Among the Camaro faithful there is little doubt that the '69 Camaro ZL-1 is a legendary musclecar, with a level of performance (and mystery) that all other F-Bodies have failed to attain. The '69 ZL-1 owes its top-dog status to its lightweight aluminum 427 big-block engine which provided tremendous Rat motor power with the handling characteristics of a small-block.
The reason there were only 69 ZL-1s produced in1969 was due largely to the fact that the option price of the engine alone was more than the rest of the car itself. There are still thousands of Camaro lovers around that believe the best Camaros built ended along with the end of the First-Generation production run. This belief can almost be justified. Performance started to fall shortly thereafter with tighter emission regulations and a more watchful insurance industry. But even in the performance heyday of 1970, the number of big-blocks put between the fenders of the newly restyled Second-Gens was never anywhere near the number of First-Gens.
But as anyone who has taken the time to drive the newest LS1-powered Camaros surely knows, performance isn't dead even though the Camaro is said to be.
Will the Camaro go out with a whimper or a roar? Thankfully with the teamwork of the Camaro/Corvette Brand Team, The GM Specialty Vehicles Group, and the folks at GMMG Inc., Camaro performance is getting one last shot in the arm.
It's always a risky move to badge a new model with a moniker that carried such a high level of esteem, but in this case the new '02 ZL1 just may live up to the ZL1 emblems it carries on its fenders. It has some big shoes to fill, but with its long list of performance mods and some of the best pieces to come out of the General's parts bin, it's a model that carries the name honorably.
SUPER CHEVY was fortunate enough to be given the keys to the one-and-only prototype '02 ZL1 for a couple weeks of fun and evaluation. Each one of the three staff members that spent time behind the wheel walked away with a respect for the LS1 drivetrain and the car itself (Mike Petralia wasn't given the keys because he was still being punished for monopolizing the '02 SS convertible a few months back).
Following are our impressions of this awesome hot rod.
My first thought when I learned that my good friend (and Camaro Brand Manager) Scott Settlemire was going to hand me the keys to the only new ZL1 in existence was, "Wow, I can't wait to see how they fit the all-aluminum Rat motor under the cowl of a late-model Camaro." When the reality set in that there was no oversized big-block residing under the F-Body's curvaceous hood, I must admit that I was a little disappointed. Well, let's say a lot! Why would GM expend one of its most hallowed nameplates on a warmed-over Camaro, I wondered? Besides, I own a supercharged Fourth-Gen, so this car wasn't going to be a big deal.
Well, I've never misjudged anything as much as I did here by jumping to the wrong conclusion about this car. To sum it up: This potential-production supercar is a throw-back to the big-block-powered machines of the late-'60s-only better in every way! From the moment I pulled out of the race track in Las Vegas until I reluctantly handed over the car to my staff for their evaluations, I experienced nothing but ecstasy behind the wheel of this boulevard bruiser. It is powerful, fast, sounds great, and handles with the best of them. It's not a ZO6 Corvette in Camaro wrappings, nor is it a cushy driver. It is a perfect mix of raw performance and hot rodding ingenuity. -Terry Cole
After driving a handful of LS1 equipped Camaros, the expectations of driving the new specially built ZL1 was that it was probably going to be a little faster, but how much different could it feel? The stock LS1 engine in a Camaro is more than fun, but hop that up to 400 hp and a new sparkle begins to appear.
As far as the handling and response, it was most definitely all Camaro. Even with a slightly beefed-up suspension, the handling package still felt like a big car with good tires.One thing I really enjoyed was the sound of the chambered exhaust. It had a nice pop when you let off the gas and a nice loud bark when the go pedal was mashed. I enjoy a loud, tuned sound. It was almost as if I was driving something far more exotic than the reality.
However, if you are the type that prefers not to listen to the exhaust resonate through the interior, then you'll definitely want to change the exhaust system from the chambered style to an easy-on-the-ears muffler style.
All in all, I had a lot of fun in the short time with the ZL1 and would definitely say it impressed me with its power. But in all honesty, a '02 SS with the LS1 would bring me just as much excitement as a late-model Camaro should, without needing a few more modifications overall. -Jason Walker
The first trip home I had in the ZL1 was spent in bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic, but the Camaro handled it well, and the clutch did not wear out my left leg. Once on some open road, the ZL1 comes alive. The LS6 performed flawlessly and even had me doing some heavy thinking about what it would take to drop it along with the six-speed in my '67 Camaro.
I could find no fault with the drivetrain. The exhaust, however, is loud-louder inside than outside, I think. Until the Camaro was cruising on some open road and the tranny was dropped into Sixth gear, conversation between traveling companions was tough. It was fun for the few days I had it, but over time as any kind of regular transportation, it would get old.
I've never been a big fan of the Fourth-Gens' exterior styling, and the ZL1 was really no different. It seems as if most of the influence was given to the drivetrain, much as the original '69 ZL-1, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But while driving the '02 around town and filling it up a few times at a couple of gas stations, the Camaro drew no comments or attention as one might expect from such a specially built car.
I want my cake and to eat it too. Give me this drivetrain and handling in a First- or Second-Gen and I'll be all over it.
Camaro ZL1 Equipment *'01 model-year LS6 Aluminum Gen III engine*400 hp /410 lb-ft package*4:10 rear axle*Cat-back chambered exhaust system*High-flow airbox lid with ZL1 decal*Front and rear Eibach springs (lowered 1.5-inch)*Z06 production wheels*Z06 brakes*Ball-milled rotors*8700 Series PENSKE triple-adjustable, nitrogen-filled shocks with remote canisters*Light-weight billet flywheel*Argent grille with blue '69 Bow-Tie emblem*'69 Garnet Red paint*Black rear taillamp panel*Camaro accent letters-rear taillamp panel*Hood, roof, and deck accent stripes*Black '69 Hurst shifter ball*Car cover with ZL1 logo*ZL1 cloisonne fender badging*Silver-face gauges with ZL1 logo*Rearview mirror with compass*Mobil 1 oil, oil fill cap, and decal*Power antenna