Preview: 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 reviews car previews auto articles chevrolet
2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZR-1; photo by Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

By Grant Yoxon

Chicago, Illinois – At the 2011 Chicago Auto Show, Chevrolet introduced what will be the most powerful, most technically advanced Camaro ever built, the 2012 Camaro ZL1.

With an estimated 550 horsepower and 550 lb.-ft. of torque, the LSA 6.2-litre supercharged Camaro ZL1 is more powerful than any Camaro ever built, including the original 1969 ZL1.

That ZL1 was never an official model, but the designation for a few Camaros – a total of 69 – that were surreptitiously ordered through Chevrolet’s COPO (Central Office Production Order) system equipped with Chevrolet’s all aluminum 427 cubic inch Can Am racing engine. Officially rated at 430 hp, the aluminum block 427 was known to produce more than 500 hp. As the cars saw duty mainly on the drag strip, few 1969 ZL1s remain today and those that do command huge prices at auction.

Preview: 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 reviews car previews auto articles chevrolet
2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZR-1; photo courtesy GM Canada. Click image to enlarge

The 2012 ZL1 Camaro will be much more than a powerful engine. The central goal of the car’s development is to create a Camaro intended to reach optimal lap times on top road-racing circuits, but also have excellent driving dynamics on the street. To achieve that goal, GM engineers are working to improve many of the existing Camaro’s systems, as well as incorporate new technologies such as electric power steering and Magnetic Ride Control.

While the ZL1 will be visually different than other Camaros, only elements vital to the car’s elevated capabilities will be changed. Major elements of the ZL1’s design are a new front fascia and hood with air extractors, designed in tandem to create aerodynamic downforce to aid handling. The car’s hood includes a signature centre section constructed of carbon fibre and rendered in satin black finish. New rocker panels, wide tires, 20-inch wheels and exhaust tips portray the car’s handling and power. The ZL1 badge appears on the grille, hood and the brake calipers.

The LSA 6.2-litre engine features an intercooled supercharger system, premium heat-resistant aluminum-alloy cylinder heads and other details designed to ensure its exceptional performance is delivered with smoothness and refinement. The engine will have a balanced, lightweight reciprocating assembly, high-strength hypereutectic pistons, sixth-generation Eaton supercharger with four-lobe rotors and piston oil squirters.

Preview: 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 reviews car previews auto articles chevrolet
2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZR-1; photo courtesy GM Canada. Click image to enlarge

The car will only be available with a high-performance Tremec TR-6060 six-speed manual transmission. It is the “MG9” version of the transmission, with a higher torque capacity. It is used with a dual-mass flywheel and twin-disc clutch for easy operation and shift smoothness and will have a new, shorter-throw shifter.

Exhaust will be handled by a dual-mode exhaust system that alters the sound level in response to engine speed.

A stronger drive shaft and rear axles, a larger and stronger rear differential housing and heavy duty limited-slip differential will help deliver the ZL1’s power smoothly to the rear wheels.

The 2012 Camaro ZL1 will debut a new suspension system featuring Magnetic Ride Control that will include driver selectable tour and sport modes. The system uses advanced magneto-rheological science to produce shock damping with the highest level of precision, enabling body control optimized for excellent performance in everyday driving as well as track situations.

Preview: 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 reviews car previews auto articles chevrolet
Preview: 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 reviews car previews auto articles chevrolet
2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZR-1; photos by Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

Other chassis elements are redesigned to support the car’s high-performance limits. Rear stabilizer bars have drop links repositioned outboard of the control arms. This makes the bars more effective in controlling body roll in turns, with crisp response to driver commands.

The Camaro ZL1 features an advanced track-capable braking system, developed in conjunction with Brembo. The large 14.6-inch (370 mm) two-piece front rotors have six-piston calipers; the 14.4-inch (365 mm) rear rotors have four-piston calipers.

A new electric power steering system will also debut with the Camaro ZL1. It is being developed to ensure precise control and feedback to the driver, with greater variability of effort for high-performance driving.

New-design, 20-inch forged aluminum wheels, which are lighter than the 20-inch wheels used on the Camaro SS, are used with new Goodyear Supercar F2 ties developed specifically for the ZL1.

All Camaro exterior colours will be offered with the ZL1, but black is the only interior colour. Inside, the Camaro ZL1 has heated leather seats with microfiber inserts and ZL1 logos embroidered on the front headrests. Microfiber suede is repeated as an accent on the instrument panel, adding a richer look to the interior. The ZL1 will include the same content as the current 2SS package as well as six-way power driver and passenger seats, unique instrument panel and door panel inserts, ZL1-logo sill plates, steering wheel audio controls with Bluetooth capability, wireless PDIM and USB-port, Boston Acoustics premium audio system, rear parking assist and rear camera system (displayed in the inside rear-view mirror).

Development of the 2012 Camaro ZL1 is ongoing and testing has taken place on tracks in North America and Europe. Final details about the ZL1 package will be released toward the end of 2011, while it is expected that the car will go on sale early in 2012.