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Chevrolet Camaro Z/28: Shock and awe

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We are taught that snap judgments are immature, unfair and unbecoming. That said, you need only whisper “Camaro Z/28” to have yourself, and those within earshot, categorised.

You and anyone who responds with a grin (and maybe a fist bump) clearly go in for simple pleasures: lager beer, hamburgers, straight-line speed. And your icily sarcastic critics, well, they are Chardonnay-sipping, truffle-shaving sophisticates.

Class warfare, American-style. Of course the facts paint a far more complex picture. Consider that the 2014 Camaro Z/28 costs $75,000. You probably won’t find many chronically underemployed journeyman electricians behind its wheel.

Also consider that the car’s blistering lap time around Germany’s Nürburgring (a 7:37 lap, set with rain dashing down on part of the course) tops that of formidable, costlier European sports machinery. That should buy some respect from Europhilic enthusiasts who believe a Camaro can’t hunt its way through a bend.

But prejudices die hard, so it probably won’t.

The original Z/28 of 1967 was a track-focused racer designed for competition in the Sports Car Club of America Trans-American Sedan Championship. But by the late ‘70s the Z/28 was little more than a watered-down graphics and spoilers package. By the ‘80s and ‘90s the Z/28 had devolved into a soft, loud boulevard cruiser, extinguishing any memory of the original car’s road-racing prowess and purpose.

No more. The 2014 Z/28 was built for the solitary purpose of circling the world’s most technical road courses in the minimum possible time. To achieve that, Chevy’s engineers went with what they label the world’s first production application of shock absorbers by Multimatic, a company that supplies its unique dampers to top Formula 1 and Le Mans teams. Aston Martin also used them on the 77 examples it built of the $1.4m One-77 hypercar.

Brembo carbon ceramic brakes? Naturally. Another production-model first is use of Pirelli P-Zero Trofeo R tires that are effectively racing slicks with tread and government approval for street use.

In the quest for speed, Chevy jettisoned or optimised equipment at every opportunity, stripping out sound deadening, installing thinner glass, swapping in a smaller battery and ditching the standard air conditioning, though it remains an option.

The Z/28 is fiercely propelled by a 505-horsepower version of the normally aspirated small-block V8 engine seen previously in the sixth-generation Corvette Z06. The sole available transmission is an H-pattern Tremec six-speed manual that clicks through its gates neatly with little thought or effort by the driver. The absence of an available automatic transmission should help filter the car’s ownership even further. There may be no more self-selecting buyer in all car-dom in 2014 than the one who buys a Z/28.

The car has add-on bodywork and spoilers just like those from the car’s nadir, but these are the real thing, so they actually contribute to stability-enhancing aerodynamic downforce rather than just providing flimsy targets for the demonic spinning brushes at the car wash.

A track day at upstate New York’s Monticello Motor Club confirmed that Chevy has made savvy use of these top-shelf components. Of course the car starts with the expected V8 burble, a sound that only gets sweeter as the Z/28 accelerates to redline at the pit exit. The engine pulls hard but is easy to modulate, with no surprise dips or surges in the rev range.

Braking into turns is simplified by the stupendous stopping power of the Brembo ceramics and the grip of the Pirelli rubber. Normally, production cars’ mass overwhelms their brakes and tires in short order at a track, but the Z/28’s hardware is up to the task.

A driver’s confidence multiplies as the Z/28 shifts its weight fore and aft as well as side-to-side while rocketing into, through and out of turns. This stability, and the precision it allows, is surely key to the Z/28’s astounding lap time at the Nürburgring. Stability control systems are adjustable, varying the size of the car’s virtual safety net. On its most sensitive setting, the Z/28 is still very drivable on the track. Dial it back and driving the Z/28 near its limits illustrates just how benign it can be, as the car never threatens to get sideways or otherwise lose control.

The Z/28’s amazing performance and ability to outrun cars costing $100,000 more won’t change the minds of those who would look down on déclassé American iron, no matter its credentials. And that’s fine. Meanwhile, a savvy few enthusiasts can point the Z/28 to the nearest track for an unforgettable mid-day break. Such are the rewards, sometimes, for maintaining an open mind.

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