Before you get started on this story, first let me set the stage for all of what you are about to read, look at and watch -yeah the video stuff is really good, but its at the end for a reason.
If you have read the story Road Test: 2016 Camaro, a day in the desert with a turbo and a drop top then you already knew we were in the Nevada desert last week poking around in a drop-top Camaro SS and seeing if the LTG equipped Camaro was worth a damn – it was by the way, we recorded a 13.8 in a 4-banger?!? What I did not tell you in that story is how Chevrolet and Team Camaro laid one on us. See there we are enjoying the open bar, swapping stories about what’s going on in the shop and as we sit for the presentation it starts to sink in..why did they make such a stink about putting little camera condoms on our cell phones? Why did everyone with a DLSR have to put their equipment away?
This is why….say hello to the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
See no-one knew that off to the side of the clubhouse was a huge curtain and behind it – a pair of development 6th-gen Camaro ZL1s and they sounded nasty. Reving their engines like a dinner bell we all clamored to get to the front of the chow line as Mark Ruess calls out “does anyone wanna go for a ride?”
…and this is what you get.
Bill Wise was scared to ride with me at full speed at Belle Isle due to the fact that he had NO IDEA who I was…and it was about 30-minutes after the jackass from Jalopnik totaled one of the cars, but Pete told him I was solid and after a few laps around the famed Detroit circuit he swore he would get a chance to put a little fear in me while in a car – see the problem with that is I know how good he is at the wheel so all my time in the new ZL1 was nothing more than a flat roller-coaster ride, that is was way more fun,
Below is the first press release from Chevrolet for the 2017 Camaro ZL1 – beyond that is a series of one-on-one interviews taken right at the track as they rolled out the two ZL1 development cars to tease the shit out of us…
2017 Camaro ZL1 vs. Everybody
Unprecedented levels of refinement, track capability and drag-strip performance
DETROIT – The 2017 Camaro ZL1 is poised to challenge the most advanced sports coupes in the world in any measure – with unprecedented levels of technology, refinement, track capability and straight-line acceleration.
“The Camaro ZL1 is designed to excel at everything,” said Mark Reuss, executive vice president of Global Product Development. “It’s a 2+2 coupe offering incredible performance – acceleration, handling and braking – with the highest levels of technology and perfect chassis damping, making it suitable for everyday driving. It will compare well to any sports coupe, at any price and in any setting.”
Acceleration for the ZL1 is delivered with a new supercharged 6.2L V-8 engine estimated at 640 hp (477 kW), and either a six-speed manual transmission with active rev matching or an all-new 10-speed automatic. Handling capability starts with the lightweight, stiffer structure of the all-new sixth-Gen Camaro, married with Magnetic Ride suspension and an electronic limited-slip differential. Standard technologies include Driver Mode Selector, dual-mode exhaust and advanced connectivity features.
The Camaro ZL1 goes on sale late this year.
Designed for Performance
Functionality defines the Camaro ZL1’s form, with the exterior shaped during more than 100 hours of wind-tunnel testing and on-track validation to improve aerodynamics and cooling for track use. Accordingly, its exterior elements all play a part in managing airflow over, under and through the ZL1.
“The design supports the Camaro ZL1’s exceptional performance and does so with compelling style,” said John Mack, Camaro exterior design manager. “From every angle, the elements coalesce to give the car a purposeful, super aggressive attitude.”
The lower grille opening, for example, offers greater airflow compared to the Camaro SS, and the upper grille incorporates a new version of the “flow-tie” open bowtie insignia. There’s also a new hood, with a carbon fiber insert and heat extractor that pulls hot air from the engine compartment. Additional changes include a larger front splitter, unique rockers, a wing-style rear spoiler and wider front fenders – all tuned to improve aerodynamics for greater high-speed stability.
Inside, there are standard Recaro front seats, along with a sueded flat-bottom steering wheel and shift knob. Chevrolet’s Performance Data Recorder is available.
Fast with finesse
A cohesive suite of performance technologies tailors ZL1’s performance for street and track. Features include an updated Magnetic Ride suspension, Performance Traction Management, electronic limited-slip differential, Custom Launch Control and Driver Mode Selector. It also has a stronger power-to-weight ratio than its predecessor, weighing 200 pounds less, while offering approximately 60 more horsepower and 80 more pound-feet of torque.
