It's the freakin' Chevy Camaro Z/28. It's high school. It's “Dazed and Confused,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Billy Madison” and Foreigner. It's what the coolest kid you knew drove. The new Z/28, at a decidedly not high-school price of $76,150, goes on sale later this year.
When the Camaro was introduced in 1966 (as a 1967 model), the Z/28 was the road-racing version. Several other names were considered, but nothing stuck, and Chevy just ended up naming the package after its option code, which came after the Super Sport package—option Z27-- on the options sheet. The Z/28 was designed specifically to compete in the SCCA's Trans-Am series with a 302 V-8 built to squeeze in under the 305-inch limit. The factory said it made 290 hp, most say it's more like 400.
This modern Z/28 comes with an absolute sledgehammer of an engine. It's the 7.0-liter, 505-hp V8 sourced from the lastZ06 Corvette. It gets a Tremec six-speed manual and 481 lb-ft of twist sent rearward. The gas guzzler tax definitely applies. All of the action is controlled by a suede-covered steering wheel and a suede-covered shift knob.
Massive 19-inch spider web wheels are shod with fly-paper-sticky Pirelli PZero Trofeo R tires. They surround 15-inch Brembo carbon ceramic brakes. Z/28 also gets Chevy's DSSV shocks, which use spool valves control the movement of fluid. That results in higher predictability and repeatability on the track.
What's it like to drive?
We tested the new Z/28 at the 1.9-mile GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Mich., and we instantly felt like busting a few donuts on our way out for summer vacation. Jokes aside, there's nothing '80s, '70s or '60s about this car.
On startup, the Z/28 braps and pops like a straight-pipe muscle car. Lowering the hammer smoothly takes some practice, as the sound almost overwhelms the driver, regardless of speed. At certain points on the track we had to mentally tune it out, lest it distract us from the task at hand. In this case, it was keeping more than 500 horses corralled on a 36-foot track.
Surprisingly though, it wasn't a rampaging buck out there. On acceleration, at least when we were pointed straight, the Z/28 shoved us back in the Recaro seats. To get any wheelspin we had to dump the clutch hard as we put our foot down. That didn't stop us from doing it. It just wasn't as easy as we expected. The Trofeo R tires are clearly made up of a combination of tree sap and Super Glue.
That made it stick around corners, especially on acceleration. We toggled the traction control system from sport, to sport 2, to race, and never brought the back end around without meaning to. At the limit, you can feel the car wiggling, scrounging for every bit of grip. It reminded us of the last Viper ACR, but it never felt scary or out of control. The only time we did get a little loose was during trail braking, where the car spun about 30 degrees, but was easily brought back in line.
The g forces did slide us around a bit, which is why we still choose the Mustang's Recaro buckets over the Camaro's. A wider man may have less of a problem. A taller man, however, would have more. At 5'10” plus helmet, we fit in the Camaro with about an inch of headroom or less. The seat adjusts another one or two inches, but at 6'2” or more, we'd worry about helmet clearance.
The clutch pedal effort was a little too easy for such a powerful car, but the slip point was small, which we like. Same goes for the steering; it was plenty sensitive, but extremely easy.
At the relatively short track in South Haven, the Z/28 spent most of its time in its monstrous third gear. It provides power from 20 mph to more than 100 mph. Lifting off before a turn brought a cacophony of pops and growls at we settled into the brakes.
Do I want one?
Hell yes you do, especially if you have 75 Gs laying around. It's the best Camaro ever built, if not the most powerful. We beat on a quintet of cars continuously for six hours with no brake fade and no “Check Engine” lights, though we did swap tires a few times. It also looks the part with a giant front splitter, black wheels and integrated quad exhaust.
The Camaro Z/28 sits in a segment of its own for the time being. It outpaces the old Boss Mustang, but also out-prices it. The last GT500 would surely take it in a straight line, but in the turns, we're not so sure.
The Z/28 won't make you the star of the football game, or the prom king, and definitely not head of the debate team. But to those kids in the auto shop, and the ones smoking behind the bleachers, you'll be the coolest kid in town.
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