Among the Camaro faithful there is little doubt that the ’69 Camaro ZL1 is a legendary musclecar, with a level of performance (and mystery) that all other F-Bodies have failed to attain. The ’69 ZL1 owes its top-dog status to its lightweight aluminum 427 big-block engine which provided tremendous Rat-motor power with the handling characteristics of a small-block.
The reason there were only 69 ZL1s produced in1969 was due largely to the fact that the option price of the engine alone was more than the rest of the car itself. There are still thousands of Camaro lovers around that believe the best Camaros built ended along with the end of the First-Generation production run. This belief can almost be justified. Performance started to fall shortly thereafter with tighter emission regulations and a more watchful insurance industry. But even in the performance heyday of 1970, the number of big-blocks put between the fenders of the newly restyled Second-Gens was never anywhere near the number of First-Gens.
But as anyone who has taken the time to drive the newest LS1-powered Camaros surely knows, performance isn’t dead even though the Camaro is said to be.
Will the Camaro go out with a whimper or a roar? Thankfully, with the teamwork of the Camaro/Corvette Brand Team, The GM Specialty Vehicles Group, and the folks at GMMG Inc., Camaro performance is getting one last shot in the arm.
It’s always a risky move to badge a new model with a moniker that carried such a high level of esteem, but in this case the new
’02 ZL1 just may live up to the
ZL1 emblems it carries on its
fenders. It has some big shoes
to fill, but with its long list of performance mods and some
of the best pieces to come out of the General’s parts bin, it’s a model that carries the name honorably.
We were was fortunate enough to be given the keys to the one-and-only prototype ’02 ZL1 for a couple weeks of fun and evaluation. Each one of the three staff members that spent time behind the wheel walked away with a respect for the LS6 drivetrain and the car itself (Mike Petralia wasn’t given the keys because he was still being punished for monopolizing the ’02 SS convertible a few months back).
Following are our impressions of this awesome hot rod.
My first thought when I learned that my good friend (and Camaro Brand Manager) Scott Settlemire was going to hand me the keys to the only new ZL1 in existence was, “Wow, I can’t wait to see how they fit the all-aluminum Rat motor under the cowl of a late-model Camaro.” When the reality set in that there was no oversized big-block residing under the F-Body’s curvaceous hood, I must admit that I was a little disappointed. Well, let’s say a lot! “Why would GM expend one of its most hallowed nameplates on a warmed-over Camaro,” I wondered? Besides, I own a supercharged Fourth-Gen, so this car wasn’t going to be a big deal.
Well, I’ve never misjudged anything as much as I did here by jumping to the wrong conclusion about this car. To sum it up: This potential-production supercar is a throw-back to the big-block-powered machines of the late-’60s—only better in every way! From the moment I pulled out of the race track in Las Vegas until I reluctantly handed over the car to my staff for their evaluations, I experienced nothing but ecstasy behind the wheel of this boulevard bruiser. It is powerful, fast, sounds great, and handles with the best of them. It’s not a ZO6 Corvette in Camaro wrappings, nor is it a cushy driver. It is a perfect mix of raw performance and hot rodding ingenuity.
After driving a handful of LS1 equipped Camaros, the expectations of driving the new specially built ZL1 was that it was probably going to be a little faster, but how much different could it feel? The stock LS1 engine in a Camaro is more than fun, but hop that up to 400 hp and a new sparkle begins to appear.