The result is a one-of-a-kind driving experience.
“Driving the Camaro ZL1 is best described as ‘fast with finesse,’” said Reuss. “It is beautifully balanced, with perfect damping and isolation for optimal performance and driver confidence in virtually any situation – from the Pacific Coast Highway to Willow Springs to Pomona.”
Additional chassis features include:
- Unique 20-inch forged aluminum wheels with 285/30ZR20 front and 305/30ZR20 rear tires
- Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires with a compound and construction developed exclusively for the Camaro to offer exceptional grip on the track
- Brembo brakes with six-piston monobloc front calipers – featuring the ZL1 logo – and massive, 15.35-inch (390 mm) two-piece front rotors.
Supercharged performance and new 10-speed automatic
Underhood, the ZL1 features a supercharged LT4 6.2L V-8 Small Block engine, with intake and exhaust systems tailored for Camaro. It is rated at an estimated 640 horsepower (477 kW) and 640 lb-ft of torque (868 Nm).
The LT4 is backed by a standard six-speed manual transmission or all-new, available paddle-shift 10-speed automatic. The 10-speed automatic has 7.39 overall ratio for smaller steps between gears. It enables the LT4 engine to remain at optimal rpm levels during acceleration, particularly when exiting corners, for quicker laps and lightning-quick responses on both up- and down-shifts.
This is the first Chevrolet application of the new quick-shift 10-speed, with unique calibrations and hardware developed exclusively for the ZL1. By the end 2018, GM will introduce the new 10-speed automatic in eight vehicle models.
Finally – and unlike some competitors – there’s no need to purchase an optional package to make the ZL1 track ready. Track capability comes standard, with features including an impressive 11 heat exchangers for optimal powertrain cooling.
Executive Vice President of Global Product Development
Preface: I caught Mark directly after jumping out of the prototype/development ZL1 after several laps around the Spring Mountain East course giving ride-alongs in the new car. So needless to say he was “on the ether” at the time I caught his part of the unveil.
Mark: Unbelievable, the car simply does everything extremely well. It is a racecar, but it is just – everything it does is excellent. The transmission speed is quicker than anything around. It’s, I mean, you can’t unsettle the car. Where ever you are on this track and the car is just magical. You can just drive it all day or hit it as hard as you can at the track. It’s unbelievable.
Cars Illustrated: Every time you come out with a new Camaro do you ever find yourself amazed that they can get better and better?
Mark: We do, but Al is leading an incredible team here and you know it’s the effort from Aaron Link, Bill Wise, Tom Peters the whole team is amazing. And it’s that magical set of people that is what it is all about when it gets down to it. It is the people.
Cars Illustrated: Is there anything you can say about that car that you would change?
Mark: Actually, I’m driving that car and it is a caged car with true race seats installed so it doesn’t have any rear end support on it like the Recaros that are going to be in it. So, my butt hurts right now. [laughing] Other than that, no not a thing.
Cars Illustrated: On the track here – the confidence that cars like this inspire really make an average driver feel like they are a super hero.
Cars Illustrated: Can you put that into words what that car makes you feel like?
Mark: You can find the limits in a very linear manner. So I mean you are never out there where the car snaps at you or bites you. You are just never out of touch with the car. So, it is very progressive, very linear, you can find the limit very safely and that is what it is all about.
Cars Illustrated: Will this car set one more level of precedence, like the Gen-5 ZL1 is really putting everyone else on warning that this is the car they need to beat?
Mark: I think so. I am a previous Gen-5 ZL1 owner so I know what that car was. I know what it can do and it was wonderful for the time. This is a whole different level of satisfaction and performance and comfort so it is awesome.
Cars Illustrated: The previous generation, 200mph and 10 sec quarter miles – I don’t think you will give me the answer I want, but can you at least – can you guesstimate – can you give me the Mark Reuss seat of the pants accelerationometer.
Mark: How’s this? It feels like I’m being shot out of a gun. End of story.
