With the explosion of late-model muscle cars hitting showroom floors over the past few years, the Big Three continue to entice us with high-horsepower hot rods that spin the dyno rollers at a surprisingly ferocious rate. But these aren't just race-only track fiends—these are cars built docile enough to drive on the street while knocking down a relatively decent fuel mileage number—a welcome advance to every muscle car enthusiast with a heavy appetite for performance and a mild "tree-hugging" conscious. But it almost didn't happen. Back in 2009, our government was forced to rescue the American automakers with a $24.9 billion bailout, then pushed for cars to be built with mileage, not muscle, in mind. Fortunately for us, the fifth-generation Camaro was already in production. Not so fast there, "Ricky Racer." GM, quite possibly feeling some heat from the government, started prompting us media types to promote the more eco-friendly V-6 version of the Camaro rather than the V-8–powered SS. Say what?
With the future of performance-minded OE cars somewhat uncertain, 2010 gave us a taste of what was to come when the 426hp Camaro SS made its way to dealership showrooms. This was very cool, but the weight of the SS—a hefty 3,900 pounds—masked a good percentage of that available power. But that didn't matter much, though, as the car's 8-year hiatus left the Camaro community anxious to get their hands on GM's new dealership darling no matter how hard it tipped the scales. The '10 Camaro was a huge hit and the collective sigh of relief from the GM "big wigs" was felt from Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, (where the fifth-gen Camaro is built) all the way to Oceanside, California.
By 2012, GM had its financials in order and was once again turning a sizable profit, which helped turn the Obama clan's focus to other pertinent issues. And as the saying goes, "when the cat's away, the mice will play," so in 2013, GM was more than happy to feed our horsepower-hungry appetite and delivered the ZL1—a factory-built supercharged Camaro churning out 580 hp while getting 19 gas-sipping miles per gallon on the highway. Now we're talking!
While today's engine technology allows us to get behind the wheel of some very stout cars, our only obstacle could be the government getting in the way of this modern "horsepower heyday" and sending down a memo "inviting" the OEs to tone down the "fun meter" and get back to the "econo-box" mentality of the 1980s. Which, if you happened to be around then, you no doubt remember not much good came of that; most of the cars looked awful and lacked performance – a majority of the music from that era followed suit. Fortunately, Bill Kurrus is a little too young to remember those days and in early 2012 was in the market for a new performance-oriented ride. He was digging on the available horsepower and powertrain combo of his wife's daily driven CTS-V and was aware that the same basic package was offered in the 2013 Chevy Camaro ZL1, only with a crisper suspension and more aggressive stance. "I was going to buy another CTS-V since we had such good luck with my wife's car, but I kept reading in the magazines how the ZL1 was out-performing the GT500."
It was in November 2012 when Bill pulled the trigger on this sinister black ZL1. "The first thing I did was yank the supercharger and got started cutting off some of the excess aluminum. Every night for about two weeks I was getting in there with a Dremel and polishing wheel of just about every size," said Bill. "Unfortunately, I was still getting my ass handed to me by my wife's Caddy, so I bolted on a smaller 2.38[-inch] pulley and a cold-air intake like we had on her car. After that, the ZL1 really started to come around."
Looking for a bit more spice out of the hole, Bill found a great deal on a converter he was told had only 800 miles on it. "So I bolted up that converter and had Chad Barton at CBI Streetcars in Hillsboro, Missouri, do the heads and cam. Unfortunately, 36 hours later I had a car with 5,002 miles on it with a broken motor," confesses Bill. "The converter that I got such a ‘great deal' on couldn't handle the increase in power so the thrust bearing pushed out of the engine."
Needless to say, the wounded LSA was back at Chad's place, only this time for more power-worthy upgrades. Sticking with the original 376 cubic inches and 9.1:1 compression ratio, in went COMP pushrods and Wiseco pistons to accompany the stock rods and crankshaft—all buttoned up with ARP fasteners. Chad followed it up with a CBI custom-ground cam he refers to only as the ESAD (Eat S#!t And Die) grind. There is also the FYF grind he uses on naturally aspirated cars. We didn't ask…
With the aforementioned underdrive pulley mixed in, the Eaton huffer set sail at 15 psi of boost. The stock exhaust manifold was relieved of duty to make room for a set of Texas Speed & Performance headers armed with 2-inch primaries mated up to the stock GM cat-back system, complete with dual-mode mufflers.
The failed bargain-bin torque converter was replaced with a 2,800-stall Coan Racing converter by the crew at RPM Transmissions (Anderson, Indianapolis). DSX tuning took over the reigns and optimized the mill to its full performance capability. Estimated thrill factor: 800-ish hp at 6,500 rpm.
Bill had his mind set on mixing in a bit of an old-school vibe on the new ride by going with a five-spoke wheel. He favored the looks and fitment of the Weld RTSs on all four corners (20x7 up front, 20x10.5 rear). Pirelli 235/35-20 rubber handles course navigation up front while 305/35-20 Mickey Thompson ET Street II's provide ample grip out back.
For now, the Camaro relies on the stock interior offerings including seats, gauges, and safety belts. But, with the quarter-mile times the car is turning out, a rollcage is certain to be the next upgrade. In fact, Bill confirmed via email just days before this writing that the ZL1 recently went 10.26 e.t. at over 130 mph at Muncie Dragway.
"The thing I love about this car is that it can run low- to mid-10s on 20-inch wheels in the quarter, and I can just air up the tires and drive it home without issue, all while getting almost 20 miles to the gallon," Bill raves. "And to think at one point, when the car was broken, I was ready to give up. Fortunately, my wife kept me focused, and with the help of Chad at CBI and Dave from DSX, I have one of the baddest fifth-gen ZL1 Camaros on the planet. The car is so solid and easy to drive on the street, yet it once I hammer the ‘loud pedal,' all hell breaks loose."
At this point, we're thankful there are still a good number of hot rodders working within the corporate walls of The Big Three who are willing to push the proverbial performance envelope. So, for now it's safe to say us horsepower hungry are in fairly good hands. And today's music is much better, too.