Shit I don’t understand… #5: ZL1

There’s a lot I don’t understand about car culture, motorsports, and racing. Help me out.

Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

I was just coaching at Thunderhill yesterday with Hooked on Driving. The air was really terrible. I went out on the skid pad in my 2003 Hyundai Elantra GT with automatic transmission to do some drifting. Yes, you read that correctly. I like drifting in FWD econoboxes. One of the keys is to have stickier tires in front than the rear. Once you do that, the car really likes to hang the back end out. I put my helmet on and closed the windows because of the smoke. After a few minutes of training (that’s what I call my skid pad time), it got really hard to breathe. Then I started coughing uncontrollably for 20 minutes. While the air quality was bad, I probably also kicked up a lot of ash that was lying on the ground. The rest of the day I wore an N95 mask under my helmet.

My student had a 98 Camaro with some coil-overs and an LS3 swap that made something like 500 RWHP. As these are COVID times, I didn’t get a chance to drive his car. But I sure wanted to. Instead, I drove a new Camaro. I was on lap 1 of a lead-follow with my student when I noticed my fuel gauge was on empty. FUCK! So I pitted and told the HoD staff of my issue. Terri asked if I would like to use her car. Not having any other choice, I decided it would be the best option. So after a quick removal of a few items from the back seat, I was off.

I knew the car was a Camaro, and therefore had decent power, but I didn’t know which Camaro. I was very light on the throttle because I was unfamiliar with the car. But even with less than half throttle, the car leapt forward like it had actual legs. The next 20 minutes was spent with my jaw on the floor. Not only did the car have instantaneous power at any speed, the handling was better than almost anything I’ve driven. The combination was completely shocking. After the session, I got out and looked for whatever sub-model it was, and there was a ZL1 badge. I don’t follow cars very closely, but when I looked it up later, it started to make sense.

Why does a ZL1 exist?” It isn’t a car, it’s a tank (can’t see shit through the windows) with rocket boosters and ballet shoes. It’s too fast. I honestly don’t want to drive the limit in this thing thing unless I’ve got a full cage and more. And it can’t be very good on the street. Unlike an hypercar, the price is only $65K. So it’s not some priceless piece of art, it’s meant to be driven. But by whom?

3 thoughts on “Shit I don’t understand… #5: ZL1

  1. Agree that on a track car, braking and handling performance should be prioritized over power – excessive power just increases risk without increasing driver development opportunities.

    As for what makes a street car cool, that is a totally personal choice. I prefer something light, with minimal driver aids (like my buddy’s Elise) but BMW keeps building bloated cars with “engine” noise coming from speakers, for example. Whatever floats your boat as they say.

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  2. “So it’s not some priceless piece of art, it’s meant to be driven. But by whom?”

    My friend Tony, that’s who. Those ZL1 1LE Camaros are really quite something special. He’s really my main competition locally, when I bring out the Exocet. Hard to imagine two cars that could be much more different, yet arrive at the gates with similar times.

    Believe it or not, they’re actually pretty decent cars to have on the road, comfort wise. Magnaride, I think is the “brand” name of the suspension they have, is really flexible, and very fast to react. Our world is gonna be all the better if they ever start selling and tuning that type of suspension for the aftermarket.

    That said, visibility indeed is terrible. I feel like I’m wearing horse blinders when I’m in one of those 5th / 6th gen Camaros.

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