Original Equipment Maximized: SLP’s ZL/Panther Camaro

After a torturous six-year absence, the 2010 model year marked the much-anticipated return of Chevrolet’s iconic Mustang-taming pony car. Presenting a modern evolutionary rendition of the much-revered ’69 model – the new Zeta-platform fifth-generation Camaro was an instant hit. Also evolved and picking up where they left off, New Jersey-based GM tuner extraordinaire Street Legal Performance (SLP) was poised to exploit its long-standing relationship with the General by harkening the memory of the most legendary Camaro ever. SLP’s “ZL” program would lavish the new Camaro with an array of OEM-quality high-performance parts, exterior/interior enhancements and its wealth of hot-rodding know-how, producing some of the rarest, most powerful Camaros to date and true modern classics from the moment they hit the road.

Now well into the Camaro’s sixth-generation, LSX Magazine takes a close look at SLP’s rare 2010-2015 ZL/Panther Camaros. We recently provided a preview of their different variants and what makes them tick. And we are proud to provide this article with exclusive and invaluable input from the program’s main proponent, son of SLP founder, VP of Operations and all-around awesome car guy, David Hamburger.

HERITAGE AND HORSEPOWER: 2010 ZL550/575 CAMARO

As the first fifth-gen Camaros were rolling into and out of Chevrolet dealerships across North America, SLP was on it like white on rice. No longer operating from a Canadian facility like with the F-bodies of old-SLP would now take delivery of a Camaro SS straight from the dealer to its NJ-based facility where the special transformation (Second Stage) was completed and the new ZL-enhanced machine was then shipped back to the yearning hands of its salivating owner.

First to blaze a trail of forced-induced dust was the ZL550/575. Designating its flywheel horsepower (550 hp for the L99-automatic/575 hp for the LS3-manual) with the stick-cars employing a smaller blower pulley to make the extra ponies, both versions were an enthusiast’s dream. Based on the new Camaro SS and its 6.2L/376-cid V8, the 150-horse leap, (149 hp for the LS3), was the result of topping the all-aluminum mill with the heart/soul of the package-a Twin Vortices Series (TVS) 2300 (2.3L) twin four-lobe rotor positive displacement supercharger with an integrated dual-brick intercooler-reminiscent of the C6 ZR1.

For 2010- 2011 models, a Magnuson-supplied unit built to SLP’s specs was the weapon of choice, sporting a black finish and flanked by SLPs modified stock engine covers displaying 550HP or 575HP die-cut aluminum call-out badging. Increased inhalation is accomplished via SLP’s Blackwing cold air induction system with a high-flow induction tube/reusable filter and it all resides beneath SLP’s patented Resin-Transfer-Molded (RTM)/robotically-trimmed functional heat extractor hood. With the same weight and attaching hardware as the factory piece – SLP’s badass bulged bonnet features a nose-to-cowl scoop that allows fresh air to rush-into/exit the engine bay, further feeding and cooling the blown motor. Also included with the RTM hood, SLP’s patented fascia close-out panel fills the non-functional factory snout slot, allowing smother airflow to the scoop.

Firing the supercharged emissions, SLP’s T-304 polished stainless steel PowerFlo axle-back exhaust emits a tough-sounding muscular note from 4-inch dual-wall, cannon-like tips that aim through the factory lower rear valence-diffuser openings.

Like the Firehawk Firebirds and G8s before them, SLP’s ZL Camaros were designed as a complete package presenting power, performance, and style in a very unique machine. That said, all boosted ZLs receive a race-inspired Sport Suspension (Eibach/SLP) including a progressive rate spring kit that lowers the car 1-inch. The springs provide an aggressive stance and lowering the chassis to the ground promotes better handling and steering response at supercharged speeds.

Optimized form and function graces the ZL Camaro’s tail, with SLP’s functional rear spoiler. Taller and more pronounced than the stock SS piece, it not only looks the part but provides increased down-force for greater high-speed stability.

