First drive: Chevrolet Camaro Z/28
'The results are terrible and wonderful…' Ollie Marriage pops a brave pill and tackles the 505bhp track-spec muscle car
The Z/28. That's the sportier version of the Camaro, right?
It is, but you might not be aware just how much sportier it is. This is hardcore. There's no carpet in the boot. Air con is an option. As standard it comes with just a single solitary speaker. The flip side of this is that it has gained some go-faster tech. This good ol' boy even has carbon ceramic brakes.
Like a proper European performance car?
Well, the brakes are from Italy (Brembo), the seats are British (Recaro), the new lighter pistons are German (Mahle) and the titanium conrods hail from Austria (Pankl). Surely this sort of thing could get Chevrolet reported for un-American activities? You have to admit these inclusions seem to jar with a car that's more Clint Eastwood than Roger Moore. But we need to be modern about this - Chevy has just gone shopping for the best parts to suit its most riotous driver's car. All in, it's claimed to be 136kg lighter than the standard model.
That's what I call a diet.
I can't think of a car that's been through a more radical weight loss program - although it wasn't exactly starting from a lean base point. Still, 1733kg is commendably light for a car that's 16 feet long, 6 feet 5 inches wide and sports a 7.0-litre naturally aspirated engine in the nose. Surprisingly, this isn't the most potent Camaro - that's the supercharged 6.2-litre 580bhp ZL1 - but it is the most track ready.
It has 505bhp and 652Nm at 4800rpm, while 0-100kph is claimed to take 4.0 secs and top speed is 306kph. I'm not completely convinced it would hit those numbers - well, if the tyres were well warmed and you were at the end of a drag strip you might have a shout with the acceleration, but it would need to be many times the length of a quarter-mile strip to get all the way to 306kph.
Tell me about the tyres.
They are totally daft, Pirelli Trofeo Rs that are - allegedly - road legal, but they're about as heavily treaded as a billiard ball. Chevy proudly claims that the fronts are "the widest front tyre on any production car". I wasn't aware that fitting 305-width Trofeo R tyres at either end of the front axle, thus creating a comedy barbell, was something to boast about. In fact, if the 800 kilometres I've driven on the road in it are anything to go by, then Chevy actually intended the appalling tramlining, brutal ride and puckering aquaplaning.
So why has Chevy fitted them?
Because while spindly front tyres are all very well if your engine is in the middle of the car and your name is Lotus or Ferrari, you're only going to get terminal understeer if those tyres are then pressed into the road by a V8 of steamship proportions. What these fat Trofeos do, once warm and dry, is give the Z/28 some proper front end bite. And it really does bite. The grip is amazing, the steering fast, the nose accurate. Up to a point. Cross the line and you'll discover it breaks away rather abruptly and suddenly you're fighting it as the chassis bucks, the tyres twitch and bounce and it suddenly feels every one of its 1733 kilos. It also tends to let go at the back first - there's not even a boot carpet to weigh it down, remember - and it's not the steadiest, happiest car when drifting. It does drift though.
I noticed from the pictures.
Yep, we took it to Dunsfold in the company of a Nissan GT-R and BMW M6 (see video) and found that 652Nm will have that effect, especially when channeled through a ridiculously tight rear diff and manual gearbox. The transmission is a bit of a highlight actually - it might not have a light, flicky shift, but it's meaty, short-throw and feels like it can cope with whatever the V8 can throw at it. It also has an alcantara gearknob. And an alcantara steering wheel. And dash trim, too. It's not a bad cabin, actually, and you view the road ahead over a prairie-sized bonnet through a windscreen that's a foot high and six wide. It's not short on charisma, the Z/28.
And driving it on the road?
I wouldn't. In fact, you mustn't. Especially if it rained a week ago. The ride is utterly miserable and once you experience what those tyres do when they encounter a tramline or a camber or - heaven forbid - a trace of dampness, well let's just say it's not going to be an experience you'll forget in a hurry. Chiefly because of the insurance claim.
What's the engine like?
What do you expect from a 7.0-litre naturally aspirated V8? Imagine that and you're there. Actually, you're not there because the lighter pistons and conrods help the massive capacity lump feel perkier than you might expect. It's a flesh-and-blood engine, rumbles and bellows wonderfully, is always predictable, builds to a thunderous crescendo and delivers enough performance.
Enough? I should hope so too.
Personally I reckon it could use more. 800bhp ought to do it. It's not that the chassis could handle it, more that the car deserves it. It feels like that would be appropriate. And amusing.
The brakes would never cope...
I think they would, actually. In fact, the brakes are one of the best things about the Z/28. The power and feel through the pedal is superb. Apparently it can pull 1.5g under braking. Americans love a stat. But even so, I'm sure that Chevy appreciates the Camaro isn't just about speed - a Porsche 911 GT3 is 12 seconds faster around the Nurburgring, and on much less aggressive tyres. And the tyres do dominate the drive, giving the handling a sharp, unsettling edge.
But the overall experience? That's plain wonderful. You hammer forwards, the engine pounding and trumpeting, the traction immense, the whole car alive and throaty. No matter how old you are or how sniffy about its track credentials, there's something captivating about the Z/28. I think you've got to admire a company that's been so single-minded about turning such a huge car into a track special. The results are both terrible and wonderful.