Power is nothing without control, a tyre slogan once famously said. It turns out there is truth in advertising after all.
When Holden Special Vehicles introduced the supercharged Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 – the most powerful car it has ever sold locally – it proved to be quite a beast to tame.
Through a quirk of Australian Design Rule requirements, in addition to converting the vehicle to factory-grade right-hand-drive standards, HSV had to change the Camaro ZL1’s rubber to all-weather tyres to meet our regulations.
The Goodyear F1 Supercar 3 semi-slicks that come standard with the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in the US are put aside once the car arrives in Australia, and sold separately by HSV as a standalone option for $1000. Most buyers tick the box because they would normally cost more than twice as much – and they transform the car.
When we tested the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 at Sandown Raceway in June last year, the best 0-100km/h time we could get was 4.8 seconds, a far cry from the low 4-second mark the car is capable of.
The Australian-fitted Continental tyres have good lateral grip, but the supercharged V8 has so much grunt even the super-wide (305/30 R20) rears start to balloon and you end up running on the centre strip of the tread.
Fast-forward six months and there is now a third tyre option available to Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 buyers, as part of a special performance track pack.
The ZL1 1LE pack is sold as a factory option in the US, but in Australia it’s a dealer-fit accessory package that costs about $15,000 fitted.
The emphasis has, wisely, been placed on finding more grip for this epic machine that has to handle a staggering 477kW and 881Nm from its 6.2-litre V8, driven through a 10-speed auto (or six-speed manual) to the rear wheels. Hint: with more ratios to pick from, and less delay between each gear, the auto is quicker – in a straight line or around a track.
In addition to visual changes such as a large carbon-fibre rear wing – designed in a Formula One aero tunnel – and plastic winglets for the front bumper (that deliver more air to the coolers and add downforce in high speed corners), and a satin black bonnet with a carbon fibre air extractor, the 1LE pack includes new shocks and stiffer springs that also allow more negative camber to be dialled in, reinforced front caster arms (with stiffer bushes to handle higher load forces), while the rear sub frame is solid mounted (with aluminium pucks rather than rubber isolators). The rear sway bar is also adjustable with a choice of three positions.
The ZL1 1LE pack includes the same type of semi-slick tyre that is initially discarded (Goodyear F1 Supercar 3), but they are much wider and wrapped around lightweight forged alloy 19-inch rims instead of 20s (305/30 R19 front and 325/30 R19 rear). This wheel and tyre combination saves about 15kg all up, compared to the standard ZL1's 20-inch wheels and tyres.
Pulling up this 1800kg mass from the epic speeds it’s capable of are the same 390mm two-piece front rotors clamped by six-piston monoblock calipers as fitted to the standard ZL1.
Downsides? It has a three-year warranty versus five-year coverage for a Ford Mustang (including the upcoming supercharged Ford Mustang R Spec). And there’s no advanced safety tech such as autonomous emergency braking (now critical to achieving a five-star safety rating).
However, one neat trick to help visibility, the rear-view mirror also doubles as a rear-view camera at the flick of a switch and works well, day or night, but not so much when the lens is obscured by spray on wet roads.
With a starting price of $159,990 before on-road costs, a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 with the 1LE pack eclipses $175,000 by the time it’s in the traffic, although the road is not where you want to be with this machine.
On the track
Driving as far as the pit lane exit was all it took to realise the suspension on the 1LE has been tied down in a big way.
The approach ramp coming onto Sandown Raceway’s main straight was enough to demonstrate the 1LE pack is for hardcore enthusiasts.
The ZL1 1LE suspension is three times stiffer than standard, and you can instantly feel it's better suited to track driving than trying your luck on a public road.
Fortunately, all is forgiven (if not forgotten) once you cut a few laps.
It takes a lap or two to bring the tyres up to temperature, but once that happens, you can finally access all the power that lies within.
The precision and grip from the front end is profound. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the ZL1 1LE front tyres are as wide as the rear tyres on the standard ZL1.
Meanwhile, the rears on the ZL1 1LE are next-level wide, so the back end doesn’t want to step out unless you coax it.
In other good news, the tyres help deliver awesome acceleration – once they’re warm. We got a 0-100km/h time of 4.2 seconds using precision satellite-based timing equipment (V-Box). On a perfect surface there may be another tenth or two to be trimmed. But make no mistake, a consistent 4.2-second time is an achievement in any rear-drive car. (For numbers geeks like me, FYI the ZL1 1LE did 0-60km/h in 2.5 seconds).
It would be lying to say I could feel the difference the massive carbon fibre rear wing and front winglets provided in downforce, but I’m not a downforce denier. I believe in the science.
I’m sure that, in the right hands, the aero aids would make a difference at circuits like Phillip Island and perhaps across the back at Sandown. For me, though, they were just for show.
The sound from the supercharged V8 breathing through twin bimodal exhausts has the right blend of muscle car rumble and hi-tech German roar with a hint of V8 Supercar in there for good measure.
The biggest change in my experience is the accuracy of the steering and the phenomenal grip in corners. With the 1LE set-up, it’s next level. The whole car feels as nimble as a hot hatch, despite weighing 1800kg.
It was actually a relief to be able to exploit more of the potential hidden inside that amazing supercharged V8 engine. The 10-speed auto combination is the sweet spot, too.
The gearshifts are now so fast (using the paddle shifters on the steering wheel) that the six-speed manual transmission is really starting to look redundant. With so many ratios, the engine is always in the right zone in every corner. And now the 1LE has grip to match the grunt.
Whereas the standard Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 scared the crap out of me on its Continental tyres (I was just happy to hand it back in one piece), I didn’t want to get out of the ZL1 1LE. This is clearly how this car was meant to be all along.
The dream setup? Having something else as a daily driver and keeping the ZL1 1LE as weekend track car. It would eat stock Mercedes-AMGs and BMW Ms for lunch in this guise.
The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE is the 'muscle car meets sports car' engineers wanted to create in the first place.