Sit back, grab a beer, and try to pay attention. In his quest to find the ultimate Chevy performance machine, Chris Dortlon has rampaged through quite a few cars in three short years. His latest flurry of acquisitions started with a 2012 Corvette Z06, which he traded in for a 2013 Camaro ZL1. After swapping the ZL1 for another 2012 Corvette Z06, he replaced it with a 2015 Corvette Z06 before trading it in for a 2015 Camaro 1LE. Sampling two generations of Corvettes, the latest generation of Camaro, two LS7s, an LSA, an LT4, and an LS3 led Chris to one expensive, time-consuming, and absolutely resolute conclusion: Throw an LS7 inside a Camaro 1LE chassis, and you’ve got yourself the ultimate late-model muscle car.
Fortunately for Chris, GM reached the same conclusion and built the Z/28. Not surprisingly, he promptly traded in his 1LE for a 2015 Camaro Z/28 as soon as he was able to track one down. While moving down the totem pole from a Corvette to a Camaro may seem peculiar, fully understanding why anyone would do such a thing requires a quick recap on what the Z/28 is all about. Unlike in generations past, when GM slapped Z/28 badges on random Camaros merely as a marketing gimmick, this time around the fifth-gen Z/28 genuinely pays homage to the first-gen Z/28s that were purpose-built to dominate Trans-Am racing.
To prep the Z/28 for road race duty, GM removed 300 pounds out of the fifth-gen chassis by ripping out the A/C, floor mats, tire inflation kit, and all but one stereo speaker. Further paring mass are lightweight wheels, a smaller battery, and thinner rear glass. Providing the stick are trick spool-valve-style shocks, stiffer springs, revised sway bars, and gargantuan 305/30/19 Pirelli tires on all four corners. Massive carbon-ceramic brakes provide endless braking power, while a front splitter, wheel-arch extensions, and a decklid spoiler generate real downforce at triple-digit speeds. Assisting with brisk corner exits are a shorter 3.91:1 ring-and-pinion set and a close-ratio Tremec TR-6060 six-speed manual trans. Dropping a 505hp LS7 into the Z/28’s full-race chassis nets a package that smokes Ferraris, Porsches, and Lamborghinis around Germany’s infamous Nürburgring road course.
Although Chris had no intentions of going road racing, through his adventures in car swapping, he realized that Corvettes and forced-induction engines weren’t for him. “When I got my first Z06 in 2012, I fell in love with the LS7 small-block. Even though my 2015 Corvette had 650 horsepower, I didn’t care for the supercharged LT4,” Chris opines. “It just didn’t feel as fast as the LS7, and it didn’t run through the gears like the LS7, either. With the lower redline, the supercharged motor didn’t feel like it had the legs of the naturally aspirated 427, and the fun factor just wasn’t there. The LS7’s throttle response is simply amazing.”
Longing to reunite with the LS7’s brutal power delivery is just part of the reason why Chris traded in his Corvettes. As a hot rodder that grew up around muscle cars, he found Corvettes a bit too refined. “I’ve had Chevelles and first- and second-gen Camaros over the years, and to me the new Corvettes are so refined that they don’t feel like muscle cars anymore. They ride so nicely and have so many luxury features that you might as well be driving a BMW M5,” Chris explains. “This Z/28 is by far the favorite of all the cars I’ve owned. The hood is long, the suspension beats you up pretty well, and you feel the road much better than in a Corvette, so it feels more like a real muscle car. The difference is that the handling is amazing and the brakes are phenomenal. If you stomp on the brakes you better be ready because they’re going to put you in the windshield real fast.”
As luck would have it, Chris scored a killer deal on the Z/28 after someone ordered it at the dealership, then decided not to buy it at the last second. That’s when Chris swooped in and snatched it up for $16,000 below sticker price. Now that the cash savings was burning a hole in his pocket, Chris dropped the car off at Late Model Racecraft (LMR, www.latemodelracecraft.com) in Houston with just 60 miles on the clock. After baseline dyno testing the car at 480 rear-wheel horsepower, the LMR crew got to work installing its Reaper package. Upgrades include LMR Stage 3 ported cylinder heads, double-duty valvesprings, a custom hydraulic roller camshaft, new pushrods, an underdrive pulley, and 2-inch American Racing long-tube headers with high-flow cats. With a custom LMR tune loaded up into the factory PCM, the Z/28 lays down 585 horsepower and 523 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheels. A testament to GM’s engineering talents, the Z/28’s stock driveline, suspension and brakes handle the 100-plus additional horsepower without breaking a sweat.
Finally, after years of swapping out Z06s for ZL1s, and 1LEs for Z/28s, Chris has built the ultimate late-model GM muscle car. With the additional horsepower LMR has infused into the Z/28, knocking 10-15 seconds off of its lap times at the Nürburgring is definitely conceivable. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if Chris trades his Z/28 for the next hot GM performance machine as soon as the opportunity presents itself. “I don’t plan on keeping any of my cars forever,” he admits. “I buy them, enjoy them, and then move on to something new. When the new sixth-gen Z/28 comes out, maybe I’ll upgrade at that time.” Until then, only a select few supercars on earth can touch Chris’ Z/28 around a road course, regardless of price.