2012 Camaro ZL1 - Project Apex Assassin: Suspension Install and Test

Road Course Reduction: This 2012 ZL1 is seeing red on track thanks to a bolt-on suspension upgrade.

D.J. Randall Aug 11, 2014 0 Comment(s)
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In stock trim, the Camaro ZL1 comes with an already aggressive, track capable suspension setup. Thanks to the Magnetic Ride Control (and electromagnetically controlled shocks), the ZL1 can outrun any ponycar ever made on a road course (except the new Z/28), while delivering a comfortable street ride.

There are three different cockpit 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). While the factory did an incredible job with the ZL1’s underpinnings, being a part-time race driver I wanted more. I absolutely wanted to keep the stock shocks, while strengthening and stiffening a slew of other suspension components. Strengthening the stock ZL1’s suspension is like taking an Arnold to the gym for some weight training. You don’t want to destroy what’s already great, but there’s always room for improvement. Muscle can still be built, but the right trainer has to be alongside for support.

Welcome in the professionals from BMR Suspension, and their newly available Level 4 kit, specifically for fifth-gen Camaros. BMR’s Pete Epple told us that their rear lower control arms (PN TCA028) are redesigned to work with the 2012-2014 FE4 suspension (this makes them compatible with all fifth-gen Camaros). A new set of sway bar endlink mounts on the rear lower control arms were added because there are different style sway bars and endlinks from the FE3 (2010-2011) to the FE4 (2012-2014) (PN TCA028 now has provisions for both). The only thing specific to the ZL1 is a slight modification to the control arms to use the position sensor for the Magnetic Ride Control, should you decide to keep the stock shocks.

With that being said, the BMR components included in our build has everything needed to turn my Camaro (and yours) into a track beast that you can still drive home without a back brace after the track activities have ceased. Starting at the rear, the list includes the Total Suspension Bushing kit (PN BK031), non-adjustable rear lower control arms with bushings (PN TCA028), adjustable toe rods with bushings (PN TR003), non-adjustable trailing arms with bushings (PN TCA026), adjustable rear sway bar with bushings (PN SB033), and 1-inch drop lowering springs (PN SP019).

The middle of the Camaro welcomes beefy subframe connectors (PN SFC015), with a driveshaft tunnel brace (PN DTB004), giving the beast some extra support underneath its midsection. From there, the stiffer front setup includes those the 1-inch lowering springs, and the adjustable front sway bar with bushings (PN SB016). The lower control arms received new bushings, too. Don’t shrug off those bushings! Often overlooked, a bushing swap can help you put every last bit of horsepower to the pavement, while alleviating track heartache down the road. Just look at the difference from the factory bushings in our photos.

BMR Suspension’s Level 4 kit ensures maximum durability, consistently stiffer suspension components and road feel, and an all-around upgraded handling performance. To give the components a true track test, after our install took place, we headed down to Palm Beach International Raceway. The main goal was to flex our newfound muscle, while beating our baseline lap of 1:30.28.

2012 Camaro Zl1 White 2/25

Project Apex Assassin

On track and from the driver’s seat, the ZL1 handled like a dream. The old stiffest, or “Race,” setting on the cockpit selectable Magnetic Ride control is what the ZL1 feels like on the new softest setting—meaning, the new “Race” mode was quite a bit stiffer. The ZL1 now had almost no body roll and turned in with precision. Since body roll was close to nil, quick directional changes were a cinch. Lap after lap, the BMR-equipped ZL1 was consistently quicker than our stock baseline. For comparison, our previous best—as noted earlier—was 1.30.28, while our best with the new setup was a stellar 1.29.03. While 1.25 seconds may not seem like a huge deal to the uninitiated, the track is only 2.034 miles long. This is an outstanding gain, especially since, as we noted earlier, short of a Z/28, the ZL1 in stock trim is the best handling pony car ever.

So what about the drive to and from the track? Just cruising around in Dry mode (the softest setting), presented a notable difference over the stock ride feel. Body roll is still close to nothing and steering feel tends to suggest that you’re driving a 3,400-pound sports car, instead of a two-ton-plus beached whale. Not only is the entire experience enlightening, it’s pleasantly peaceful. Road noise is nonexistent, as every component is attached with a bountiful BMR bushing. The experience is not bouncy; the Camaro definitively feels how a true sports car should.

BMR Parts Comparison
SP019 Lowering Springs
1–inch drop
Front rate – 220 lb/in
Rear rate – 460 lb/ in
SB037 Sway Bars Package
Front – SB016 - 29mm
Hole number 1 (Boot-leg end of bracket) provides 98% increase in stiffness over the OE bar
Hole number 2 (Center) is 146%
Hole number 3 (Flat end of bracket) is 214%
Rear – SB033 - 1.25 in (31.75mm) [OE SS bar (FE4)]
Hole number 1 provides just over 100% increase in rate over the factory FE4 bar
Hole number 2 is 150%
Hole number 3 is 200%
OE ZL1 bar (FE5)
Hole number 1 provides just over 25% increase in rate over the factory FE4 bar
Hole number 2 is 40%
Hole number 3 is 75%

Bmr Suspension Parts 3/25

1. Just take a look at the goodies lined up to transform our stock ZL1 into a hired track assassin. BMR offers different powdercoating options (done in-house), but we opted for the beautiful red. BMR’s skilled shop mechanic Colt Mills and Camaro suspension sales expert Keith Kanyuh were the hands-on gurus for the project’s installation.

2012 Camaro Zl1 Undercarriage Remove Parts 4/25

2. As with any installation project, disassembly must take place first. Tires and wheels, tunnel brace, driveshaft, exhaust, rear wiring harness, heat shields, differential lines, and emergency brake lines had to be taken off or disconnected in order to streamline the install and to make room for the new goodies.

Stock 2012 Camaro Zl1 Suspension Components 5/25

3. Here’s a good look at the stock ZL1 suspension components. The factory springs, sway bar, and endlink, rear lower control arm, and trailing arm are all in view. Colt unbolts the rear lower control arm to start separating the rear cradle from the rest of the Camaro.

Main Cradle Bushing Bolts 6/25

4. With some stock parts off to the side, Colt begins readying the rear cradle for extraction by removing the main cradle bushing bolts and everything else needed to separate the cradle from the ZL1’s chassis.

Lower Cradle 7/25

5. The cradle is then lowered from the ZL1 as a single unit. Keith and Colt will now be able to access all of the cradle bushings and remove the suspension components, arms, and rods all from the ground.

Separate Rear Cradle 8/25

6. With the heavy rear cradle and accompanying suspension components on the floor, work can begin on separating the cradle bushings, control arms (the rear upper control arm is kept stock), and differential.

Rear Upper Control Arm Bushings 9/25

7. Keith begins on the rear upper control arm bushings, while Colt does the same on the other side of the cradle, then works his way to the rotors. From there, the spindles are removed in order to get the halfshafts out of the differential, making room for BMR’s polyurethane bushing swap.

Sway Bar Link Rear Upper Control Arm Trailing Arm 10/25

8. Keith has the sway bar link (left), rear upper control arm (middle), and trailing arm (right), separated and disconnected to get the differential prepped for the new bushings. The cradle will be removed, leaving the differential by itself, in order to install the new bushings.

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