There's been more hype with the new Camaro over the last 24 months than there probably was back in 1967. And that's not entirely bad. The faithful wept when GM pulled the plug on the F-body back in 2002. The response from customers, car lovers and the media alike has been overwhelmingly positive since the '10 Camaro reappeared in the Spring of 2009. In the midst of the worst recession since Carter was in the White House, Camaro sales are robust-without the aid of rebates or other Band Aids. For the first time in over a decade, the Camaro is outselling its archrival from Dearborn.
As good as the Camaro is, Chevy left a lot of room for improvement. Sure, it's got 400-plus horsepower in SS trim, but it's also about 400 pounds too heavy. That means it needs a lot more snot underhood, bigger brakes, and better handling to perform like a real thoroughbred. The aftermarket has gone haywire, introducing everything from slightly different steering wheels to body parts to blower and turbo kits, all in the name of making the new F-body the best it can be.
Enter the RPO Series of Camaros from Mr. Norm's Garage and Kenne Bell Superchargers. Kenne Bell first hooked up with Mr. Norm's to supply the blowers for its line of 2009-up Dodge Challengers. These were such a hit that getting an all-out Camaro in the hands of customers and like-minded Chevy dealers was a natural. Horsepower levels are 650 with the 2.8L blower on a stock 6.2-liter engine, 825 hp with the 3.6L supercharger bolted to a built LS3 and-get this-1,000 hp with the 3.6 huffer on a custom-built 7-liter LS engine.
Any of these options will make your '10 Camaro feel about 800 pounds lighter-this we can tell you from first-hand experience. We flew to Southern California recently for a full-bore drag test of the 650- and 825-horse models at California Speedway in Fontana, California, and nearly sucked the scoreboards out of the ground. OK, maybe they weren't that fast, but considering they are tuned to run on 93 octane pump gas, and 50 state emissions compliance is pending (even for the 1,000-horse version), we'd rate their performance as outstanding.
What Do You Get?
Those well-versed in GM lore know that RPO stood for Regular Production Option back in the day. Most famous of which was probably Z28, which became an actual Camaro model designation, and L88, for the Corvette's race engine option from '67-69. There are tons of others, from JL8 to M22 to ZL1, but for these cars Mr. Norm's Garage pulled a few beauties from the archives. There's L78 for the 650-horse variant, L72 for the 825hp cars, and L88 for the 1,000-ponies machine.
But just what do you get with this alpha-numeric mumbo jumbo over the standard Camaro? All the RPO cars come with custom Mr. Norm's wheels, see-through carbon fiber hood (a'la ZR1 Corvette), plus special graphics and interior trimmings.
The red car you see was the 650-horse model. It had a T56 manual gearbox and a Centerforce clutch, standard on the RPO cars. The rear wheels measure 20x10 with 315/35R20 Nitto NT05 drag radials. While these wheels are a $3,599 option on the RPO cars (we recommend them), the tires that come with them are the stock Pirelli PZeros. The factory summer rubber was deemed more than capable for the street or road course. By doing this, it eliminates passing on the cost of expensive aftermarket tires to the customer. The Nittos were strictly for drag testing purposes.
The aggressive appearance blew us away, and the red interior with custom L72 stitching is not for the bashful. (When this prototype was built, this 650hp model was going to be called L72.) You are still stuck with the factory steering wheel and gauges, which win no awards for style or function, but there was a shift light-especially useful for older drag testers like the author.
Boost in this version is 9 psi and comes from the 2.8-liter Liquid Cooled Kenne Bell blower with a 6-rib pulley. By keeping the boost modest, the stock bottom end will live a long, healthy life, so long as you feed it a consistent diet of 91-octane fuel. There is a 93-octane tune available that gives you 6 more degrees of timing advance-this was the tune for our test vehicle.
The suspension is lowered an inch with higher-rate front and rear springs. The sway bars are also stiffer and larger than stock. The front is a tubular 1.25-inch piece, and the rear is 1-inch diameter, tubular, and adjustable unit Everything else is factory. This keeps it simple and relatively affordable. Frankly, we like the way it drove and handled. The dual-disc Centerforce clutch was given a thorough beating by two drivers and didn't even flinch once. Aesthetically, we'd have to say that with the carbon fiber hood, decklid, and bumble bee nose stripe, it was one of the toughest looking Camaros we've seen yet.
