I often used to wish that I could have been around during the height of the muscle car era of the Sixties. It was an incredible time for enthusiasts who were offered ferocious models such as the 1964 Pontiac GTO, 1967 Shelby Cobra 427 Super Snake and the 1968 Dodge Charger R/T, all of which have written themselves into the annals of automotive history thanks to their tyre-burning shenanigans and sheer thrill delivered behind the wheel, and deservedly so. They, and countless others, were simply awesome — as was that period between 1964 to 1971 aka the golden age for rip-roaring, American street machines, but having driven the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, I beg to differ. The golden age of the muscle car is most certainly right now.
It rides on unique 20in forged aluminium wheels that have been wrapped with Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tyres (285/30ZR20 front and 305/30ZR20 rear; they’re the fattest ever to be fitted to a Camaro) and laying down thick layers of them is what this ZL1 does best.
325 horses was about as much as the big block V8s could muster back in the day but this sixth generation Chevy has double that amount and would run rings around the classics — literally; it can corner as well as a lithe European sportcar. It’s the fastest Camaro in the model’s fifty-year history and General Motors should be proud of this one because it really is an incredible piece of machinery that can challenge the most advanced exotics that cost three times as much. It has 650 horses, a staggering 868Nm of torque and a top speed of 318kph but it isn’t just all about its straight-line acceleration; this car has bags of tech and can be refined and comfortable cruiser too — if you’re careful with the throttle. When you throw caution to the wind and provoke that new supercharged 6.2-litre V8 into action, you better be holding tight to the thick flat-bottom steering wheel. The brute force catches you cold; you know right away that it’ll pin you back to the Recaros the moment you fire it up and are met with the most menacing of growls but when you hit the loud pedal, you reach 100kph in a blistering 3.5 seconds — and you’ll be yelling expletives all the way to those three digits as it grabs you by the scruff of the neck and hurls you hard up the road. It feels like a tirade of blows have been delivered to the gut. It does this via a new, advanced 10-speed automatic — the first production car to use such a gearbox and though this may sound like a lot of cogs, the transmission never goes hunting for ratios and is always in the right gear. In fact, you don’t really notice the shifts, only the relentless surge of power when you nail it. Throw in a stiff and lightweight structure, Magnetic Ride suspension, an electronic limited-slip diff and a Driver Mode Selector allowing you to turn up the fun quotient, this is without a doubt one of the most exhilarating cars I’ve ever driven. It doesn’t look half bad either.
The aggressive and muscular exterior has been shaped following more than 100 hours of wind-tunnel testing and is designed to slice through a race track; its exterior elements such as the lower grille opening, larger front splitter, new bonnet with carbon fibre insert and heat extractor and wing-style rear spoiler all play a vital role in managing airflow over, under and through the ZL1 not to mention improving aerodynamics to produce better high-speed stability. It rides on unique 20in forged aluminium wheels that have been wrapped with Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tyres (285/30ZR20 front and 305/30ZR20 rear; they’re the fattest ever to be fitted to a Camaro) and laying down thick layers of them is what this ZL1 does best as you might have noticed. You never tire of such loutish behaviour and nor, it seems, do the Goodyear’s which feature a compound and construction developed exclusively for this car to offer exceptional grip (it can pull up to 1.02G in cornering). They sure put on a heck of a smoke show but this Camaro isn’t just an unhinged road missile — it’s got some finesse too. The fit and finish of the cabin is of a high standard and it looks great with the suede trim on the steering and gear lever. And it’s got some useful tech/kit including heated and cooling seats, head-up display, and an 8.0in infotainment system — but really, all of this is just a bonus. The single most important facet of the ZL1 is its performance and it has that in buckets. It weighs 90kg less than the predecessor and has 60 horses more which results in a one-of-a-kind driving experience.
This track tuned Camaro doesn’t just have muscle-car dominance in its sights — some of the world’s finest supercars should be looking over their shoulders too. Just how Chevy only asks Dh275,000 for such a thrilling machine is one of life’s mysteries and the fact they’ll continue to get better is a very tasty prospect.