The crème de la crème of the ZL Camaro’s style is definitely SLP’s exclusive five-spoke red line wheels, 20×8 in front and 20×9 out back wrapped in Pirelli P Zero 245/45ZR20 front and 275/40ZR20 rear rubber. The awesome-foursome have wide metallic gray-painted spokes with machined faces and a powder-coated red lip, mimicking the redline tires from the Camaro’s late ‘60s heyday. A blood-hued “ZL” center cap is the cherry on top.

Completing the ZL Camaro’s heritage and standard fare, are rear quarter-panel gill inserts that fade from clear to black giving the impression of vent-like functionality, a gloss black-painted rear tail light panel, a trio (fenders/rear deck lid) of OEM-quality 3D ZL550 or 575 badges, ZL 550 or 575 Supercharged logo embroidered headrests/floor mats, a sequentially-numbered dash plaque and key fobs, a faux leather portfolio with owner’s manual, birth certificate and window sticker, a Manufacturers Certificate of origin and a ZL550 or 575 silver fabric car cover.

OPTIONS

From its earliest days, SLP was like the five-star restaurant of automotive enhancers, anticipating its enthusiast customer’s needs/wants to sometimes order off the main menu. The ZL Camaros were no different, offering an array of scrumptious performance/appearance options to make your mouth water.

Proudly aware of the ZL550/575’s forced-induced abilities, SLP offered two Brembo-supplied brake upgrades. The Sport Disc package, which replaces the stock rotors with 4 track-derived cross-drilled units – providing better pad-bite, out-gassing and reduced fade. And the hardcore GT Front setup, with red-painted six-piston binders clamping a pair of 15-inch two-piece, cross-drilled rotors. Included with the GT front kit, SLP bumps the ZL’s top-speed limiter from a pedestrian-level 155mph to a more appropriate and necessary 190mph.

Further enhancing the ZL Camaros handling characteristics and ability to keep its supercharged horses galloping in line, SLP provides its performance front and rear Adjustable Sway Bar Package. With a 29mm dual-adjustable front and a 3-way-adjustable rear sway bar replacing the 23mm stock bars, when combined with the Sport Suspension springs, the hefty pony car handles like a thoroughbred.

Last but nostalgically not least, the ZL 550/575 were available in all SS hues and could be brought back to yesteryear with the application of SLP’s Rally or Hockey Stick striping. Not just decals but painted-on and clear-coated using OEM-factory materials, color choices included Black, White, Silver and Hugger Orange – with the Rally Stripes adorning the hood, trunk lid spoiler, and the Hockey Sticks slashed atop the front fenders and doors. Topping-off the throwback homage was a duo of GM-licensed, Heritage-Style “SS” badges for the murdered-out rear taillight panel and front grille.

BROAD-DOMINANCE: PERFORMANCE

When the ZL550/575 were new, SLP pitted its super car’s astounding abilities against a wide range of high-performance contemporaries. Four awesome machines were listed, including the ZL’s main pony adversary, the 2010 Ford Mustang GT 500, two of Germany’s most potent panzers (the ‘09 BMW M5 and ‘10 Mercedes Benz AMG E63), and Cadillac’s new top dog – the ‘09 CTS-V super sedan. Tested in 575HP-guise with a set of drag meats, the ZL put down a 3.7-second 0-60-mph launch and a ridiculous 11.6-tick ¼-mile at 121-mph-with similar stats-achieved by the long-trusted Motor Week TV staff. Needless to say, these numbers bested the competition by several tenths to 60mph and a full second down to the 1,320-ft mark.

As for price comparison, a non-option-laden ZL 550/575 went for $58,000 – accounting for the $23,000 ZL package on top of the Camaro SS’s $35,000 MSRP at the time. This was almost $30k less than the Germans and ten-grand less than the Caddy, with only the Shelby $8k cheaper before options (you get what you pay for). That’s quite the bang for the buck and it’s all 50-state emissions legal and covered by the manufacturer’s non-powertrain 3-yr/36,000-mile and SLP’s 5-yr/100,000-mile powertrain warranty coverage.

