June 9, 2001
As sad as it is to mention it, General Motors has confirmed that they have no current plans to produce an LS6 powered F-body while being assembled at the St. Therese factory. What if a company outside of GM decided to make arrangements drop the ZO6 engine into a current year F-body? Enter GMMG and the 2002 Camaro ZL1 prototype.
THE ORIGINAL COPO ZL1 CAMARO
In 1969, a Chevrolet dealer named Fred Gibb worked a deal with GM to produce 50 Camaros with special high-performance upgrades, mainly an all-aluminum 427 engine (COPO 9560). Little did Fred know that by the time the extra performance upgrades were added up they would total over $4,000, more than the cost of the base Camaro itself. Needless to say, the 1969 ZL1 Camaro was not a hot seller with a window sticker price of $7,200. Gibb sold only 13 and the rest were sent back to GM to be redistributed to other high-performance Chevrolet dealerships. In addition to the first 50 built, a few other dealerships placed orders for the ZL1 and the final production total for the 1969 ZL1 Camaro ended ironically at 69. Most of the ZL1s were used for racing and many were wrecked or highly modified. Chevrolet considered making the ZL1 as a regular production option and created two prototypes. However seeing how the market could not support a $7,200 Camaro in 1969, GM scrapped the idea. Today, the original ZL1 Camaro is one of the most sought-after Camaros of all time
GMMG AND THE ZL1 HERITAGE
GMMG, the same company responsible for the Dale Earnhardt Intimidator SS among others, has created a prototype of what could be the next ZL1 Camaro. GMMG wanted to create a car to compete with and ultimately destroy the new Ford Mustang Cobra R, but do it mainly using parts that carry a GM part number. In order to make the car true to it’s heritage, GMMG managed to get in touch with a few 1969 ZL1 Camaro owners and asked them what they thought a new Camaro would need to have in order to be worthy of wearing the ZL1 badge. Some actually said the car had to be flashy because the original ZL1 Camaro was not targeted for the collector car market, but was more set up for performance and not visual attraction. As a result, the original ZL1 Camaros are often mistaken for basic Camaros and are completely overlooked at car shows. Aside from this, most said that the car had to remain true to the ZL1 Camaro heritage, have 400 horsepower and has to be the ultimate late model Camaro ever offered. In addition, it had to be able to beat the Cobra R, a continuation of the Ford vs. Chevy war that has been battled for decades.
THE NEW ZL1 CAMARO PROTOTYPE
GMMG went to work using a 2001 Camaro with approximately 8,000 miles on the clock. Borrowing the engine from a Corvette ZO6, they dropped a slightly modified 400 horsepower LS6 into the engine bay, replacing the LS1 that came factory-equipped. To keep the same theme as the LS6, they painted the valve covers red to match the LS6’s original red fuel rail covers. They didn’t stop there. While increasing the speed you also need to decrease the stopping distance. Instead of going with an aftermarket company for the braking system, GMMG also borrowed a set of wheels and the larger brakes from the ZO6 line coupled with ball-milled rotors to enhance the new ZL1’s looks as well as stopping power. This is similar to how the 1988-1989 Camaro 1LE used a Corvette braking system. The transmission uses a ZO6 clutch with an otherwise stock manual transmission to transfer power through a stock LS1 Camaro drive shaft into a Torsen rear end with 4.10 gears. The suspension was upgraded with Penske triple adjustable shocks, bigger sway bars and progressive rate springs to make sure the car launches hard and holds to the pavement like Velcro in the corners. On the exterior, the factory black paint was replaced with a stunning coat of 1969 Garnet Red. A black stripe rests between the stingers of the hood’s induction scoop, which is wrapped with a silver stripe that streaks over the hood scoop and continues on to the roof and rear deck. The rear panel was painted satin black and a gray powder coated grill wearing a traditional blue Chevrolet bowtie was placed in the front. To finish it all off, custom ZL1 badges similar to Corvette ZO6 badges were placed on both front fenders in the proper locations. The interior was only upgraded slightly with custom silver faced gauges that shows the redline at 6,500 RPM and also wears the new ZL1 emblem. A black and white houndstooth interior is planned for the near future to round out the style of what was offered on the 1969 Camaro.
BEHIND THE WHEEL, IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT, ON THE STREET
As started earlier, the interior of the ZL1 Camaro prototype is mostly unchanged, so sitting behind the wheel isn’t much different than any late model Camaro. Turning the key to start the car is another story. Because the engine is emissions legal, it fires up with the familiar authoritative LS1 sound, but has a bit more thunder to it. Other than that, it is very easy to mistake the LS6 powered Camaro with an LS1 powered version from the driver’s perspective. As most of the components that make up the performance upgrades are off-the-shelf GM parts, nothing felt all that different when engaging the clutch, putting the car and gear, releasing the clutch and rolling out to the road. Then while driving, some very nice differences began to arise. The suspension seems to absorb common road irregularities with more confidence, and it is easy to feel the engine flowing much more air while accelerating. The entire ride feels much more refined and more in tune with the driving surface. Then, when at full throttle, the engine really comes alive. Pulling hard and smooth through first gear and into second invokes a great rush and instantly assures you that this is no ordinary engine under the hood. Like all 6-speed F-bodies, third is the magic gear and pulls quickly and effortlessly to the redline without coming close to running out of breath. Before you know it, you are well out of the range of the legal speed limit just about anywhere. Slowing down is just as impressive as the Corvette brakes clamp hard and secure but not unexpectedly touchy, and bring the car to a short and smooth stop. Once stopped, you want to throw it in gear and dump the Z06 clutch and power your way through the gears once again.