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First Drive

Hennessey Exorcist review: 1,000bhp Camaro tested

Published: 08 Dec 2017

Holy moly! That looks angry.

Quite. Meet ‘The Exorcist’, John Hennessey’s take on the Camaro ZL1. And his answer to Dodge’s unhinged, 840bhp wheelie-popping Demon. 

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Ah, I see what they did there: Exorcist vs Demon – very clever. But what exactly is it? 

Using Chevrolet’s juiced up ZL1 Camaro as a base (that’s the angrier, quicker version of the humble American muscle car), Hennessey has given it even more power to make it even quicker. 

John and his team have gone to work on the same supercharged, 6.2-litre ‘LT4’ engine from the Corvette Z06 (that normally produces 640bhp and 640lb ft of torque) and turned it all the way up to four figures. Yep, clog your right foot into the carpet and you’ll experience 1,000bhp at 6,400rpm and 966lb ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. Best hold on tight, as when equipped with the optional drag radial tires, this Exorcist will see off 0-60 mph in under three seconds and tramp the quarter-mile in less than ten seconds.

The Exorcist upgrade (handily denoted by a new decal package) is transferable across both the normal ten-speed ZL1 and the fightier, track-focused 1LE.

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The 1LE of course, is the quicker version of the quick version of the humble American muscle car.

Can you quickly remind me about the differences between the ZL1 and the 1LE please?

Well, compared to the standard ZL1, the 1LE is three seconds faster around General Motors’ 2.9-mile, 18-turn Milford Road Course test track. So expect a reasonable chunk to be taken out of the ZL1’s 7min 29.60s Nürburgring time, too. And that’s before even more power has been added, something Chevy didn’t feel necessary to do, but John obviously did. 

The other key differences between the regular ZL1 and the ZL1 1LE are mostly chassis and aero based. Oh, and it’s got a six-speed manual with rev matching – with a shorter sixth gear to make it racier – instead of the ten-speed option. That’ll please the purists. 

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The DSSV dampers developed by Multimatic for the previous gen Camaro Z28 track monster have been fitted (some of the finest dampers this side of a race car) and not only do they dramatically reduce weight at each corner – over 2.5kg a pop – they also have a properly ingenious and super simple camber adjustment system on top of the towers. 

With just one spanner you can change it from road to track – adding an extra 1.5 degrees of negative camber, doubling the street mode’s 1.5deg, in just a few minutes. Allied to 10mm of front ride height adjustment in either direction and a three-way adjustable rear stabiliser bar, you should be able to dial it into your preference quickly and, for once, relatively simply.

Sure looks like it’s got some aero

You’re not wrong. There’s a bigger front grille and the daytime running lights are deleted to save weight and further improve airflow. The splitter grows and gets a pair of dive planes, too. At the back, the ZL1’s spoiler grows into a wing capable of generating 136kg of downforce at 150mph. Then there’s that huge carbon fibre wing on the rear deck as well as air deflectors and dive planes on the front fascia to stick the Camaro to the track. 

So what has Hennessey done? 

Given it extra oomph thanks to a larger, higher flowing supercharger and intercooler system producing 14psi of boost pressure. The factory cylinder heads have also been ported, the camshaft upgraded, long tube stainless steel headers fitted, and the induction system made freer flowing. There’s also a quick ECU flash for maximum go and a re-map of the ten-speed gearbox (if you have it) to make it swap cogs even faster. But two-pedal donor cars require a transmission upgrade to handle all that extra grunt, which comes to the tune of $9,950. That’s on top of the 1,000bhp engine upgrade and graphics, which total $55,000. If you don’t have a ZL1 already, don’t worry. You can buy a base Exorcist from John for $119,000.

Anything else? 

Well, there’s a choice of superchargers; either a 2.9-litre positive displacement or centrifugal supercharger. Then there are the options; the ‘Drag Pack’ features a pair of optional 20-inch wheels with sticky 315/30-20 Nitto drag radial tires, a drive shaft upgrade, floor jack and toolkit. That’ll be $8,995. Then there is the optional ‘Road Race Pack’ featuring 20-inch lightweight Hennessey wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s. That’ll be $6,995, please.

What’s it like? 

Bloody mega. Pugnacious and angry yet communicative and controllable. We know this is high praise – deservedly so – but you could think of the Exorcist as a Porsche GT3 RS with anger management issues. And daddy issues. And, well, lots of other issues. It's a real fighter, something you quickly realise as you fire the engine into life and it rocks back and forth on its engine mounts like it's demented. That's when you know you’re in something serious.

Though the notion of 1,000bhp sounds terrifying, it’s an incredibly easy car to drive and doesn’t feel wildly overpowered. It’s largely due to how well the car is set up to start with. Something you instantly feel as soon as you take it on the road. It's not juddery and even though the ride is firm, the damping is incredibly controlled and capable; you can really lean on it. And it loves for you to attack. The front-end grip is outrageous and you’re more likely to spin before you get anywhere near understeer. 

But the sensational chassis and steering allows the meatier engine to shine through as you can concentrate on what it’s doing. The two superchargers offer two very distinct and differing characteristics. The positive-displacement blower delivers a lump of torque a lot lower in the rev range, operating very much like how a turbo would. This tricks your brain into thinking the Exorcist is more powerful than it is, as you get a wallop of torque from the get go.

The centrifugal supercharger is a lot more linear and serves up its power and torque a lot higher in the rev range, around 5-7,000rpm. It’s also a lot noisier, with a bigger blow off valve huffing and puffing away with each throttle actuation, but also an amplified version of that traditional Wilhelm scream of supercharger whine. An utterly addictive trait. If you’re more of a street cruiser, we’d recommend the positive-displacement (especially on an auto non-1LE spec), but if you’re hitting the track in the more focused splitters and wing Camaro, go for the centrifugal. 

Grip isn’t an issue either way. Well, in the nice warm, dry ambient temperatures of Texas. The Eagle F1 SuperCar 3Rs (305 fronts and 325 rears) performed flawlessly after being pounded around the roads, and if they did break traction, it wasn’t quite the snap-and-brace-for-impact we were expecting. Rather, quite predictable and easy to gather back up. 

Is it better than the Demon? 

It’s different. Where Dodge claims that the Demon is a good all-rounder thanks to plenty of grip from fat, sticky tyres at each corner – we all know its real party trick is popping wheelies in a straight line. I’m in no doubt that the Exorcist 1LE will lap a track faster than the Demon, but will it beat it in a straight line? Probably not. It doesn’t have the sophisticated technology or development that’s gone into the Demon with things like the transbrake, torque reserve, clever cooling and ECU race fuel maps. The Exorcist just doesn’t feel as special as the Demon, largely because it is just a tune-up, rather than a dedicated build. 

But that doesn’t mean you should discredit it. Getting them together would be very interesting – and suck the planet dry of fuel – but the Exorcist feels more incensed than the Demon more of the time, which is sometimes how you want a muscle car to feel. Plus, getting your hands on one is a lot easier than a Demon.

Photography: Rowan Horncastle

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