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Car Report

2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 Test Drive

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If you’ve been itching to replace that 2002 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 convertible sitting in the garage, I hate to break it to you, but the 2014 model probably isn’t for you.

Unlike its predecessor, which was a potent but fully outfitted sports car, the all-new Z/28 is a stripped-down, street-legal track machine that’s more in the spirit of the original 1967 racing homologation special than the coupes and convertibles that followed it. Chevy’s single-minded goal was to make it the fastest-ever Camaro around a track.

To that end, no drop-top is available; it comes from the factory without a carpeted trunk or air conditioning to cut weight; and the stereo isn’t really one because it has only a single speaker that’s there only because the feds require it to provide a door-open chime.

(Why Chevy included the audio head unit is more of a mystery, but the speaker gimmick is a good one.)

Other fat-trimming measures include thinner glass and a dearth of sound-deadening material, and since refinement has clearly taken a back seat to performance: thinner, lighter, less comfortable rear buckets.

All of this sets the stage for swapping in Chevy’s monstrous 7.0-liter V8, last seen in the Corvette Z06. The race-bred motor pumps out 505 hp and 481 lb-ft of torque with the kind of throttle response that has earned it legendary status among sports car fans. A six-speed manual sends the power to a Torsen limited slip differential that ensures it will make it to the tarmac at all times, aided by one of the smartest electronic traction control systems in the biz. An automatic transmission, however, is not an option.

The body has been worked over, too. Its splitter, rockers, diffuser, vents and spoilers are the spitting image of those on the Z/28.R race cars that compete in the Continental Tires SportsCar Challenge and create 150 pounds of downforce at 150 mph. The civilian version makes use of the pressure via the widest front tires available on a production car and a set of shocks that’s also unique in showrooms.

Called spool-valve dampers, they were developed in Formula One and can be tuned for compression and rebound independently, with progressive levels of resistance. In the Z/28, they stay stiffest at the beginning of their travel then loosen up over larger bumps.

I didn’t get the opportunity to try them out on public roads, but on the track at New York’s Monticello Motor Club I went out of my way to crash a few curbs at high speed, and they upset the Z/28 about as much as a butterfly landing on Gandhi’s nose.

It wasn’t hard to stir myself a bit more than that.

The Z/28 is all about the curves. Its steering is quick and responsive, those fat tires biting into the pavement like a teenage vampire necking after a “Twilight” marathon.

The Camaro is still a pretty hefty car at 3,820 pounds, but you’d never know it in the middle of a turn. The body stays flat and put unless you really goose the gas pedal to cut the rear tires loose. Leave the Performance Traction Management system in its middle setting and even that’s not a concern. It’ll modulate the throttle for you on the way out of a turn, setting you up for the straight to the next one.

Between them is the only time the Z/28 feels relatively tame. As potent as that engine is, 505 hp ain’t what it used to be, although it’s still good for a 4.4-second 0-60 mph run. But while the 600-pounds-less Corvette Z06 jumps between corners like a scalded cheetah, the Z/28 gives you a moment to gaze into the waters and consider what comes next.

Braking is usually a good idea, and with a set of standard Brembo calipers and fade-free carbon ceramic discs, it’s not a problem. Chevy says they provide up to 1.5 g of deceleration, and they reveal the need to go out and get yourself a five-point safety harness if you plan to hit the track often. Despite the ability to ratchet them tight, the three-point belts can’t keep up.

The deep Recaro bucket seats do, and they look pretty snazzy in the process. Along with a matte-metallic trim, they represent the only updates to the cabin. It is a racer’s special, after all.

That being the case, the price is an even $75,000, including delivery. What, did you think all those goodies were going to come cheap?

That’s twice what you’ll pay for a Camaro SS and thousands more than a loaded Corvette Stingray, which is inherently a better car for this sort of ultimate performance mission. Then again, there’s something inherently American and satisfying about making big vehicles do amazing things, and that’s exactly what the Z/28 is all about.

Chevy knows it’s not for everyone, and it built just 500 for 2014, all of which have been spoken for. But another batch is on the way next year, possibly as many as 2,500, so there’s still hope if you’re interested.

By the way, an extra $1,150 will get you that air conditioning plus five more speakers, so maybe there is a place for it in your garage. Just don’t ask for a convertible. It’s not going to happen, because Chevy doesn’t want to sully the Z/28 name this time around.

But I’m sure it'd sell every one of them if it did.

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2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

Base Price: $75,000

Type: 4-passenger, 2-door, rear-wheel-drive coupe

Engine: 7.0-liter V8

Power: 505 hp, 481 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

MPG: 13 city/18 hwy