CarCorner Review: 2012 Camaro ZL1 – Lots of show with plenty of go

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By Cathy Droz and Bill Zervakos –

It was just a few years ago that I talked about how much fun it was for me to see the pony car wars heating up again. I was of course, talking about the Mustang, Camaro and Challenger hitting the streets with plenty of muscle along with nifty retro styling that seemed to fill a need a lot of people had been looking for. As soon as they hit the street the aftermarket group came up with adds that took the cars to another level.

Now, two of the manufacturers are saying ‘why not us’ when it comes to kicking it up a notch, and so Chevy and Ford have done exactly that with the Shelby GT500, which I’ll talk about another time, and Chevy’s ZL1 Camaro. For true aficionados, you’ll remember the history of the ZL1 began with a 427 engine with some serious design modifications, and it was made for the Camaro for racing in 1969. Chevy only built 69 copies of Camaro powered by the ZL1 engine and two Corvettes.

In ’69, the ZL1 package just about doubled the price of the SS Camaro and the same holds true today. Based at just over $54,000, my test car only added the Interior Sueded Microfiber Package and 20” Bright Forged ZL badged Aluminum wheels – options that along with the gas guzzler tax brought the sticker to $57,285 with destination charges. The $600 Exposed Carbon Fiber Weave Hood Insert cost was discounted $600, so you can see, at nearly $60k; it isn’t for the faint of heart or pocketbook.

That said, I have to say, I loved the car for a lot of reasons not the least of which is the ZL1’s purely American muscle car music emanating from the exhaust. No matter how many go-fast cars that are out there today, nothing has the harmony of American muscle and I rarely had the sound system on just so I could enjoy the burbling coming from the LSA’s 6.2 Liter, 580 horsepower supercharged engine. Now I know all you Blue Oval fans out there are talking up the Shelby’s 660 plus horsepower numbers, as well you should, but most of the research I’ve done shows the ZL1 overall offers more for the money.

I say that because it seems as though the Camaro out handles and out performs the Mustang on anything but a straight shot. That’s due mainly to Chevy’s magnetic ride control, which is way too complicated for me to even attempt to explain but suffice it to say, the car handles amazingly well for an American muscle car.

Other than extras like the ZL1 badges, the hood insert and the ZL1 Wheels wrapped in Goodyear F1 tires, the exterior is pretty much the same as other models which, in my opinion can be problematic. If I’m going to spend nearly twice the price I think I’d like it to stand out a bit more.

I only had the car for a few days, so I didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time in it to really run it through some paces. I did, however, have it long enough to know that while in the past the pony cars were pretty much straight line racers and in truth still are, the suspension on the ZL1 gives this Camaro an edge in handling that hasn’t been available on American muscle cars, other than, of course, Corvette.

There’s a whole lot more to know about this car that I can’t address in this article, but all-in-all, I can say unequivocally that the ZL1 Camaro lived up to my expectations but as I mention, it isn’t inexpensive. However, if you have the means and want a premier muscle car, it’s going to be hard to beat the ZL1.

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