The Racetrack-Ready Camaro Z/28 Is Back

It’s the little things that make the difference, especially at the track. Like shaving a few thousandths from the thickness of the rear glass. Or modifying the back seat to save nine pounds. It’s this attention to detail that separates podium finishers from also-rans. For most production cars these things don’t much matter, but the Z/28 Camaro is a street-legal racer and every ounce counts.

The original Z/28 debuted at the end of 1966. Intended to compete in SCCA Trans-Am races, it was, in the words of Automobile magazine, an “homologation special”. As lightweight and powerful as possible, Chevy offered it to the public purely as a way of qualifying for the racing series. Pre-2000 models pop up on the auction blocks; and an Internet-savvy collector can usually find one by watching sites like Kelley Blue Blook, Craigslist or eBay. At press time, kbb.com cars for sale lists a 2002 Z/28 with only 87,000 for $8,995.

After four generations the Camaro disappeared in 2002, returning in 2010 with aggressive yet retro styling and packing even more horsepower. Initially, the SS model was top dog with 426 horsepower, but Chevy quickly topped that with the ZL1, a 580 horsepower supercharged beast of a machine. And now, much to the delight of enthusiasts, the Z/28 is back. But here’s the thing: according to GM its 7.0 liter LS7 motor makes a relatively paltry 500 ponies. So why all the excitement?

Here are ten reasons:

  1. On the racetrack, weight, especially unsprung mass, is the enemy. The Z/28 is 300 pounds lighter than the ZL1, with much of that reduction coming from the wheels and brakes. That means the driver can stay on the gas longer before turning-in, shaving seconds from lap times.
  2. A lower center of gravity than the ZL1, coupled with Pirelli PZero 305/30 Trofeo R tires, “the widest front tire on any production car,” means it can pull 1.05 g through the curves. Good thing the Recaro seats are well-bolstered!
  3. Racetrack brake fade isn’t a problem with the Z/28’s massive Brembo Carbon Ceramic Matrix rotors. At more than 15 inches in diameter, these save weight while achieving decelerations of as much as 1.5 g.
  4. Liquid-to-liquid cooling systems for engine oil, transmission and differential fluids handle the heat of sustained competition.
  5. A front splitter, rear diffuser, fender flares and extended rocker panels — aerodynamic features unique to the Z/28 — suck the car to the track and contribute to the superlative grip.
  6. Spool-valve dampers provide four-way compression and rebound adjustment, increase stiffness and let the driver balance comfort and grip.
  7. A TREMEC short-throw six-speed manual transmission channels 470 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. Be kind to that clutch!
  8. The differential uses helical gears rather than the clutch packs typically found in “positraction” rear-ends, maximizing traction out of every turn.
  9. It sounds brutal, thanks to larger-diameter pipes and a dual-mode system that bypasses the mufflers during acceleration, increasing both torque and the sound generated by the LS7 engine.
  10. The slash is back. As the BBC’s Matthew Phenix notes, “original 1967-69 models wore the Z-slash-28 emblem; all successors wore the slash-less “Z28” badge.” Reinstating the slash is Chevy’s way of telling Camaro fans this machine is track-ready.

The Z/28 isn’t the most powerful Camaro ever made, but for erstwhile racers it may be the best. With minute attention to detail, Chevy engineers have found ways to nip and tuck the Camaro for track perfection.

Creative Commons image by Peter Alfred Hess

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