It is truly a great time to be a gearhead. Not in the sense of there are no bad cars, because there still are, but rather because the cars that are good are really damn good. Take for example this Camaro SS. For three days, I lapped it around the freshly repaved tarmac of Gingerman Raceway in South Haven, Michigan.
Currently GM offers six versions of the Camaro, from the relatively mild-mannered 323 horsepower 3.6 liter V-6, to the journalist jailing supercharged 580 HP ZL1. This doesn’t include the nearly 17 convertible and specialty variants. This particular Summit White version is a 2SS model with leather interior, a 426 hp 6.2 liter V-8 and 6 speed automatic transmission. Building this car on Chevy’s website comes in a hair under $40K.
Slipping into the wide leather seats, the Camaro immediately reveals its size. It’s not a big car but quite portly at around 4,000 lbs and it feels like it with the over-boosted power steering and long travel brake pedal. That’s not a complete negative because the reality of this car is it will spend it’s life on a daily commuter’s grind with an occasional stoplight blast to remind the owner they bought the V-8.
However, the track is where the Camaro surprises you. Even with the over-boosted steering and marshmallow power brakes, the Camaro can actually handle itself on a track. In the first turn the SS seems to magically shed 1,000 lbs. It is by no means a track car, but becomes unexpectedly nimble. Where the overbuilt nature of the Camaro comes into play is its ability to repeat this activity for three straight days.
The first trick, of course, is to completely disable the traction control. Either hold the button or press it twice to completely turn it off, otherwise the yaw control will apply the brakes. It won’t upset the car, but it will add wear to the almost overtasked four-wheel discs.
Instead, you learn to use the tires, but be warned that those tires will not last. The SS comes from the Oshawa plant equipped with staggered P245/45R20 front and P275/40R20 rear high-performance summer tires. These are capable shoes, especially in the light of the Camaro’s most likely fate. However, if you are in the market for this and you’re going hit the track, invest in a spare set of rims and tires. This is no different than with the Mustang GT or even the Challenger — they are all fast cars, but they are not Miatas and will consume wear items. Even harking back to their earliest appearances in the late ’60s Trans-Am series, track versions of these cars need upgraded shoes and brakes. Fortunately, there is a host of companies, including GM Performance, that make this an entertaining late night Internet search and endless fodder for web forum debates and bench races.
Alongside those debates about the best wheels, tires and the worthiness of a GM brake system versus a Wildwood upgrade, you will see discussions on engine enhancements. You don’t need them. The 6.2 LS, even in this form, is plenty. You won’t set any track records, but the 420-foot pounds of torque is more than enough to put you in well over your head.
Leading a pack of supercars could be overwhelming, yet a well-driven SS managed to hold its own. The car would push through turn 2 but slide right onto the outside for a blast into turn 3. With a suspension load, the SS would use the whole track for exit then build a solid head of steam through 4 without lifting and settling on the outside of the entry into 5. Turn 6 was the Camaro’s moneymaker. The trick was to take the exit of 5 all the way to the far side for the 6 entry, hit the apex and roll into the throttle hard. Let the rear wheels spin through the limited slip, stepping the rear slightly out, and glide to the exit. Without fail, this would put a car length on the aggressively driven Nissan GT-R following behind. The right sweeper of turn 7 would give the AWD cars a chance to catch as the Camaro pushed the front end to drive to the outside, but the SS would be impossibly well composed and balanced through the 8/9 combo. Hard into 10a with a hint of trail braking and before letting the big dog run down the the Phoenix Flat, textbook entry for turn 11 and onto the front straight, hard braking up the hill for turn 1.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat. This would be the SS’s job for three straight days. That is actually where you begin to respect the Camaro. Yes, there are lots of well-built cars that you can drive to the track, enjoy all weekend and drive home, but the SS was here to lead a pack of 9 supercars totaling almost 4,500 horsepower — five of them equipped with all-wheel drive. This was a real trial for the big white whale, and it was honestly up to the task. It is not a supercar. It is just a solid, fast car.
If you have 40 grand and a need for the occasional backseat you could do worse than the Camaro. Staying out of the option box could keep the cost closer to $35K. That would leave you some room for the modifications you would eventually make. After all, you’re a gearhead, and it’s a great time to be one.
General Motors contributed nothing to this review.
Christian “Mental” Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. He is married to the most patient woman in the world, lives in Atlanta and is racing his a tape covered Honda Civic in the 24 Hours of LeMons this month at Autobahn in Joilet Illinois. You can follow that and all his other shenaningans on Instagram, Twitter and Vine at M3ntalward.