The Chevrolet Camaro is at war with the Ford Mustang. The battles are waged at racetracks, drag strips, and especially red lights across the country. Don’t believe it? Check out Chevy’s latest attack on Ford—the Camaro ZL1, a direct assault on Ford’s most powerful Mustang, the 550-horsepower Shelby GT500.
Looking at the two adversaries’ histories, it’s amazing just how much the Mustang and Camaro have in common. Like the Shelby moniker Ford uses on its top-of-the-line Mustang, the Camaro ZL1 name dates back to the 1960s. In 1969, Chevy gave an exclusive group of 69 custom Camaros a very special V-8 dubbed ZL1. Built for racing, the original ZL1 engine was an all-aluminum 427 cubic-inch monster boasting 430 horsepower. To avoid being hassled by insurance companies that were fighting against other high-powered machines, many believe GM underrated that original ZL1 by about 100 horses.
Today, both the Shelby and the ZL1 boast supercharged V-8 engines under their hoods. The ZL1 is powered by a 6.2-liter V-8 that originated in the Cadillac CTS Coupe. In the Cadillac, the engine tops out at 556 horsepower. In the ZL1, Chevy is promising at least 550 horsepower and 550 pound-feet of torque. (Since the Shelby GT500 has almost exactly the same stats, it’s not hard to imagine Chevy striving to harness all the power it can get under the hood in order to one-up Ford.)
To distinguish the ZL1 from lesser Camaros, the company has given the ZL1 an aluminum hood with vents to help release the copious amount of heat created by the hyped-up engine. The car also gets a new front bumper with a larger mouth, plus vents to help cool the ZL1’s massive front brakes. Lightweight 20-inch forged wheels are wrapped in the widest tires of any Camaro. Chevy has also completed a thorough retuning of the suspension, including adjustable magnetic shocks shared with the Corvette, presumably to give the driver a better chance of controlling the beastly V-8.
Inside, the interior is as classic as ever. There’s a new steering wheel and a boost gauge to monitor the supercharger. If you expect to find an automatic transmission, you’re out of luck—the ZL1 will only come with a six-speed manual when it goes on sale in early 2012. Chevy hasn’t announced official pricing, but expect it to slide in just under $50,000, or about as much as a Shelby GT500. The war rages on.