ZL1: One Camaro To Rule Them All

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

Rather than bringing back the long-running Z28 label for its new top-of-the-line Camaro, GM has reached back even further into the history books for an even more prestigious heritage label: ZL1. GM’s presser (more here) for the 6.2 liter supercharged, 550+ HP, Brembo- and Magnetic Ride Control-equipped ZL1 explains:

When the muscle car war was at its peak in the ’60s, enterprising and racing-minded dealers did everything they could to get more powerful cars from the factory. Some Chevrolet dealers discovered that the company’s special order system known as COPO – the acronym for Central Office Production Order – could be used for higher-performance powertrains. It was intended for dealers to place custom orders for things like special paint packages for fleet vehicles, not building factory hot rods. Nevertheless, Camaro-hungry dealers used the system to request larger, 427-cubic-inch engines and other equipment that wasn’t available in regular-production models.

The ZL1 427 engine was originally developed as a racing engine for the Can Am series, where early all-aluminum 427 engines had delivered encouraging results in vehicles such as the groundbreaking Chaparral 2F race car. It was similar to Chevrolet’s L-88 427 engine, which had an iron engine block and aluminum heads, but the ZL1’s aluminum block reduced the engine’s overall weight by more than 100 pounds. That was a tremendous benefit for racing, not only because of the obvious weight savings, but it also enhanced the race cars’ overall balance.

In 1969, Illinois-based Chevy dealer Fred Gibb stretched the COPO system to its limit when he ordered 50 Camaros with the new ZL1 racing engine. The idea was to pack the most powerful engine available from Chevrolet into otherwise regular Camaros and sell them to racers. The ZL1 engine was officially rated at 430 horsepower, but was known to produce more than 500.

Despite never being intended for use in a regular-production car, Gibb’s COPO order was fulfilled – but not before a few other dealers got wind of it. They ordered a few, too, and production totaled 69 Camaros (two production Corvettes also were built with the engine).

Of course, not only is the ZL1now a production model, the same engine and suspension are also available in a more tailored, uptown set of duds as the CTS-V coupe. Still, the LSA engine is the kind of rare beast that will not be around much longer, so far be it from us to criticize GM for putting it into everything they can, while they still can. And considering the CTS-V is already a performance bargain, one hopes that the Camaro ZL1 will make the LSA’s pupil-dilating power even more attainable.

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  • Mtymsi Mtymsi on Feb 10, 2011

    If it's in the $50k range which it probably will be I'd much rather have the Vette.

  • Nrd515 Nrd515 on Feb 11, 2011

    A great car harpooned by the worst styling of any Camaro, ever.

  • Ajla "a brake upgrade"Unless you are racing it I doubt that is needed. Stopping from 85mph with 700hp isn't much more taxing than stopping from 85mph with 400hp. And the F-150's brakes are already capable of stopping with a 9000lb trailer.
  • MaintenanceCosts Great, a clumsy truck that can go faster without any commensurate upgrades in stopping or turning ability. I'll look out for these in a ditch near me in the near future.
  • SCE to AUX I'm sure everything aft of the flywheel is up for the challenge.
  • Lou_BC this link shows number of units waiting to be sold: https://www.theautopian.com/theres-a-753-day-supply-of-jeep-renegades-and-other-cars-that-are-slow-to-sell/There are 7630 Renegades rusting on dealer lots. 7 of the 9 on the list are Stellantis products. The Chevy 4500 chassis cab high inventory reflects what I see in my world. Ford and Ram have the chassis cab market well in hand.
  • MaintenanceCosts We need a system to get unsafe hoopties off the road. But the existing state inspection systems relying on corruptible private garages ain't it. It needs to be federally overseen, consistent, and cheap.