Camaro Chief Engineer
Cars Illustrated: Alright, in true Chevrolet fashion. I have known the guy for many years. Every time I see him, he has the world’s worst poker face on because he never tells you what is really going on. Al, you threw the biggest hook at us ever tonight. We thought we were going to drive 4-cylinders and cool convertibles out here in the Nevada sunshine, and you come out here and you kick us right in the groin with the new ZL1. Man. Talk about this car and what it means to you.
Al: This is a great day, as I say a great day for Camaro land, a great day in my life, great day in my team’s life. We have known about this and it has been speculated. Of course we get spotted at the Nurburgring, but nobody really knows. It is kind of funny to watch all of the speculation and the assumptions. I didn’t lie to you and you are going to be amazed.
Cars Illustrated: And I’m looking forward to that.
Al: We gotta tease you a little bit. So, I know it is embargoed for another week or so then the world gets to see it. I think what is really cool about this is you guys get to experience what I explained to my engineers – is a vacuum of – it’s a vacuum of time where we know what we have got and now you guys know what we’ve got. And you don’t even know everything that we’ve got because we are not telling you everything tonight. It is just phenomenal what we can do with that LT4 supercharged engine. The exhaust, you know us for our exhaust and we pride ourselves on that. Just that raw visceral, you know, we call it stuffed pig, whatever you want. It’s just angry and I love every second of it.
Cars Illustrated: Some of the electronics and some of the technology going into this car. The electronic rear differential being able to control power, the aerodynamics, the 10-speed automatics. Some of the – the great part of the car is how it looks and the way it sounds, but the mechanics of the car you just keep pushing the limits on what you really can do to a street car, which really is a racecar.
Al: Right, well we actually have pushed ourselves way beyond what people ever thought was possible with the Camaro. I think when all is said and done, and all the magazine covers come out and all the interviews and all the hype of the car comes out, people are going to think, we loved the 5th Gen ZL1 was legendary. And it was. I loved that car the 5th Gen Z28 and it was legendary, I love that car. I told you that was the one I was buying and here we are just continuing to push. This is another example of when you have the best performance engineers in the business bar none what you are capable of and just like you said, we are using the mechanical parts of the car, working with the technology of the car, we listen, we read, we listen to you guys, we listen to our customers, our bloggers and they tell us, “Man, I love the 1LE, but it’s got inner wheel peel on the track. “Well, okay, for you guess what? We got a Z28 Helical for you. Put that thing in there.” And then you get an email, “It’s like you answered my email.”“We did.” With items like the ELSD and all the technology inside the car we are able to maximize everything the ZL1 has to offer. I’m very-very proud that the Camaro was selected to introduce the 10-speed to the world from General Motors. I mean, it is a marriage made in heaven.
Cars Illustrated: You called it if the world was according to Al, which according to us, it is. If you are a Camaro lover how important is it to have that 10-speed in this car? Because it is really – you know, I love the rev-match it makes you feel like a superhero and all of a sudden I’m a Formula One driver pulling into the 7-Eleven or a seasoned veteran on the track. But that automatic, even when I was out here in other cars, it’s just amazing – it proves that technology can make you faster.
Al: Here is how it proves that. You know, my guys we are all manual guys. Everybody here is a manual guy right? Sports cars are manuals, especially Chevys. When this thing really started to tuning itself in with us and we really started understanding what the capability was. Honest to god, I’m a manual guy, I’m like, you know what, I honestly think I might buy this auto instead of manual if I’m buying one. Everybody else is saying the same thing. It is incredible. You are talking about if you add up on the things that contribute to the shift time. The longest time – half of the shift time is you as a human mechanically hitting the tap paddle. Think about that –as fast as you are tapping that tap paddle, that is half of the time of the shift, so it is even faster than a dual-clutch transmission.
Cars Illustrated: That is amazing. You know, the ZL1 was taken by some of our friends in the media and proven that with just a cage for safety a previous generationsof ZL1 could go 210 mph and do 10 sec quarter miles. I put Reuss on the spot and he wouldn’t tell me the answer. You know the question is coming. Can you at least elude the fact that it is going to be faster and it is going to be quicker?
Al: Than the previous Gen ZL1? Will this ZL1 be faster than the previous ZL1? The answer is yes.
Cars Illustrated: And that is all I needed.
