By Aaron Bragman on Thu Oct 17 01:14:00 GMT-06:00 2013
When Chevrolet introduced the new Camaro back in 2009 with a fresh face, a new platform and hot engines under the hood, enthusiasts around the country had one question: Where's the Z/28? The moniker has long graced amped-up versions of Chevrolet's muscle car, but for the last few years it has remained suspiciously absent from the latest Camaro, with the performance mantle being handled by the SS and, later, the super-powerful ZL1.
Rumors of a 7.0-liter V-8-powered Camaro in the pipeline persisted, however, and at the 2013 New York International Auto Show, Chevy finally unveiled the goods — a new 2014 Z/28 meant specifically for road-racing enthusiasts who want to drive a competitive car to the track, win, and drive it home again.
I recently got some passenger seat time in a new preproduction Z/28, still in development phase, at GM's Milford Proving Grounds. The company has a specially built track called the Milford Road Course that combines elements from tracks around the world, including the famed Nürburgring, all laid out in the company's southeast Michigan backyard.
This makes it easy to test cars at high speeds and in challenging conditions without the expense of shipping them all over creation. Sadly, no driving time was allowed, but GM did give us a peek into where the Z/28 is headed when it arrives in showrooms early next year.
First the details: The new Z/28 is a track car, not meant for daily-driver use like the last Z/28. It has no air conditioning and only one audio speaker, necessary to produce audio warning sounds in the car. GM's gearhead engineers have gone through the entire car and have, in their words, "taken out anything that doesn't make it go faster or is required by law." The resulting numbers: a 7.0-liter V-8 from last year's Corvette Z06 making 505-horsepower and 481 pounds-feet of torque. It's 60 pounds lighter than a Camaro SS 1LE and nearly 300 pounds lighter than a Camaro ZL1. It just lapped the famed Nuerburgring Nordschleife in 7:37.40 minutes — in the rain. That's faster than the Lamborghini Murcielago or Porsche 911 Carrera S.
All in all, Chevrolet says that 190 parts are unique to the Z/28 versus the 2014 Camaro SS, and the list of equipment is long. There's a unique tire and wheel package that is far lighter than those found on the SS, which helps to drop the car's center of gravity by 33 millimeters. Standard carbon ceramic brakes are fitted, which supposedly offer amazing durability and lack of fade, lap after lap, and which GM says offer 20 times the lifespan of normal brakes. Enormous Pirelli PZero Trofeo R tires are used, with 305/30ZR19 tires all around, the widest front tire of any production car in the world. The supplier list of go-fast bits looks like a who's-who of the automotive aftermarket racing parts world: Mahle, Brembo, Recaro, Torsen, Pankl, etc.
Sadly, my experience did not involve driving the car, as these are still development models. That opportunity should come sometime in early 2014. But as a passenger in the hands of one of GM's incredibly skilled development drivers, I can attest to the astonishing abilities of the Z/28. It has supercar grip, racecar sound and yet should still be accessible to weekend warrior racers who want to drive their entry to the track. The Z/28 will be the most expensive Camaro you can buy when it goes on sale next year, slotting in above the already monstrous ZL1, and GM is looking to limit production to just 3,000 to 4,000 Z/28s during the next two years.
Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman grew up in the Detroit area, comes from an automotive family and is based in Ann Arbor, Mich. Email Aaron