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.

Camaro Rear Cradle Differential 11/25

9. With the necessary components unbolted, the rear cradle from the Camaro is lifted up, leaving the massive differential by itself. The cradle will receive those new bushings soon.

Stock Cradle Bushings 12/25

10. Speaking of bushings, here’s a look at the stock cradle bushings. While stock may be suitable for the masses, replacement is a must if you plan on doing a lot of open track or autocross work with your car. You can’t go wrong with the added strength of BMR’s bushings, especially if you are considering adding horsepower on top of on-track thrashings.

Cradle Bushings 13/25

11. The new bushings cut down on deflection, yet they’re an incredibly durable buffer for the cradle, and the entire ride. The cradle is now ready to be bolted back up to the ZL1, while the diff is receiving its bushings. The differential will be united with the cradle in a bit.

Bmr Bushings Cradle Red 14/25

12. When it’s being tightened down, the difference from the stock cradle bushings is immediately apparent. The bushings are beefy, quiet, and a much needed upgrade.

Black Stock Rear Suspension Parts Red Bmr 15/25

13. Now that we’re getting into the rest of the rear suspension components, a comparison picture is needed. Starting at the top and working down (stock = black / BMR = red), the rear lower control arms look like resilient robotic arms. Next, the stock trailing arms compared to BMR’s modernized ones, while the stock non-adjustable toe rods are looking a bit wimpy sitting next to BMR’s fully adjustable enhancements (with better bushings, too!) Finally, the stock tunnel brace is literally a frail piece of metal compared to BMR’s, eventually tethering to the new subframe connectors.

Reinstall Camaro Cradle 16/25

14. The cradle is back on! The rear lower control arms are hung with the fully adjustable toe rods, which are ready to be bolted up to the rest of the rearend when the differential, driveshafts, and spindles are bolted back up. On a side note, for ZL1 owners like us who wish to keep the magnetic ride, a small hole has to be drilled into the side of the rear lower control arm in order to attach the mag ride sensor arm.

Stock Bmr Rear Sway Bars Black Red 17/25

15. Moving onto the rear sway bar, it’s time to compare the stock versus BMR. On the top is a stock Camaro SS sway bar, followed by our stock ZL1 bar in the middle, and finally, the fully adjustable BMR red bar on the bottom. As far as sizing goes, the front bar is 25 mm from the factory and the rear bar is 28 mm; both are solid. The BMR bars are 29 mm front, 31.75 mm rear, and they’re hollow. This saves weight with very little to no decrease in strength. Those with a stock SS bar can make the same jump we did. The difference you would feel in stiffness would be incredible, not to mention you get the introduction of adjustability!

Bmr Red Springs 18/25

16. Next, Colt compresses the old springs, separates the magnetically controlled shocks and releases BMR’s new springs onto the shock. BMR’s springs offer a 1-inch drop for our ZL1. We opted to keep the magic mag ride, as you know, and everything works like a charm with BMR’s new springs, giving the ZL1 an aggressive profile, while adding increased cornering capability.

Swap In Bmr Bushings 19/25

17. It’s time for the differential to be bolted back up. But before it’s reattached the BMR bushings are swapped in, giving the diff that upgraded durability and tractability.

Sway Bar Halfshafts Spindles 20/25

18. With the differential reintroduced, Colt and Keith attach the beefy sway bar and those massively robust lower control arms. The halfshafts and spindles are reunited, and the new toe rods and trailing arms are attached. The rotors and calipers are reinstalled, and the rear portion of the BMR suspension install is complete.

Camaro Bmr Rear Suspension 21/25

19. Here’s a look at a completed side of the rear suspension, with everything situated. Every BMR component fits like it was meant to be there! It’s time to move onto the font of Camaro!

Front Suspension Work 22/25

20. Up front, Colt begins taking off the front spindle, rotor, and control arms. The arms are going to be kept stock, while the bushings are replaced with BMR’s beefy replacements.

Stock Bmr Bushings 23/25

21. Which is which? You be the judge!

Front Sway Bar Non Adjustable Zl1 Camaro 24/25

22. The front sway bar is non-adjustable on a stock ZL1, but BMR’s bar is fully adjustable, which gives the driver the capability to fine-tune the ride, for on-track ecstasy or street friendly suppleness. Colt and Keith have now replaced the Camaro’s front control arm bushings, added the new lowering springs, and attached that beefy bar. From there, the entire spindle assembly is reattached, rotor and all. With that, the front is ready to race! We opted to start out on the middle bar setting, for now!

Bmr Subframe Connectors 25/25

23. Remember that stock subframe connector? That’s right, there’s no such thing. Not to worry, BMR’s beefy subframe connectors are bolted up by Colt, who joins the two sides together with the tunnel brace. The added rigidity will help keep the body from flexing and assist in negating body roll on track, making the overall corning capability flatter.

Sources

Palm Beach International Raceway
Jupiter, FL 33478
561-622-1400
racepbir
BMR Suspension
Seffner, FL 33584
813-986-9302
http://www.bmrsuspension.com
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