Al: Don’t ask me numbers because my guys are the best in the world, but I’m going to continue to ride their butts, until they hit the numbers I want to tell you at some point.
Cars Illustrated: You know what, I know there is a single digit in there somewhere and the poker face and the smile tells me all I need to know. Thank you Al and as always, you are one of the real incredible car guys out there – I’m just the guy who is still working on his 3rd Gen trying to go drag racing
Al: Yeah I see it, I’ll watch. I’m following ya.
Cars Illustrated: But all that 3rd Gen will ever be able to do is maybe just drag racing. The ZL1 and I’ll still probably get beat, but I’ll be ok.
Al: We will give you a handicap. Just bring it along, that would be a great episode.
Cars Illustrated: I have got to ask again…maybe this time you will slip up and tell me something juicy?
Al: Now here is the sadistic part of the Camaro team. We tease you guys with the ZL1. We make you come and stand out here and listen to laugh after laugh from Mark and Dan and now Aaron and Bill and we tell you how awesome it is. But then we don’t tell you any details. And then, what makes it worse is that you all have to go back to your hotel rooms tonight and you are going to be on cloud-nine and you are like, “I can’t talk about this. I can’t talk about this until the embargo date.”
Cars Illustrated: You are mean.
Al: You know.
Cars Illustrated: We don’t hate you – we love that stuff.
Director of Design for Exterior Chevrolet Performance Cars
Cars Illustrated: Tom, you have thrown a big fat left hook at us at the launch for the 2-liter turbo and convertible by laying on the ZL1.
Tom: Did that one feel good?
Cars Illustrated: It did, you can punch me in the face like that anytime.
Tom: Thank you, may I have another?
Cars Illustrated:Talk about some of the design queues on these cars that are not only instrumental but obviously functionality. Let’s start with the amount of time that goes into this.
Tom: Well, I’ll tell you, when we start these vehicles, we know what is coming. We know we want these ultra, high-performance versions and just being real – as a designer it’s all about passion. I have had a lot of experience over the years with Camaro and understanding getting involved with aerodynamics particularly. If you do it correctly, rather than saying “We gotta do this, we gotta do that,” you embrace it and it actually – it affects the aesthetic of the car. That is the attitude, the seriousness. You know one of the details I like to always refer to is when we started doing say the brake calipers. They are a serious functional engineering piece of hardware, but if you do them correctly, it just completes the whole scene. They look fantastic, they telegraph a message, they’re a sculpture art, you know in their own functional way and they’re about more than just styling. To me that is what true design is. True design to me, and I’ve communicated this to everyone on my team, it says, you’re addressing and facing a challenge head on and it’s executing and solving a problem beautifully.
Cars Illustrated: Talk about the functionality of the aerodynamics on the ZL1 and what they mean to the performance of this car.
Tom: I will tell you, as I mentioned, it is integrated – this functionality that effects the aesthetic. But I will tell you over the course of my career, design has been an instrumental partner with our engineers working directly in the tunnel, hands on and with our CFD aerodynamics to do it all on the computer per say the simulation. We work hand in hand, because you know there is more than one way to skin a cat. And you always discover – aerodynamics is what I would say. It has science but there is art to it. So there are some wonderful ways if you work together and you collaborate with the guys. We spent hundreds of hours, day shifts, night shifts, working through the night, weekends and, you know, there is a zen about it. You are in there in the tunnel with an artistic nature, but also you are working with the entire team hand in hand to collaborate on this. It’s super rewarding and so on the ZL1, every millimeter of the front fascia, you know, these cars generate so much power, thusly heat. You have to manage that. You have to get a lot of air in and a lot out as quickly and as efficiently as you can. So you effectively work every surface to make that as efficient as possible and give even more improvement. So the grills are wide open. Study the amount of open space, but yet it is integrated. It isn’t like a big gaping hole. It is a big graphic. We pay a lot of attention to make sure those areas have sculpture to them and are interesting, you’re drawn into it. But it looks very…it looks beautifully serious if that makes sense to you.
Cars Illustrated: It makes total sense.
