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2012 Chevy Camaro ZL1 - Project Apex Assassin: Introduction

Introducing our newest track magnet and hired gun, a 2012 ZL1

D.J. Randall Jun 16, 2014
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Welcome! We’re glad to have you here, and it’s our pleasure to introduce a fresh fifth-gen that’s slated for adrenaline-filled corner carving and straightaway slingshots. The factory performance figures point toward a track beast, already capable of bringing a fight to the competition’s doorstep. The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 retains a potent performance platform, called the LSA, and before our newest plans are revealed, the project car acquisition tale must be told.

Our story begins in Tampa, Florida, labeled the “Lightning Capital of North America.” Afternoon downpours are considered normal for the majority of the year, and thanks to some nasty summertime thunderstorms, lightning strikes are frequent. The general climate is hot and muggy, and one thing’s for certain…there’s no snow! With that being said, the Floridian climate is a car guy’s dream, where no car hibernation is needed for winter. T-shirts are worn in December, and snowmen are built out of sand. Since the Sunshine State has its fair share of project worthy cars, where do we begin to look for one?

Sitting in Tampa’s rush hour traffic one evening, in my E92 M3, I decided to phone a South Florida BMW dealership, who, interestingly enough, had a used 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for sale. With the odds in my favor, and just about 30,000 miles on the M’s odometer, I pitched a deal to the salesman, hoping he would bite. At the time, the then for sale ZL1 had just over 3,000 miles on the clock, and matched the Bavarian’s book value. I expressed to the salesman that I didn’t intend to spend a dime, and merely wished to trade keys. The deal sounded somewhat far-fetched in my mind, but oddly enough, the salesman responded with one heck of a proposal. Not only would I not have to spend a penny, but he was also willing to drive nearly four hours to Tampa, just to make a deal. Initially, the offer took me by surprise, and after some quick VIN history checks, the short four-hour wait began. On arrival, the ZL1 looked like it had just left the showroom, still having the prized new-car smell. Without a single scratch to be found, and after a lengthy test-drive, the official dealership papers were signed, and the keys changed hands.


So why make the switch? Other than the once-in-a-lifetime deal, the Camaro offered up an additional 166 hp, 261 lb-ft of torque over the V-8 equipped Bimmer, and a plethora of bested performance figures. The bowtie beast comes from the General Motors’ factory with an all-aluminum, 6.2-liter supercharged LSA engine, a 6200 rpm redline, a 3.73:1 rear axle ratio, a TR6060 manual transmission, massive 14.6-inch (6-piston front, 4-piston rear) Brembo binders, and a pedigree that includes a 7:41.27 Nürburgring lap time. To give you a better understanding how quick that lap time is, it’s faster than cars like the Porsche 911 GT3 RS, Lamborghini Murcielago LP670-4 SV, Audi R8 V-10, and even the Pagani Zonda S. Yes, the 4,120-pound Camaro can accurately carve corners, thanks to a completely re-designed suspension. Revised tuning of the Magnetic Ride Control suspension system (with Sport, Tour, and Track modes), an outstanding factory tire package consisting of Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar Gen 2s (285/35ZR20 front, 305/35ZR20 rear), and more coolers than you can think of, all come standard (factory integrated fluid coolers, differential cooler, liquid-to-liquid engine cooler, high-capacity transmission cooler, and brake ducts). The “Functional Hood Air Extractor” supplies some added downforce, the belly pan reduces more front lift, and the front fascia ducts keep the brakes happy on the track.

With an astounding platform to start with, our project goals are somewhat specific, but then again, not so specific. You see, for starters, the ZL1 is incredibly capable from the factory, as we just discussed. The factory attributes will be accentuated, enhancing the on track behavior, while maintaining street manners. Annihilating lap times is key, and with that, Project Apex Assassin has been born.

The 2012 Summit White Camaro will need to kill every racetrack corner apex consistently, lap after lap, while still being able to drive home afterwards. Sure, the stock ZL1 can already do this, so let’s make it better. Starting off, some supercharger component upgrades will take place, in order to fully utilize the potential of the General’s LSA. Next, intake and exhaust modifications will be looked at, with aftermarket headers and mid-pipe upgrades supplying ample sound and necessary flow. From there, and in order satisfy frequent on-track comfort and safety expectations, race harness and seat upgrades will be installed. Finally, a weight-loss program will strip unnecessary pounds out of the platform, while keeping some street, creature comforts.