MORE GO AND SHOW: 2011 ZL560/585HP

Like a Jedi who grows stronger with time and training, the 2011 ZL Camaros were even more formidable examples of SLP’s hot-rodding mastery. Graced by new body-color OEM-quality injection molded engine covers donning aluminum “supercharged” badging, SLP now massaged and assembled the Eaton-supplied TVS 2300 blower pack in-house and coaxed an extra 10-horses via some savvy ECM tuning.

Joining the PowerFlo axle-back, SLPs Loud Mouth II mufflers could now be fitted, adding even more bark to the ZLs bite-with both muffler duos getting black powder-coated tips that hid nicely within the (new for ’11) composite rear diffuser. Depicting a high-end sports car look, it featured dual integrated, injection molded exhaust outlets capped by brushed aluminum surrounds. And in front, a new splitter added to the ZL’s aggressive face, lowering the pony car’s mug to the ground, increasing front-end downforce and high-speed stability.

Completing the new 2011 standard additions is SLP’s short-throw shifter assembly for the 585-horse stick-shift cars. The new piece is milled from billet 303 stainless steel and features K-Prene bushings for a 20% shorter throw action and a more positive feel. Looking as good as it works, the knob is leather-wrapped and branded with a silver-stitched “ZL” logo.

Suspension and handling enhancements top the list of new for ’11 options, including a Coil-over Spring/Shock package-specifically developed/tuned by long-time partners in performance-SLP and Eibach. The package includes front and rear (0-2-inch adjustable) coilover dampers and front end-links, that when teamed with the required SLP adjustable sway bars, raise the ZL Camaro’s road and track capabilities to world-class levels.

For even more optimized handling and off-the-line grip, SLP introduced an ultra high performance wheel and tire package. The gear includes wider 20×9 front and 20×10-inch rear ZL redline rollers wrapped in Michelin PS2 super car rubber – 255/40ZR20 fronts and 295/35ZR20s out back.

Braking options remain as before with the addition of rear cross-drilled rotors from the Sport Disc Package-now included with the GT Brake Package-(formerly 2010-GT Front Brake Package).

Further enhancing the ZL 560/585’s style, SLP offered Katzkin leather coverings for the seats, center console and door armrests. With black leather side bolsters and headrests, a choice of eight colored inserts (Red, Sunrise, Vanilla, Pacific, Orange, Medium Red, Ash, and throwback-style Black/White Hounds Tooth cloth) were available to complement or contrast all exterior hues. The seats armrests and center console receive a stronger than stock stitching thread to match the seat insert color. Completing the option were ZL560/585 supercharged-embroidered headrests and color-matched Chevy Bowties stitched into each front seat.

TRICKS OF THE TRADE: ZL600

Continuing to use the fruits of their experience and performance parts proficiency, SLP offered the ZL600 from late 2011-on. Exclusive only to the manually-wielded ZL585, the eventually-titled 600HP PowerPac upgrade added SLPs 1.85 ratio aluminum rocker arms, high lift springs, and titanium retainers. These bulletproof components account for the 15-horse jump to the much-honored 600-horse number and further display the depth of SLP’s bag of tricks.

NATURAL ASPIRATIONS: 2011 ZL327/427/454/465HP

Aware that all-out supercharged performance carries a hefty price tag and dizzying insurance quotes, SLP offered four naturally aspirated ZLs comprising three V8 and one V6 version. All titled with flywheel-HP names like their blown brethren, the ZL327 in auto/manual guise was based off the direct-injection 312-hp V6, while the ZL427 was the L99 auto trans car and the ZL454/465 were stick-only from the LS3. After the obvious blower delete, most of the supercharged ZL goodies were included, except the RTM hood and Sport Suspension which were optional. For 2010 and 2011, SLP’s 20×8 front and 20×9 rear Red Line wheels were part of the package as well.”

