2012 Chevy Camaro ZL1 reveal

The hottest production Camaro ever built will make its debut early next year — the 550-horsepower ZL1 model, which Chevrolet unveiled during the recent media preview of the Chicago auto show.

Under the hood will be a supercharged 6.2-liter LSA V-8 engine that also cranks out 550 foot-pounds of torque at just 3,800 rpm, connected to a six-speed Tremec manual gearbox.

This isn’t a brand-new engine — Cadillac introduced it on the 2009 CTS-V sedan and has since expanded it to the CTS-V Coupe. In those cars, it’s rated at 556 horsepower and 551 foot-pounds of torque.

The all-aluminum, small-block LSA engine is a variation of the 638-horsepower LS9 V-8 that powers the latest Corvette ZR1 super car. In that vehicle, it has 604 foot-pounds of torque.

Perhaps the Camaro would have gotten the LSA engine first had the newest generation of the Chevy come to market before the CTS. But 2010 was the first year for the re-introduced Camaro, which had been out of production since 2002.

The ZL1 will have some other features found on the Cadillac, especially Magnetic Ride Control, along with “advanced materials,” General Motors says, including a vented carbon-fiber hood insert.

Computer-aided design and wind-tunnel testing helped GM develop the ZL1’s aerodynamic body for high-performance driving. It will come with “track-ready handling and braking,” the automaker said.

No performance data have been released yet, such as top speed and zero-to-60 or quarter-mile times.

GM said it took the ZL1 name from an all-aluminum racing engine of the same designation that was developed in the late 1960s and used on just 69 of the 1969 production Camaro models. That engine was rated at 430 horsepower and 450 foot-pounds of torque.

The company said the 1969 cars with the ZL1 engines have “achieved mythical status among enthusiasts, as they represented the pinnacle in Camaro performance until now.”

“Camaro ZL1 is about high-tech performance and design and is a type of car no one has ever brought to this segment previously,” said Rick Scheidt, Chevy’s marketing vice president. “It’s the most technically advanced Camaro ever, so we’ve chosen a name from the most elite and exclusive Camaro in history.”

This is an effort to keep the Camaro excitement going after a hugely successful launch of the coupe for 2010 and the addition of the convertible model for 2011.

“The central goal of the car’s development was creating something new — a Camaro intended to reach optimal lap times on top road-racing circuits and excellent driving dynamics on the street,” GM said. “To achieve that goal, engineers evolved many of the existing Camaro’s systems, as well as incorporated new technologies such as electric power steering and Magnetic Ride Control, the world’s fastest-reacting suspension system.”

It’s not just a regular Camaro with a more powerful engine. While the vehicle’s overall appearance is close to that of the regular coupe, there are many changes designed to enhance its performance and to accommodate the higher speeds that this vehicle will run.

“Everything about the ZL1’s design is directly related to its technology and serious performance, especially aerodynamics,” said Ed Welburn, GM’s vice president for global design. “Our designers’ goal was to execute that function-oriented design with beautifully sculpted forms, creating an imposing, powerful persona. Function becomes the aesthetic. The intent is a car that delivers on the attitude it projects.”

Differences in the appearance from the regular Camaro coupe include a new front fascia and a unique hood with air extractors, which the company said were “designed in tandem to create aerodynamic down force to aid handling.”

The hood’s center section is made of the carbon fiber and has a satin black finish. There also are new rocker panels, wider tires, 20-inch wheels and special exhaust tips. ZL1 badges on the grille, hood and the brake calipers help identify the car as a special model.

As with many newer cars, especially the hybrids, the ZL1 comes with electric power steering, so no engine power is drained off to assist in the steering effort.

The dual-mode exhaust system “alters the sound level and character” in response to engine speed, GM said. This system was borrowed from the Corvette and is designed to give the ZL1 its own signature sound.

The heavy-duty disc brakes were developed with help from Brembo and include 14.6-inch, two-piece front rotors with six-piston calipers. At the rear are 14.4-inch rotors with four-piston calipers.

Other special features include vertical P13W fog lights, with air intakes to help cool the brakes. High-intensity-discharge headlights are standard, and there is a rear spoiler, as well.

The 20-inch wheels are lighter than the ones that come on the Camaro SS model, and they’re fitted with Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires developed just for the ZL1.

Inside, there are heated leather bucket seats up front with microfiber suede inserts. Other features include a special steering wheel that is flat at the bottom, alloy pedals, a head-up display that projects the speed and other information onto the bottom of the windshield in front of the driver, and a “four-pack” of gauges.

The ZL1 will be offered in all of the colors available on other Camaro models, but black will be the only interior color.

There is room for four inside. The front seats both have six-way power adjustments. Also included are a standard Boston Acoustics premium audio system, rear-parking assist and a rearview camera (with the display in the rearview mirror), Bluetooth phone connection, a unique instrument panel and door-panel inserts, and a USB port.

No prices have been announced yet. The official on-sale date will be announced later, but GM said it expects the car to be available early in 2012.

You can get the hottest P13W LED bulbs for your 2010 or 2011 RS Camaro at iJDMTOY.com, the car LED bulbs expert.

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