With all of the project projections in mind, drag racing will not be left out (benchmarks), but the overall attitude of the Apex Assassin will be geared toward an aggressive weekend road course capable Camaro with streetcar necessities. The entire package must be streetable. Rest assured, the Camaro will be put through the proper paces, and the entire project will be documented, step-by-step. You can expect not only pictures, but countless videos too, from GM High-Tech Performance. Let’s get started!


1. The ZL1 features an all-aluminum 6.2-liter supercharged V-8, dubbed the LSA. It’s got an intercooled Eaton supercharger, delivering incredible acceleration times, and 580 hp with 556 lb-ft of torque (9:1:1 compression ratio).


2. Bigger brakes come standard, helping to stop the 4,120-pound beast. The front (shown) setup includes two-piece 14.6-inch rotors with Brembo 6-piston calipers, and the rear includes 14.4-inch rotors with Brembo 4-piston calipers. Brake cooling ducts route air through the front fascia, and keep temperatures down on the track. Stay tuned for a dimpled and slotted brake rotor upgrade, with more aggressive brake pads.


3. Speaking of airflow, the ZL1’s hood has a functional air extractor. Air flows through the lower grille, and out through the hood. Body lift is reduced, since the air can flow through freely.


4. Looking at the functional air extractor from another angle reveals air exit points. In fact, the ZL1 also utilizes an underbody belly pan, front splitter, single-piece rockers with wheel extensions, and a rear spoiler (taller and wider than SS), all significantly reducing lift.


5. The dual mode exhaust opens and closes a butterfly valve based on engine rpm, and is a noticeably louder when opened. Down the road, we will change exhaust components, but keep the stock muffler. Having the capability to muffle aftermarket rumble, if needed, is nice.


6. Attention to detail. Every corner of the Camaro, inside and out, has the ZL1 treatment. Let’s take a look inside the track-oriented cabin.


7. The flat-bottom steering wheel makes more room for heel-toe gear changes, and the sueded microfiber seat inserts make sliding non-existent. While the stock seats are fantastic, race seats that accept racing harnesses may be swapped in for on-track safety.


8. Zooming in, the four-pack auxiliary gauges cover the bases, providing easy-to-read information when needed. (Oil pressure, oil temperature, volts, and boost).


9. This ZL1 is equipped with the Tremec TR6060 manual transmission, allowing for a 4-second 0-60 mph time, and a 12.1-second quarter-mile time (stock). No lift shift integration accepts full throttle gear changes, meaning you don’t have to take your foot off of the gas when conducting a quarter-mile pass.


10. The heads-up display (HUD) will indicate when it’s time to shift that six-speed, by illuminating shift lights on the windshield. There’s no need to look down at the gauge, just like in a race car.


11. The HUD can be moved up and down, on the windshield, thanks to a toggle switch near the steering column. Next to the switch is a knob, giving the driver different display options, like lateral g data.


12. Speaking of lateral g’s…on track, and thanks to the Magnetic Ride Control (and electromagnetically controlled shocks), the ZL1 can achieve corner carving bliss. There are three selectable suspension modes (Tour, Sport, and Track). The ZL1’s Performance Traction Management (PTM) system utilizes the Magnetic Ride Control, Traction Control, and Active Handling Systems, to offer five selectable modes (Wet, Dry, Sport 1, Sport 2, and Race). PTM accounts for various road conditions, and for track use, we will use Mode 5 (shown).


13. Worth noting, the rearview mirror incorporates a camera that turns on when the gearshift is placed into reverse, aiding in otherwise poor backup visibility.


14. With a baseline of 505 hp and 501 ft-lb at the wheels, Project Apex Assassin has been born and shall begin immediately. The build will be covered in GMHTP. Stay tuned for photos and video at GMHighTechPerformance.com from the shop and on-track testing as well.



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