Power figures on all non-forced-induced variants are accomplished via the PowerFlo or Loud Mouth II axle-back exhaust, Blackwing Cold-Air induction and SLP’s non-adjustable custom ECM tune, installed by an included hand-held programmer. The V8-powered ZL427/454 get SLP’s 25% underdrive pulley/harmonic balancer that reduces accessory (water pump, AC, alternator) belt drive speed by 25% and the all-steel wheel features extra-high retention walls to eradicate torque-induced belt slippage. As with the jump from ZL585 to ZL600, the ZL465 makes it’s crank horsepower rating with the addition of SLP’s 1:85 ratio rockers, high-lift springs and new valve keepers. The kit increases valve lift by 10% – allowing the LS3 to really stretch its legs. The basic package came in at $4,995 over the cost of a V6 or SS car, with the ZL465 bumped to $5,995 for its rocker enhancement.

STREET LEGAL LEGEND: 2011 SLP ZL1

In the automotive world, legends aren’t usually accidental but are formed through a lengthy process of forward-thinking development, applied experience and channeling past achievements. In the case of SLPs 2011 ZL1 Camaro, there is no greater or fitting example.

From its conception, SLP was always ahead of the game and to coin hockey’s “Great One” Wayne Gretzky they went where the puck was going to be, not where it had been. With that said, the ZL program traces its origins back to 2004, a time without a production Camaro. Between ’04-’09, SLP patented a line of legally registered trademarked ZL performance upgrades, so by the dawn of the fifth-gen Camaro’s release, the ZL1 was already a work in progress.

In Dave Hamburger’s words, “the ZL1 was for the older crowd,” seemingly those old enough to remember the rare and iconic originals. Therefore, the mantra for SLPs 21st-century rendition was crystal clear-harness the power and history of those 69-built, 1969 Central Office Production Order (COPO) Camaros, equipped with the 9560 all-aluminum 427cid big-block Chevy motor and then go further. Definitely a car that Tony Stark would own and park next to his Iron Man suits – SLP’s ZL1 was to be a canvas painted with the full expanse of their high-performance artistry, resulting in one of the most powerful Camaros to date and the most powerful vehicle the Jersey-based company had built to that point.

As a testament to the special relationship between the Jersey-based performance gurus and the General’s high-performance brand, SLP was invited to brandish its super pony car at the January 2011 Anaheim Auto Show, where Chevy and Camaro chiefs such as Al Oppenheiser and Scott Settlemire viewed SLP’s awesome creation with wide-eyed admiration and increased anticipation for their own ZL1, slated for the following year.

Staying true to its iconic claim to fame, the powerplant for SLP’s ZL1 was not 6.2L LS3/L99-based like the other V8 ZLs, but rather, a custom hand-built iteration of the 7.0L 427-cube LS7 from the C6 ZO6. Shedding more light-Dave Hamburger explains how Manley forged internals (crank, rods, pistons) and modified L92 heads “that were cleaned up a bit,” and SLP’s higher-lifting 1.85:1 ratio rockers were fitted, producing a 10.3:1 compression. The magnificent mill was then crowned by a devilishly red-painted TVS 2300 10-psi-boosted blower and a dual-core aluminum radiator was installed to help cool the fiery 427. Inhaling and exhaling through Blackwing induction and SLP’s S/S long-tube headers, stock cats and PowerFlo exhaust – the ZL1’s custom ECM tune unleashes 750 horses/728 lb-ft, enabling an exotic-embarrassing, 3.2-second 0-60-mph launch, 11.2-seconds down the 1,320 at 130 mph and an estimated 205 mph top speed.

Wielding this immense power is the exclusive duty of the six-speed TR6060 manual, up-gunned and bulletproofed with a ZR1 clutch assembly and SLP flywheel, rowed by SLPs short throw shifter.