Tom: You want to show your friends. You want to show your pals. Come and look at this. Stick your hand in there -feel it. And when you look through those wonderful sculptures,that is just flat mesh, you look in there and you see those heat exchangers. Again, it’s that whole, you know, more than skin-deep message you get that’s just wonderful and those that love these and experience these cars, visually from an artistic standpoint and from a functional — from a functional aspect, it’s just so rewarding and satisfying if that makes sense to you.
Cars Illustrated: It makes total sense. Now one of the things that has always been the coolest aesthetic points of the Gen-5 ZL1 was the hood. I am blown away by the new look, because you had to top that. Let’s talk about the functionality and the fact that now you have painted and open carbon as well.
Tom: Yes, stay tuned for that. We feel that on a lot of cars, particularly the Camaro from my standpoint, it is a V8. And you want to celebrate that. So you have to have that powerful hood shape. There are only so many cars that can do that. And, a lot of times they don’t have packaging clearances. But now we have learned over the years and built upon that and enhance that the functionality. I mentioned the air going in – an incredible amount of air going in. It has gotta get out and the most efficient area is right there in front. We relocate where that position is and then we work the sculpture through that area to as efficient and effectively get that air out and plus just a visual communication of that whether you are going to sit behind the wheel and look at that – look down at the hood. You remember that as a kid. When you get your first ride in one of those cars and see that powerful hood. That is something that sticks with you.
Cars Illustrated: Yeah, like the flap of cowl hood.
Tom: Oh my god. It’s like you know, you fall asleep with a smile on your face thinking about that when you were a kid you know. And I still do that today. That is why I’m in the business, it just a beautiful functional sculpture.
Cars Illustrated: If you had to sum it up into one phrase about the aerodynamics and the lap that your team did so well on the ZL1. How would you collaborate that into one phrase or one sentence from the heart?
Tom: Not sounding too technical because when the design – it is just beautifully integrated. As I mentioned before, it’s a very serious challenge, problem if you will, that is executed beautifully. And the only way you can do that is through true collaboration. That is a result of people really talented – You take the designers. These guys are the creative guys, the talent guys. You have to possess creativity and talent in every aspect of the business in order to get a car like that. I truly believe that because I really am in awe of the guys – the men and women that we work with every day on these cars.
Vehicle Aeroddynamics Development and Intergration Lead
Cars Illustrated: Involvement with the aerodynamics on the ZL1 is definitely part of the performance of the car. Walk us through what your integration with the car has been as far as design.
Adam: Well, other than annoy Tom, I was very involved with just that– in taking his great ideas and just optimize them for track purposes. It is not only functional but also looks good. We optimized the front airflow so obviously we gotta make sure that the powertrain cools well. But we also manage that airflow so we can maximize downforce production and that just extends from the front of the vehicle all the way to the back. I wish we could get this car in a stand view because all the stuff under the car that is helping the movement of air is really trick as well.
Cars Illustrated: And I know that we will see that. I’m sure we will have another ride and drive out here while we have the car. I remember when we were at VIR for the ZL1 launch, the 5th Gen, and the car up on the side was actually more dramatic than the car sitting in front of you. So, I’m looking forward to that.
Adam: Yeah it’s great. Just continue with the aero – just looking at the rocker panels, that is your favorite part of the car, the rear wing.
Cars Illustrated: You are putting me on the spot, because honestly, it is the only thing I have an issue with. Now it comes from my ownership of a 3rd Gen and to make it even worse, I don’t just have a 3rd Gen with a duckbill, I’ve got a ’91 with the F-40 wing on the back so as far as wings go, I really don’t have a lot of room to talk. But honestly, I was just looking for something different. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t awesome or that it doesn’t work. But what was the idea of going from the bill style rear spoiler to the wing style rear spoiler?
Adam: It’s all about efficiency. We have to balance downforce production and drag reduction and a wing is a more efficient design to do that. So, I appreciate that you like the duck bill design, but it’s all about efficiency and balance of this car.
Cars Illustrated: You got me there, but I may have to go into the fiberglass business in the aftermarket. Will you hate me still?
Adam: Hate is a strong word. I might strongly dislike you.
Cars Illustrated: No seriously, the car is awesome you and whole team did a great job with the car. Is there a part of the car that you have a particular pride of working – maybe a favorite part, that when you saw it come together made you happier than others?
