Additional photos courtesy of Livernois Motorsports
Even in this age of 1,000-horsepower streetcars and tuning on the razor’s edge, running 9s in a full-on streetcar – not a tube-frame outlaw with a license plate – is a rare and noteworthy feat. It’s quick, no matter how you look at it and Livernois Motorsports has made it look very easy in its 2012 Camaro ZL1.
With basically a head-and-cam package and blower pulley revisions, the Dearborn Heights, Michigan-based tuning shop’s refrigerator-white Gen 5 went 9.87 at 142 mph. No spray, either. And when we say the engine upgrades are the only mods to the car, we mean it. The chassis and suspension were untouched, apart from the swap to Bogart racing wheels and Hoosier slicks for the track session, and nothing was done to lighten the admittedly portly Camaro.
“Stock suspension, stock interior, stock everything,” insists Livernois’ Rick LeBlanc, who turned the 9-second blast during his first time at the track with the car. “We didn’t cut a pound out of the thing. Apart from the wheels and tires used at the track, it wore all the original equipment during the 9-second run.”
The race weight (with driver) was 4,295 pounds. Svelte, the ZL1 was not at Milan Dragway, but it dove solidly into the 9s.
“The ZL1 is an amazing piece,” says LeBlanc. “We thought it would be quick, but to get so deeply into the 9s thrilled us. There’s a lot of potential here and we’re just getting started.”
Interestingly, the engine wasn’t even removed from the car to give it the 9-second capability. Livernois left the short-block in place, which wasn’t a bad idea because it already features a forged steel crankshaft and forged rods, although it does not use the forged pistons found in the LSA’s higher-output brother, the 638-hp LS9 of the Corvette ZR1. Nevertheless, the hypereutectic pistons have proven admirably strong and they’re cooled by integrated oil squirters that shoot oil at the bottoms of the pistons to enhance lubrication and keep them cooler under the heat-inducing load of maximum boost.
Livernois swapped the cylinder heads for their own CNC-ported versions, which open up the intake passages for greater airflow. A set of dual-coil valve springs with titanium retainers and stock, 1.7-ratio rocker arms complete the assemblies. The heads are matched with the company’s Stage 2C High Lift camshaft, too, with specs that include .646-inch lift on the intake and exhaust sides, 224/236 degrees of duration and a comparatively wide lobe separation angle of 117 degrees. The heads and cam are the primary drivers behind the engine’s stellar 707-rear-wheel-horsepower output. That’s nearly 850 horses at the crankshaft.
There are other contributors to and supporters of the higher-output LSA, too, including racing-spec head studs, hardened pushrods, 63-lb/hr fuel injectors, a GM 90mm throttle body, cold NGK TR6 spark plugs, a 160-degree thermostat and Stainless Works two-inch long-tube headers.
The Eaton-supplied 1.9-liter Roots-type blower for the LSA engine also received some attention, including the swap of the stock supercharger coupler for a solid one that eliminates the tendency to rattle at low engine speed and wear on the supercharger shaft. Also, the stock 3.1-inch blower pulley was replaced with a smaller, 2.7-inch-diameter pulley that enables the pair of four-lobe, high-helix rotors to spin faster and generate about four additional pounds of boost. It is balanced with a new balancer from Innovators West and a Metco oversized crank pulley ring. Finally, the blower is feed a greater dose of fresh air via a Rotofab-based cold-air intake system and the pressurized air charge is fed through a larger-than-stock heat exchanger that cools it considerably before it is forced into the combustion chambers.
A quick glance under the hood, however, reveals nothing but a stock-appearing engine that wears the factory beauty cover. Even the exhaust note is mild. It sounds like a cat-back has been fitted, but nothing about its tone or idle quality would suggest there’s nine-second potential lurking at the exhaust’s underhood origins. And while the comprehensive engine upgrades for the ZL1 were done in the name of science and a boast-worthy time slip, they were also developed for commercial consumption.
“We built the engine the way we develop packages for our customers,” says LeBlanc. “Since our experience has been so positive with it, we are now offering it as a package for $14,500.”
Of course, horsepower alone does not a 9-second time slip make, and LeBlanc is quick to point out the ZL1’s drivetrain is the complementing contributor to the performance capability, even if it’s more than a little bit heavy. The drag radials and skinnies certainly helped in the traction department, while the Bogart wheels shave a few pounds, but that hardly made the ZL1 a featherweight. At more than 4,000 pounds, there’s a lot of metal to move – and getting it up and moving effectively falls to a unique suspension system that was designed for hard, high-RPM launches. Compared to a Camaro SS, the ZL1 comes from the factory with a slew of unique components, including a stronger driveshaft, rear axle system and suspension.
“The chassis/suspension setup on the ZL1 is a thing of beauty and the engineers need to be commended for it,” says LeBlanc. “I’ve driven other modified Gen-5 Camaro SSs in the 10s and 11s that didn’t feel nearly as stable and controllable on the track as the ZL1 was going into the 9s. To be honest, I was a bit nervous about going that fast in the car, because of the experience in other Camaros, but after the first pass, I knew I could go faster without any qualms. It’s that good.”
In fact, LeBlanc simply drove the stock-chassis car to the track on the Bogarts, laid down the 9-second e.t. and drove the car home. It may have been the last time the car sees the drag strip for quite a while, too.
“It’s a street car and we don’t want to put a roll cage in it,” says LeBlanc. “But now the drag strip guys know we’re too quick without one and they won’t let us run again.”
That’s the risk of running so quick. Only a few years ago, a 9-second car wouldn’t have been confused for anything but a race car – with the tin interior, Lexan windows and parachute to prove the point. Livernois’ ZL1 is a 9-second car you can use to drop off the kids at school, while listening to your favorite retro heavy metal station on satellite radio. That’s our kind of 9-second screamer. Check out the accompanying photos for a closer look at the engine upgrades performed on this sleeper ZL1.
1. To break the 10-second barrier, Livernois Motorsports added only a set of track-appropriate wheels, leaving the chassis untouched for a race weight of nearly 4,300 pounds.