More than 45 years ago, Chevrolet introduced the Z/28 option package for its new Camaro, a package that included a high-revving 290-horsepower 302 V-8. It was designed to be competitive in the NASCAR Baby Grands and the Trans-Am series, which had a 5.0-liter, or 305-inch displacement limit.
Eventually, Chevy, Pontiac, Ford, Mercury, Plymouth, Dodge, and American Motors were all in the series up to their necks, and the racing was great. The street versions of all their Trans-Am entries are as collectible today as their big-block muscle car brethren—perhaps moreso.
That was a long time ago, and even with fussy carburetors, crappy 7-inch tires, buggy-spring suspension, and generally sloppy manufacturing, the original Z/28 was still pretty damn great (an original sold last year for $110,000).
Your author was among the very first journalists ever to drive a '67 Z/28, at Cecil Country Dragway in Maryland, and we were impressed at the car's willingness to rev and make midrange power from such a small engine.
Fast forward 47 years and multiple generations of car building and engine science, and you get the 2014 Camaro Z/28, the most capable all-around Camaro ever built. Camaro chief engineer Al Oppenheiser said at the media introduction in Building 100 at the GM Proving Grounds outside of Detroit, "The Z/28 is the icing on the cake for the fifth-generation Camaro. We were militant about not getting the name of the car out. People thought that the Jay Leno SEMA Show turbocharged V-6 was going to be the Z/28. Then they thought the ZL1 was the Z/28. It's got such a historic name, such a hallowed moniker, that we thought the name should come on an appropriate car."
He adds, "I've told our Camaro customers for years that we would never bring back the Z/28 unless we had a car worthy of the name. It's the car that everybody expected, but we're going to show you today that it's the car that no one expects. Now we are venturing off into the land of the GT-Rs, the 911s, and the Murcielagos, and we want this car to set the standard for what a sports-segment car can be. We want you to be able to drive to the track, go smoke everybody, and then drive it home."
The Z/28 is built around an aluminum LS7, Chevy's 427 cubic-inch naturally aspirated V-8 making 505 horsepower at 6100 rpm and 481 lb-ft at 4800 rpm. It's essentially the same engine as the Z06 Corvette, other than intake and exhaust plumbing to accommodate the Camaro body: 11:1 compression, titanium intake valves and connecting rods, CNC-ported heads, forged steel crank and main caps, fat cam profile, and hydroformed headers.
The Z/28's LS7 is also stuffed with Mahle pistons, Pankl coated connecting rods and premium GM parts, including Camaro's first-ever dry-sump oiling system, and a one-of-a-kind K&N air filtration system, installed in a Camaro body unlike any other. The Z/28 carries a total of 190 new and unique parts compared to an SS.
It gets power to the ground with a close-ratio Tremec TR6060 six-speed transmission with double-cone and triple-cone synchros on each gear for lightning shifts, feeding into a Torsen limited-slip differential with helical gears in it that allow individual ABS braking, no preload in corners, and rapid acceleration off the corners. Final drive ratio is 3.91:1. The engine, transmission and diff each have race-quality cooling systems
According to GM designer Tom Peters, who supervised the Z/28 body mods, the Z/28 body has been fitted with a new upper and lower grille assembly for air management, a very deep and very elaborate front spoiler with Gurney lips, an undertray that goes back beyond the engine, an air-extractor hood, wheel flares, side skirts, and a moveable rear spoiler. You won't mistake it for anything else. Chevrolet says the body generates 440 pounds of additional downforce at 150 mph compared to an SS.
Most of the magic in the Z/28 comes from its suspension, brakes, and tires. Front springs are 85 percent stiffer, and rear springs are 65 percent stiffer, with 25 percent stiffer lower trailing-link bushings for lateral stiffness. The lower arm link bushings are 50 percent stiffer up front, with 400 percent stiffer rear upper control arm bushings, with smaller, not larger stabilizer bars, down from 28 mm in front to 25 mm, and 27 mm to 25 mm at the rear. The Z/28 sits lower to the ground than an SS by 33 mm.
For the first time ever, a Chevrolet production car will be fitted with Multimatic DSSV shock units that use patented spool-valve technology instead of shim stacks for wheel control. It's the same Multimatic technology used by the Infiniti Red Bull Formula 1 team, the Acura LMP1 team in ALMS, every car in the German DTM series, and every car in the Ferrari Challenge series.
The Z/28 uses struts up front and aluminum coil/shock units at the rear. Each corner will have five-spoke black alloy wheels shod with gigantic Pirelli Trofeo S 305/30ZR-19. Yes, that's right, 305 front tires. Inside each wheel is a Brembo carbon ceramic brake system, with two-piece rotors, 394 x 36 mm front and 390 x 32 mm rear, with six-piston calipers front and four-piston calipers in the rear for consistent, hour-after-hour braking performance at the track, and lifetime durability of the rotors.