A Silver Bullet: Jason Leiva’s Killer 8-Second ZL1
Chevrolet’s sixth-gen ZL1 Camaro is one of our favorites. With 650 horsepower and killer performance on the curves or in a straight line, what’s not to love? We know, we know…some of you loathe the sixth-gen front end, but the ZL1 is different. In our opinion, the aggressive, in-your-face design works in the Camaros favor. The question is if you owned one of these killer machines, would you leave it stock or modify it? For Jason Leiva, this was an easy decision and one that was not taken lightly.
Photos by: Ghostly Media
Unlike some of us, Leiva didn’t grow up around hot rods and racing. He said, “I didn’t have a lot of exposure to cars, and my first one certainly wasn’t exciting. It was a 1987 Mitsubishi Montero. But, as I started seeing what my friends were getting, I became more interested in different types of cars. Since then, I’ve owned over 20 different ones.”
While he might have had a late start in the industry, owning more than 20 cars for a 39-year-old is impressive. Leiva said, “For me, cars and driving is a great way to unload the stress that day-to-day living can cause. While I love racing, I also love just casually driving, listening to the sounds, and feeling the acceleration when I get the itch (within the rules of the law, of course). I think most non-car people don’t realize the camaraderie and friendships you make when you’re heavy into cars and racing. I’ve met some of the kindest and most supportive people, and it’s certainly a reason this has stayed a hobby for me as long as it has.”
Before purchasing the ZL1, Leiva owned a 2012 Corvette ZR1. The C6 was a bucket list car, but he didn’t want to turn it into a street/strip car for a couple of reasons.
“I loved the ZR1, but I knew I wanted to race competitively again,” Leiva explained. “I didn’t feel right messing with the integrity of such a special car.” Another reason for the change was not wanting to run a manual transmission. Leiva needed a car that he could put his son in, who at the time was only a year old. He had seen the styling of the sixth-gen ZL1, heard great things about the 10-speed trans, and knowing the capabilities of the LT4 engine, made the Camaro a logical choice that “checked all of the boxes.”
On September 4, 2017, Leiva found his ZL1 in Marietta, Georgia while searching online. After he purchased the car, Leiva intended for it to be a fun car that he could modify and race, but also take the family with him to share in the hobby. Leiva said, “The very first time I tried getting my toddler into the ZL1, he lost his mind and wouldn’t get in his seat. Shortly after this incident, I added a Brey-Krause harness bar, and the family bonding idea with the car came to an end.”
When it was time to get serious with the sixth-gen, ZL1 Leiva reached out to none other than the guys at Vengeance Racing (VR) in Cumming, Georgia to handle the modifications. Vengeance and its crew are world-renowned when it comes to performance-oriented LS and LT-powered vehicles. Their first move was to yank the factory mill and replace it with 416 cubic-inches. With the engine removed, the guys shipped it down to Late Model Engines (LME) to complete the work.
LME got to work on the engine, and after the teardown, the block was deburred, line honed, decked, and bored with a 4-axis CNC machine. Naturally, LME tossed all of the factory internals of the 377 and replaced them with Callies‘ crank and connecting rods. Wiseco pistons were also used with a compression ratio of 10.5:1. A Vengeance Racing Stage 2 camshaft was used in conjunction with a set of CID heads machined by LME.
To top off the newly-built long block, a Magnuson 2650R was selected with a 2.75-inch upper pulley and 9.45-inch lower. This combination is good for 21-pounds of boost. A custom ice tank was used with a high-flow water pump to cool down the air charge after it passes through a massive 112mm Nick Williams throttle body via a 5-inch VR intake with interchangeable bell mouth. To get all of that air out of the engine, Vengeance used a set of Kooks headers attached to a stock X-pipe. A 3-inch Borla ATAK system was bolted on to calm the tone of the boosted ZL1.
Fueling was another area of concern for the ZL1. Knowing from experience that the factory fuel system would not suffice, VR inserted a set of Fuel Injector Connection injectors that flow 30-percent more volume than the OEM units. Vengeance also built a custom low side fuel system and installed a Lingenfelter Big Bore high-pressure fuel pump.
The drivetrain for the Camaro is surprisingly still mostly stock. The OEM A10 10-speed was shipped off to RPM Transmissions for a performance rebuild, and the driveshaft and axles were upgraded to Driveshaft Shop components. The flexplate, torque converter, rear end, and suspension are all stock other than the addition of some Carlyle and BMR Suspension parts.
Something that is not stock on this car is the tires, wheels, and brakes. Leiva went with 18-inch Weld/Chevrolet Performance front runners with Kumho Ecsta tires. On the back, you can find a set of 15-inch Weld beadlocks wrapped with Mickey Thompson Radial Pros. The rear brakes had to be converted over in order to get the 15’s to fit. For this task, Wilwood rotors, calipers, and pads were used from Carlyle Racing.
With the car complete, Mike Carnahan of Vengeance Racing hit the rollers to tune the newly-built ZL1 engine. The Camaro made 1,119 horsepower and 1,068 lb-feet of torque at the rear wheels.
You might be curious about what classes Leiva races in with his ZL1. He said, “I compete in a variety of classes, but commonly they are supercharger-only, single power adder, or index races in the 9-second range.” He has made several semi-final appearances, and three second-place finishes to date. And while the ZL1 has gone a 9.20 at 153.74 mph with a 1.36 60-foot time in the 1/4-mile with less power, his new goal for the Camaro is to run 8.50’s at 160 mph.
During the writing of this article, Leiva reached out to let us know that he was well on his way to his goal with a pass of 8.93 at 155 mph.
Leiva relishes how rounded the car is from a performance perspective. He said, “I can drag race it on the weekends, and hit the mountains hard the next with no less confidence in how it will do. I love that despite having over 1,100 horsepower at the wheels, it hasn’t lost its street manners. It still has all of the original creature comforts that GM provided, like heated/cooled seats, lane departure, feature-rich infotainment, and so on.
We look forward to watching Leiva hit his goal of 8.50’s in the near future. Our hats are off to him, Vengeance Racing, Late Model Engines, and everyone else in this well-executed build.