GM to revive sporty, muscular Camaro Z28

Chevrolet announced it is bringing back one of its most hallowed names — the sporty, fast, brutish Camaro Z28.

It was the bombshell that lent explosive impact to Chevy’s announcement here of the mid-cycle updating of the whole Camaro line. Nose, tail and trim — standard-issue tweaks. But drop in a road rocket such as the Z28 that was last sold in 2002, and a run-of-the-mill freshening gets a high profile.

“This for all of us who wanted a Camaro that is absolutely built for the track,” Mark Reuss, president of North America for General Motors, said of the Z28.

Reuss said the Wednesday’s reveal of the Z28 was two years in the making.

Because it will be a low-volume model that appeals only to a small niche of racing enthusiasts it took a lot of work for Reuss to convince those that watch the company’s finances to approve the project.

After building a test version of the Z28 Reuss said he took GM CEO Dan Akerson on a ride at GM’s proving grounds in Milford.

“I took my boss for a ride in the car, and is said I want this car badly,” Reuss said. “He said ‘you’ve got to give the board members a ride in this car,’ and so we took the board members a ride in this car.”

For Reuss, a racing enthusiast, building a car like the Z28 is important because it shows customers what GM is capable of doing.

“This car is true to who we are,” Reuss said. “This is absolutely everything that we wanted to do and haven’t been able to do in a long time.”

Many of the performance statistics for the Z28 are still unknown, Reuss said. That’s because Michigan’s long, cold, snowy winter has prevented GM from getting enough track time to refine the car.

He said the Z28 will go into production later this year and will go on sale either late this year or early next year.

In dreaming up the Z28, the engineering staff made an early decision.

“Only a car true to the Z28 name” would get the designation, says Al Oppenheiser, the chief engineer for Camaro. The development the car was such a closely held secret that internally the project was known as “Steve.”

To make the car special, Chevy plopped a the LS7 engine from the Chevrolet Corvette under the Camaro’s hood. Oppenheiser says he thinks horsepower will exceed 500. To hold the car on tight corners, it was given tires that withstand more than 1G, or force of gravity, in lateral acceleration. It’s instantly recognizable with a full aerodynamic kit — a scoop under the nose, underside panels and a wing on back.

Brute power alone wasn’t considered enough to make the car a winner at the track. So engineers looked for unusual ways to lower the car’s weight, going right for the creature comforts. That sound system? It’s gone except for a single speaker, required by law to play safety warning chimes. And air conditioning? It’s only an option, not standard equipment like on near every new car these days.

The back seat survived the cuts, Oppenheiser says, but only after Chevrolet was able to substitute in a lot of lightweight materials. Sacrificing the big-wheel look that has become so popular, the car has smaller 19-inch, weight-saving wheels and lightweight, but plenty capable, brakes.