Getting it all to the tarmac in super car fashion, are SLPs adjustable coil-over springs, shocks and sway bars, heavy-duty half shafts and ZL1-specific forged light-weight 20×9 front and massive 20×10.5 rear rollers, wrapped in Michelin XL Sport PS2 255/40ZR20 front and 295/35ZR20 rear rubber. And hauling the omnipotent pony down from speed, are behemoth Brembo GT front and rear brakes – 16-inch, 2-piece drilled rotors and 6-piston binders forward, and 15-inch drilled discs with 4-piston clamps aft.

Like its power and performance, the ZL1s full bore attitude extends to every aspect of its appearance. Leading from the front, is SLP’s exclusive front fascia/grille with heritage-style blue bowtie and an all carbon fiber hood with its massive functional center scoop left uncolored to display the race bred material. Further accentuating the ultra high performance theme, a matching fiber-like finish follows through on the engine covers, front splitter, trunk lid high lip rear spoiler, and aggressively-finned SLP rear diffuser. Gill insert graphics, ZL1 fender and rear deck lid badges, and another heritage-style, blue-hued bowtie centered in the blackened taillight panel complete the ZL1s awesome exterior.

Inside the cockpit, carbon fiber-finish accents detail the steering wheel, dash and center console, with ZL1 embroidered head rests and floor mats marking the special machine. The full palate of Katzkin leather and Hounds Tooth were available to grace the seats, console and arm rests. And a (1 to 69-numbered) dash plaque and key fobs were supplied to the exclusive and lucky few.

Priced at $80k on top of a stick-shifted 1SS or 2SS of the day, some might say that’s a bit steep. But for a 1-of-69-built, supercharged-427-powered modern pony car with all-American style, super car performance and iconic heritage-I’d call it a bargain.

THE 700 CLUB: ZL700

Following in the ZL1’s 427-cubic-inch tire tracks, from 2012-on, SLP offered the hand-built 7.0L supercharged chunk with modified L92 Heads for the ZL700/Panther 700HP. Featuring the same vast list of standard/optional ZL equipment, ZL/Panther 700s were either TR6060 manually-equipped, or for those happy to let the computer corral the 700-ponies, a beefed-up 6L90 automatic did the shifting. Warranty for the ZL700/Panther 700HP was unique, with dual-3yr/36,000-mile non-powertrain and engine/supercharger assembly coverage, instead of the 3yr/36k-mile and 5yr/100k-miles on the 560/585/600-horse variants.

ALA CARTE: CHANGES AND NEW OPTIONS 2012-’13 ZL

Always advancing in performance and style, by 2012, SLP was offering some changes and more choices for its ZL Camaros. With the main ZL power-adding components, identifying badging/graphics, gill inserts and rear spoiler remaining, most previously standard supercharged/normally-aspirated ZL fare including the RTM hood, front splitter, rear diffuser, manual short-throw shifter, Sport Suspension springs and even the Red Line wheels were now optional. According to Dave Hamburger, this was not a taking away of sorts, but rather an effort to provide more personalization to the ZL package. He continues, as the fifth-gen Camaro’s production increased, so did its aftermarket offerings, so SLP wanted to provide even more unique options that could be mixed and matched to keep the ZLs rare and exclusive. Pertaining to the wheels and SLP’s individualized hot rod direction for the ZLs Dave adds, “wheels are a very personal choice, so we [SLP] left it up to the customer to add them or not.”

At the crux of the matter, SLP’s supercharger now featured a redesigned blower case, with two affixed white/red “TVS 2300/SLP Supercharged” embossed plates and a unique twin-helix-like design-pattern on top–depicting the Eaton twin four-lobe rotor pack within.

