YOU CAN’T BLAME Queen for continuing to tour long after Freddie Mercury’s death, but you’d have to think their paying fans would be a little disappointed. Let’s not put too fine a point on it, but while the others are all very well and good, you’d know deep down you were missing out on the very best member. That’s exactly how Australia’s power-hungry performancecar fans must have felt when HSV, now starved of home-grown product, finally introduced the Camaro to its local line-up last year, but then went and left the ‘Freddie’ of the range - the firebreathing, petrol-obliterating ZL1 - at home, instead turning its attention to converting the comparatively mild sixth-generation 2SS Coupe from left-hook to right-hand drive instead. Here we were at last getting our hands on some genuine American muscle, but just as we were getting all excited, we suddenly realised we weren’t getting all the American muscle on offer. Or, in the words of Donald Trump, they weren’t sending us their best. What we really wanted was the bad hombre of the Camaro range.
Happily, though, HSV has seen the enormous error of its ways, with the announcement that the ZL1 – the most powerful Camaro ever built – will join the local line-up around April, as part of an overall range upgrade for 2019.
And that, muscle-car fans, is very big news, with the ZL1 arriving with the kind of tyre-frying outputs that will have Mustang owners everywhere weeping into their leather driving gloves.
How much power? The company says it’s still verifying the local numbers, but says to expect “in the vicinity of” 480kW and a whopping 860Nm. But we wouldn’t be surprised to see the numbers climb a little from there. In the States, the official specs read 485kW and 868Nm. For context, the updated 2SS Camaro makes an unchanged 339kW and 617Nm, while the most powerful of Mustangs, the Bullitt, produces 345kW.
Australia has a new muscle-car king, then, and its name is ZL1.
That urge arrives complements of a 6.2-litre LT4 supercharged V8, which delivers grunt to the very hard working rear tyres via your choice of a 10-speed automatic transmission or, unbelievably, a six-speed manual with a tricky rev-matching function, negating the need for complicated heel-toe shuffling. You might need to take your left leg to the gym in preparation, however.
HSV is yet to confirm sprint times for the ZL1, but you can be confident it will be brisk enough to tear the eyebrows from your face. Better still, HSV’s American cousins provide some hints in that department, where Chevrolet claims a zero to 60mph (96.5km/h) blast of 3.5 seconds, and, should you then immediately stand on the brakes, the big (390mm front, 365mm rear) Brembos will pull you back to zero in just 35 metres. If, like Dominic Toretto, you live your life a quarter-mile at a time, you can expect a 400m run of 11.4 seconds at 204.3km/h.
Bold claims, yes, and we have one more for you. Chev’s engineers also reckon the 10-speed paddle-shift automatic will provide even faster up-shifts than that reigning champ of automatic gearboxes, the Porsche PDK transmission.
There’s also a limited-slip differential to help find a tyre to deploy all that power, while Chev’s ‘Magnetic Ride Control’ adaptive dampers arrive as part of the standard package, along with a bi-modal sports exhaust, Recaro seats and 20-inch forged alloys.
Better still, HSV is promising the sort of performance features that will surely turn the AM talkback wowsers incandescent with rage. There’s launch control, of course, but you also get what Chev calls Lift-Foot Gear Hold, which allows automatic ZL1s to lock onto a lower gear when cornering, even if you lift your foot off the accelerator, so you’re plum in the power band when it comes to blasting out the other side.
But while we might finally be getting the best America has to offer, we’re most certainly not getting American pricing. Here you’ll be paying $159,990 for the ZL1 with a six-speed manual, while the automatic will set you back another $2200.
But after waiting this long for the king of Camaros to arrive, we’re not going to quibble over a little thing like price, are we? Indeed, it doesn’t seem likely that figure will scare off the kind of buyers who want this car. HSV spokesman Damon Paull is predicting huge demand.
“ZL1 availability will be super tight, [given] we’re talking around 300 vehicles [for 2019],” he said.
“I think simply by virtue of availability, we’re going to sell more of the 2SS than ZL1s, simply because we can build more.”
THAT A FACT?
OUR MAN IN AMERICA ON WHAT AUSSIES CAN EXPECT
So what’s it like to drive? Well, like its rivals the Challenger and Mustang, the ZL1 is a heavy bugger, so it doesn’t feel like slipping on a suit so much as donning your own personal parade float. Especially since the Camaro’s speed-bunker design gives you scant glass with which to see the world. This matters more in the ZL1 than the regular SS, as the ZL1 puts 485kW under your right foot in the same way as placing a North Korean landmine might feel in the same place. Detonate the 6.2-litre V8 and the rear end will blow sideways if you’re not quick with the corrections. If you are, the car is a rocket-sled ride to 100km/h in just over 3.5 seconds.
Porsche owners might sniff at the ZL1’s plebian interior materials and somewhat stringent, though still quite livable, street ride. Indeed, step up to the ZL1 1LE track-rat version and the fancy Multimatic DSSV spool dampers are hard-mounted for extra teeth rattle. But good drivers will be breathing down the necks of 911 pilots on a track and pretty much waxing everything else with a fearsome roar. That’s because Chevy has made this heavy car – 1775kg – handle, with a mix of stuck-down Goodyear rubber and push-down aero managed with the best steering in the Detroit muscle-car class. The body control is as phenomenal as the directional control is thrilling.
If you’ve seen those Goodwood videos of Tom Kristensen murdering Alfas and Cortinas in his giant bawling Ford Fairlane, then you’ll know what it’s like to take a ZL1 to a track day.