Stepping up to the 825-horse variant, you get a whole lot more under the hood-a 3.6-liter Liquid Cooled supercharger and a fortified 6.2-liter engine. It seems that any attempt to force 16 pounds of boost in the LS3/L99 factory engines resulted in connecting rods that resembled pretzels-never a good thing. The 6.2 in the L72 and the 7-liter in the L88 come from Turnkey Engine Supply near San Diego with upgraded forged internals and 8.5:1 compression. The 6.2 keeps the stock cam, but adds prepped LS3 heads.
The owner of the silver 825-horse car, Adam Montague of ST Motorsports in San Bernadino, California, added an ice box to cool the blower at the track since the car is often used as a dragstrip mule.
The roll cage is also not an RPO option, but necessitated at the track by the car's mid 10-second e.t.'s-this, with an automatic transmission. For traction, he was running 28x10x17 Hoosier slicks.
On The Throttle
Montague made the first pass in his silver L72 car and it did not disappoint. The initial run on a fresh track resulted in a 10.67 at 128.07 mph. This was straight off the trailer, tapping the shift buttons at 6,000 for a crisp 6,300 rpm shift. He backed this up with a 10.70 at 131.27, and a 10.54 at 133.99 just 14 minutes later. Afterwards the car later ran a 10.59, but we could never improve on the 10.54.
Then it was time for the 650-horse car's debut. I dumped the clutch at 3,000 rpm, but the big Nittos bit too hard. This bogged the engine, but the car recovered and ran 12.37 at 117 mph.
Slipping the clutch from 2,800 rpm saw the Camaro run a 12.02 at 120.22 mph with a 1.982 60-foot time. Now we were getting somewhere. The difference between driving the 650-horse car and a stock Camaro is beyond noticeable. The instant boost from the twin screw-type blower makes the 376-inch engine feel 150 cubes larger.
Ultimately, the L78 car ran a stellar 11.61 at 120 mph. Dropping the pressure in the Nittos to 24 psi helped improve the 60-foot time to 1.71. For the sake of science, Montague swapped pulleys on the red car, and with two more pounds of boost ran an 11.44 at 126 mph. That's some street car! Keep in mind, on our test day we saw outside air temps in the low 90s.
From behind the wheel of the silver rocket, we can tell you it was an amazing experience. I was never able to equal Adam's times, but had fun trying. This car launched so hard on my first pass that I accidentally hit the shift button on the back of the steering wheel, sending the trans into second gear. Ultimately, the car ran 10.6s and it was like getting shot out of a cannon.
There are a lot of tuner Camaros out there, but we can state from first-hand experience that the RPO series of Kenne Bell-supercharged tuner cars from Mr. Norm's Garage definitely deliver the performance promised.
RPO SERIES CAMAROS
L78 Camaro Edition
Option Price: $18,999.00
Standard equipment includes the following:
Kenne Bell 2.8 Liter Liquid Cooled supercharger and air-to-water intercooler
Lowered suspension, enhanced sway bars and 4-wheel alignment
High performance Centerforce dual disc clutch assembly
Carbon fiber cowl induction-style hood with aircraft-grade Plexiglas window
Bumble Bee nose stripe
Custom leather interior with RPO Series L78
Edition embroidered logo
Custom carpet mats with RPO SERIES L78 Edition embroidered logo
RPO SERIES windshield banner
The options shown on the red test vehicle include the following:
RPO Series forged wheels: $3,599
Painted Hood: $1,300
Painted Rear Spoiler: $495
L72 Camaro Edition
Option Price: $39,999.00
The L72 Edition includes all of the L78 Edition features, plus the following:
Kenne Bell 3.6 Liter Liquid Cooled Supercharger and Air To Water Intercooler
Kenne Bell Mammoth Throttle Body
Kenne Bell Upgraded Fuel System
High Performance Drive Shaft
High Performance Half Shafts
Cat-Back Dual Exhaust System
6.2L Engine Upgrade LS3 Stock Displacement Forged Long Block to include the following:
New LS3 block
New GM Forged Crank
Forged JE/SRP pistons 8.5:1 compression
Forged H beam con rod with ARP bolts
Clevite H series bearings
Camaro Oil pan & p/u tube
Head gaskets & bolts
Timing cover & seal
Rocker arm stands & bolts
L92/ LS3 Cyl heads
Upgraded SS in & ex valves
Balancer pinned for blower
Rear Cover & seal
All block plugs, gaskets, seals & related hardware
The options shown on the silver test vehicle include the following:
RPO Series forged wheels: $3,599
Painted Hood: $1,300
Painted Rear Spoiler: $495
Cat-Back Dual Exhaust: $1,200