Adding a little bling to its signature Red Line rims, SLP replaced the metallic gray and machined rollers with chrome versions sporting ZL center caps, which were inserted on the stock wheels if retained. The sparkling spinners were also available as the high-performance upgrade, in wider 20×9 front and 20×10 rear, wrapped in Michelin PS2 rubber.

Recognizing the power of their creations, SLP introduced two ultra-high-performance options meant to further maximize the ZL’s potential. Available to all V8 models, but definitely with the tumultuous torque of the ZL600/ZL700HP in mind, Extreme Heavy-Duty rear axle Half Shafts were offered. These units feature 30-spline 300M alloy steel center bars with upgraded/built 108mm CV joints designed to handle 1,400 bucking broncos.  Even more hardcore and again borrowing from its King of Corvettes cousin-row-your-own ZLs could be fitted with a ZR1 Dual Clutch and Flywheel package-comprising a ZR1 dual disc clutch/pressure plate assembly and SLPs 6-bolt billet steel flywheel with new slave cylinder. The components ensured a super car level of torque management, while still providing street-friendly drivability and pedal feel.

As for more style, the stock hood, rear decklid spoiler were now draped by a new graphics package. Starting with a flat black surround at the SSs factory fascia slit, two wide Carbon Fiber-patterned stripes with a choice of three (red, black, silver) side accent colors, stretch from hood tip to tail and include HP number call-out cowl graphics available in (red/black, white/black, or red/white). And topping-off the heritage honors-Orange/Black Hounds Tooth cloth joins the choices of Katzkin seat coverings.

CHANGE OF FACE AND NAME: 2014 ZL

For 2014, Chevrolet offered a freshened fifth-gen Camaro SS, featuring a new front fascia with more aggressive grilles, lights and a revised hood with a center-mounted four slat heat extractor-reminiscent of the ice cube tray intake stacks on the 1968/1969 models. The rear fascia diffuser was also revised, along with a new spoiler and dual taillights pods that closely resembled those from the first-gen cars–replacing 2010- ‘13s Vette-like quad lenses.

Now going by a new title more fitting its endeavors, SLP (Specialty Vehicles) and later-SVE (Specialty Vehicle Engineering) followed suit with revisions to the ZLs, now offering just about everything as individual options.

Standard armament for the supercharged cars of course still included SLP’s Eaton TVS 2300 supercharger, but by late 2013, a new upgraded unit was fitted. Devoid of a jackshaft/extra pulley, it provided even more efficient direct-drive operation from its relocated (center-mounted) crank-spun blower pulley. The other power adders like exhaust, induction and tuning remained, but SLP added to the mix by modifying the new factory heat extractor hood vents for increased functionality and painting them. As with the regular breathing variants, all ZL-identifying/HP-call-out badges were supplied, now with the addition of the heritage style SS/RS badges for the front grille and blacked-out rear taillight panel. The carbon fiber striping was now up to personal preference and with the bump in power for the V6 (323 hp), exhaust becomes optional for the ZL327 and the underdrive pulley was added. Black-Chrome-finished Red-Lines take over as the new optional wheel choice across the board and both optional Brembo kits got even bigger 16-inch front and 15-inch rear drilled rotors.

RARE SPECIES: SLP PANTHER CAMARO 2012- 2015

Back in 1965 when Chevy’s pony car was still being conceptualized, the original project name was “Panther.” Cool yes and the right creature to remorselessly pounce-on and devour the Blue Oval’s little horse, but it didn’t stick. According to rumor and pony car lore, by 1966, Chevrolet was feeling the sting of Ralph Nader’s anti-car book which singled-out the Corvair, thus, naming their new sporty car after a predatory cat was seen as too aggressive and it might also deter female buyers. Further- Chevrolet Chief Pete Estes argued that the proposed leaping cat symbol too closely resembled Britain’s royal feline Jaguar and the glaring genetic similarity with Mercury’s in-the-works Cougar. So, with all this said, in the summer of ‘66, Estes, also intent on toeing the company line by using the letter “C” to title the new F-body, announced to the press the demise of the Panther name and the Camaro (supposedly comrade in French)–but later defined by GM executives as “a small vicious animal that eats Mustangs”–was born.

