Berger Chevrolet is one of a handful of family run dealerships that can boast a legacy stretching back more than 90 years. Current dealer Matt Berger is the fourth generation to helm the Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Chevy store, and his affinity for high performance has stoked the dealership’s half-century connection to the Bow Tie brand’s muscle cars.
Sure, the special models created by the likes of Yenko Chevrolet and Nickey Chevrolet made those dealerships household names with muscle car enthusiasts, but Berger Chevrolet was there back in the day, too, with “Prescribed Power” packages that boosted horsepower for Chevelles, Novas, and Camaros. In fact, the dealership became synonymous with high-performance Camaros—including selling one of the original 69 1969 ZL1 Camaros.
“The Camaro has always been our car,” says Matt Berger. “We’ve experimented with other models, but Berger Chevrolet has always been known for Camaros and that’s what people come to us for—and we’re thrilled with it.”
And while those other famous muscle car dealerships faded away, Berger rolled through the decades, offering performance-enhanced models when the market conditions were favorable. That included a successful and well-publicized run of fourth-generation Camaros from the LS1 era, as well as a number of fifth-generation cars.
With the introduction of the sixth-generation Camaro, it was inevitable that Matt Berger would “prescribe” the dealership’s signature personalization treatment, upping the output of the SS model’s LT1 engine and giving the car a strong dose of visual distinction.
“This is the car I’ve been driving and we’re not sure yet if it will turn into an official package, but we’ll let the customers help make the decision for us,” says Berger. “It carries all the hallmarks of a Berger Camaro, and the enhancements are straightforward but very effective.”
Under the hood, the LT1 is upgraded with the new MSD Atomic AirForce intake manifold (used with the stock throttle body), a Cold Air Inductions cold-air intake system, and a pair of Kooks long-tube stainless steel headers (2-inch primaries with 3-inch collectors), which are matched with a set of Kooks’ EPA-compliant GREENCATS catalytic converters. It’s a combination that reinforces the time-honored tradition of drawing more air into the engine and pushing more out of it.
It’s a time-honored tradition because it works. Berger had the car dyno tested before and after the modifications and drove the LT1’s output from 411 rear-wheel horsepower to 447 horses and 415 lb-ft of torque to 435 lb-ft. Not surprisingly, the MSD Atomic intake delivered at the top end of the rpm range, enabling the engine to hold above the 400-rwhp level longer. In fact, the stock configuration dropped below 400 rwhp around 5,300 rpm, while the Atomic-topped combo held it for about another 500 rpm.
The power gain was significant and very noticeable by our admittedly unscientific seat-of-the-pants evaluation on the freeways and side streets around Grand Rapids. Nevertheless, we’re confident the car was a solid 11-second performer as we drove it. Even better, the Camaro was a flat-out blast to drive.
If you’re old enough to remember when an 11-second-capable machine was always described with air quotes when someone said “street car,” and typically had a bare-bones interior, flimsy fiberglass body panels, Lexan side windows, and a noisy electric fuel pump hanging beneath the rear bumper … this car is a revelation. The throttle response is crisp and immediate, exploiting the lighter weight of the Gen 6 Camaro architecture to its fullest. The car pulls hard through all six gears, but never feels taxed or overburdened. It simply enjoys winding out to the high side of the tachometer, while the speedometer does its best to catch up.
In short, Berger’s enhancements augment an already well-engineered and beautifully balanced sports car, taking its capability and driving fun to higher levels. There’s also a higher degree of cornering capability thanks to the wider wheels and tires adapted to the car. Berger made a few quick measurements and figured out a set of black fifth-gen Camaro ZL1 20-inch kicks would fit. For the record, they measure 20x10 in front and 20x11 in the rear, with Pirelli P Zero tires: 285/30 in front and 305/30 in the rear. That’s the same wheel and tire sizes Chevrolet will use on the 2017 ZL1.
The wider rims and rubber do a wonderful job of adding a higher-performance stance to the Camaro SS, too, and complement a few discreet exterior distinguishers. They include a blacked-out taillight panel (a signature Berger detail), unique SS badges used only by Berger’s performance vehicles, and black rally stripes that are “buried” in the paint so that there’s no ridge to them. The car also wears the Chevrolet Accessories black Bow Tie emblems, lower front splitter, and three-piece rear “blade” spoiler.
Inside, the cabin is stock save for the Chevrolet Accessories body-color interior trim panels. That’s fine, because Chevy did a helluva job ratcheting up the quality and attention to detail of the interior elements.
“The new Camaro SS is such a good car to start with, easily the best Camaro ever,” says Matt Berger. “We’ve amped it up with attainable upgrades, making it stand out from the crowd and run a little harder, too. It’s a lot of fun.”
Whether Berger Chevrolet builds a series of new Camaros based on this clever concept remains to be seen, but our first impression was very strong and we know there are plenty of enthusiasts out there who place great value in the “By Berger” badge on the rear of it. After more than 90 years in business and 50 years serving the high-performance sub-culture, they’ve earned it.
|Owner:||Matt Berger, Grand Rapids, Michigan|
|Vehicle:||2016 Camaro SS|
|Type:||GM Gen V LT1|
|Displacement:||376 ci (6.2L)|
|Cylinder Heads:||GM 319-T7 aluminum with 2.13/1.59-inch valves, 59cc combustion chambers|
|Rotating Assembly:||Forged steel crankshaft, 6.125-inch powdered metal rods, hypereutectic pistons|
|Valvetrain:||Stamped steel rocker arms with roller pivot, beehive-style springs, 8.7mm pushrods|
|Camshaft:||Hydraulic roller; 0.551/0.524-inch lift, 200/207-deg. duration at 0.050-inch lift, 116.5-degree LSA|
|Induction:||CAI cold-air intake, OE 87mm throttle body, MSD Atomic AirForce intake manifold, direct injection|
|Exhaust:||Kooks stainless steel long-tube headers, 2-inch primaries with 3-inch collectors; Kooks GREENCATS converters; OE cat-back exhaust|
|Output (est. at the crank):||500 hp, 485 lb-ft|
|Transmission:||TREMEC TR-6060 six-speed manual (MN6) with Active Rev Match|
|Rear Axle:||GM independent, limited-slip differential, 3.73:1 ratio|
|Front Suspension:||MacPherson strut with dual lower ball joints, twin-tube struts, direct-acting stabilizer bar, Magnetic Ride Control|
|Rear Suspension:||Independent five-link, twin-tube shocks, direct-acting stabilizer bar, Magnetic Ride Control|
|Brakes:||Brembo 13.6-inch rotors, vented with four-piston fixed calipers front; 13.3-inch rotors, vented with four-piston fixed calipers rear; four-channel ABS|
|Wheels & Tires|
|Wheels:||Fifth-gen Camaro ZL1 aluminum 20x10 front, 20x11 rear|
|Tires:||Pirelli P Zero 285/30 front, 305/30 rear|
|Seats:||OE bucket seats, heated and ventilated|
|Trim:||Chevrolet Accessory Interior Door Trim Kit (body-color)|
|Steering:||OE tilt/telescoping column with heated, leather-trimmed flat-bottom steering wheel|
|Instrumentation:||OE driver information center, analog and electronic readouts|
|Audio:||OE Chevrolet MyLink with 8-inch touchscreen, Bose nine-speaker sound system|
|HVAC:||OE automatic climate control|
|Bodywork:||OE with Chevrolet Accessories rear spoiler and front splitter|
|Paint by:||Berger Chevrolet|
|Paint:||OE Hyper Blue Metallic with custom black rally stripes and black taillight panel|