RICHARD TRUETT

Despite its speed, the Camaro still has road manners

COMMENTARY
Richard Truett is a staff reporter for Automotive News
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SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. -- The 2014 Camaro Z/28 may be the tamest racetrack-ready car on the market.

Chevrolet rented the GingerMan Raceway here in June, brought a fleet of Z/28s along with Camaro engineers, and then handed the keys to reporters. Our mission: Drive the Z/28 like we stole it.

Powered by a 505-hp, 7.0-liter V-8 and six-speed manual transmission, the Z/28 reaches 60 mph in under 4 seconds, making it slightly faster than a 2014 Corvette Stingray.

It's reasonable to assume that a car with this much power and ambitions to run with Porsche 911s and Nissan GT-Rs would make the Z/28 a bear to drive.

Except it isn't.

The Z/28 feels like a regular Camaro -- same light clutch, responsive steering and strong brakes. Deep into triple-digit speeds on the track, the Z/28 remains glued to the road, thanks to its fat, sticky tires and low-to-the-ground front air dam.

Though it performs well and looks mean, you still wonder who would buy a Z/28 when a Corvette Stingray is about $22,000 less expensive. The Z/28 sells for $75,000, including shipping and gas guzzler tax.

"There is no customer overlap," says Al Oppenheiser, Camaro chief engineer. "The car appeals to a totally different customer, someone who had a Z/28 in their youth. We stayed true to the original track-focused Z/28," he said.

The original Z/28 came out in 1967 and was a stripped-down race-ready car intended for buyers who wanted to compete in the Sports Car Club of America Trans Am series of races.

Chevrolet originally planned a 3,000 unit, two-year run for the Z/28. But in a short 2014 production year, the Z/28 sold out quickly, all 450 units. Chevrolet believes demand for the car will run between 2,500 and 3,000 units in 2015, which, if achieved, might earn the Z/28 a permanent slot in the lineup, Oppenheiser says.

It's easy to see the appeal of the car. The engine seems to light up more than start up when you turn the key. The exhaust crackles and pops and sounds like rocket engine. Acceleration comes on in one strong, smooth rush of power.

The Z/28 feels light on its feet and is. Chevy engineers shed 300 pounds, cutting curb weight to 3,820 pounds. Smaller tires and wheels, lightweight brakes, thinner rear-window glass and a redesigned rear seat account for most of the weight loss.

Some of these changes may go into the next-generation Camaro, Oppenheiser says, as the car goes on a diet to boost fuel economy. The next generation is due in 2016.

You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com.


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