Adam: You know, I’m really fortunate. I’m actually filing for a patent on one of the aero parts on this car.
Cars Illustrated: If you say the wing, I’m going to run because you are a big guy and you are going to punch me hard.
Adam: Yes it is. [Laughing] It’s actually like I said, of all the stuff on this car I like the most I think you can’t see. It’s under the car. So we are filing for a patent and what is really cool about this concept is that not only does it improve flow through heat exchangers so the powertrain cooling guys like me,it reduces drag and reduces lift. So, it’s like a one-two-three punch.
Camaro Lead Development Engineer
Cars Illustrated: I am here with the one and only Aaron Link – is it still Mr. Link?
Aaron: To you Mr. Link.
Cars Illustrated: Mr. Link – today boxers or briefs?
Aaron: Still boxers.
Cars Illustrated: Have you really enjoyed the fact that you have had your access basically to the parts bin of the electronic wizardry that is Chevrolet – everything from the electronic rear-differential, to the now the new 10-speed automatic, the magnetic ride control? It does have to lend a hand to be able to find that balance.
Aaron: For sure..that is a huge enabler for us to have the ability to tune right up to the last minute essentially. That is the beauty of being able to do it with a laptop. Like the old days – not the old days – but in the more traditional sense, if something is not quite right with the step bar or the diff. Let’s take the diff as a good example – take the torque bias ratio, is it what works for the car? And we won’t know it until late because the tires didn’t work out the way we wanted, or things didn’t come together. That is a huge advantage to be able to work on this car in todays world normally that is a 6-month lead time to get it fixed because it’s all cast parts, tooled steel, major things that don’t happen overnight. So, with this electronic diff, every day we can adjust it to the changes we are making to the chassis and it’s wonderful. Like this car, I was telling some people that were riding with me today, the amount of power we have out there and those tight turns on this track in second gear, I can roll into the throttle and not worry about it at all because the diff is doing all this work to distribute the torque perfectly. So yeah, it is a major advantage for us to be able to tune way up until — now some of this is like three or four weeks we are allowed to move up and change things up until they are done.
Cars Illustrated: So let’s go from the balance of Aaron Link’s job to make a super car streetable, or a streetable super car – pick your way you want to say it. Let’s go to Aaron Link built his ultimate ZL1 for himself. Your road racing history is well known. Your ability to drive for General Motors as a test driver. Can you think of a better car to go in to attack the track in?
Aaron: No, you know that’s what’s funny, is with the 5th Gen I instantly fell in love with the car. This car I’m even more in love with and I’ve gone on record saying I need to buy one of these.
Cars Illustrated: So as Al said “I will buy the 5th Gen Z28 and I will own it”, will Mr. Link going to have 6th Gen ZL1 in his driveway.
Aaron: On record. Really, every day that I spend with this car I love it more. The only problem I have is I don’t know what trans to pick, they’re that good. Like as an enthusiast, I would pick the manual, but this all new 10-speed is just phenomenal. I love it. And I really struggle when it’s time to sign on the dotted line. I really don’t know which I’m going to pick. So that is probably the biggest hurdle. I do know no sunroof and then there is the choice for color. The red show car is gorgeous, but I love the electric blue color we have. And white always looks good on a ZL1 to me. Uh, what else? There’s not a lot of options. It’s pretty well outfitted. But I would have to have the performance data recorder, I’d say that is a really fun tool and the software set that we have to go along with that package. You record a lap, you take your SD card and you plug it into your laptop and you can analyze everything. It’s almost rivaling some of the high end data acquisition systems that race teams use.
Cars Illustrated: Well, when you get that car and it is sitting in your driveway and I come back to Detroit, will you not leave me on the side of the road like you did in the SS?
Aaron: I don’t know. Depends. [Laughing] if you behave yourself, maybe not.
NOTE: If you are wondering about why we were sort of a smart-ass with Arron…err Mr. Link it’s because he was part of our 2016 Camaro #findnewroads video – CLICK HERE TO WATCH – and he played along with the dry humor perfectly. Arron is a great guy with a extraordinary gift to not only help make the product for GM better, but can back it up on the track – thanks Arron for always being a great sport and putting up with us.