-new one. The parts also go through the same grueling 24-hour endurance testing at the Milford Road Course that Chevrolet uses for all its performance cars.
Compared to aftermarket parts, the Chevrolet Performance upgrades can be installed at your dealer and -- according to Chevy's math -- cost less than what you could buy elsewhere. Chevrolet says all the upgrade necessary to build the Ultimate Track Camaro SS would only cost $13,000 before installation. The priciest component is the $3,876 Z/28 suspension kit, and no aftermarket company can offer Camaro owners the pricey DSSV dampers it includes. “Having this portfolio of performance parts allows us to grow with our customers,” Dickens says. “So now you can focus the (modified) vehicle on track-day use, 100 percent.”
Chevrolet officials admit that sales of these parts will probably be pretty limited. Even so, it's great to see a company catering to enthusiasts who want to take their cars to the track.
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