Almost half a century later, SLP in all its infinite and nostalgic wisdom, recaptured the elusive cat’s name, applying it to one of the rarest Camaros ever. As Dave Hamburger explains, “We wanted the original name to celebrate at the time 45-years of Camaro, its status and importance”. But not much unlike their legal sparring with the Bridgestone/Firestone tire company, for the right to emblazon their early hopped-up Firebirds with the “Firehawk” graphic-a dispute over the Panther moniker arouse and not from GM/Chevy, but from a very unlikely plaintiff. Dave expands, “we first had to come to an agreement with De Tomaso in Italy, because Pantera, translated into English, obviously means Panther”. Needless to say, SLP won the day and the Panther was ready to stalk its prey once again.

Originally slated for a scant pride of 100 supercharged 560/585/600HP and 45-700HP examples in manual/automatic, coupe or convertible guise-SLPs badass cat was to be as rare as it was wild. Unique to the Panther was its black-only coat, with gold-trimmed engine covers, wheels, hood/decklid/rear spoiler graphics, badging and gold front/rear bowties.

On top of the given power-making components, which had required-purring through the Loud Mouth II axle-back exhaust-Panthers were adorned with many ZL options as standard. This included SLPs ZL1-style front fascia, five-spoke 20×8 front and 20×9 rear Gold Line black chrome wheels, SLP high lip rear spoiler and the Sport Suspension Springs.

For SLPs LS7-powered 700HP Panther, all-in was the name of the game, as the top cat was set-up for ultimate performance with even more standardized optional equipment. This meant a modified fuel pump increased flow to the 700-strong cavalry and SLP’s larger diameter sway bars, coilover springs/shocks (sport suspension delete), and Brembo GT front/rear disc brakes put it all to the pavement and stop it on a dime.

Appearance wise, the 700HP Panther pronounced its supremacy with SLP’s RTM functional scooped hood (2012/’13), or modified heat extractor hood with carbon fiber and gold accent stripes/gold-painted vents (2014/’15), tall rear spoiler/graphics (‘12/’13)-graphics-only for (‘14/’15), SLP’s full front fascia with heritage-style grille and front splitter and SLP’s rear diffuser(‘12/’13) with integrated outlets and black chrome tips. The final testament to the big Panthers prowess were its specific paws. Similar but darker then the mighty ZL1, the king cat claws the road, via massive 20×10 front and 20×11 rear forged satin black finished, gold-accented wheels wrapped in meaty Michelin Super Sport rubber.

TRACK TESTED AND SLP IMPROVED: ZL/PANTHER 1LE

From its clandestine SCCA Showroom Stock racing origins and subsequent, road-ripping resume through the fourth-gen F-body’s tenure, GM’s 1LE package has built a sterling, if not secretive, reputation as the enthusiast’s choice for hardcore handling. For 2013, Chevrolet fitted the fifth-gen Camaro SS with a new version of the famed corner-carving componentry and, as always, SLP was ready, offering its 2014/’15 V8 naturally-aspirated and supercharged ZLs and Panthers with the new suspension kit.

From the factory, the SS 1LE came equipped with its own specific suspension (FE6), superior to a normal SS (FE4) and utilizing many pieces from Chevy’s ZL1 (FE5). Not touching the 426 hp LS3 under its specific flat black wrapped bonnet (supposedly to reduce glare on the track-and look badass), the 1LE was meant to be a razor sharp handling, track-ready machine with street manners.

SS 1LEs came stick-only, wielded by a close ratio (MM6) TR6060 6-speed transmission with nasty 3.91 gears. Borrowing from its big brother, the 1LE employs ZL1 wheel bearings, toe links, rear shock mounts, a race-derived fuel pump with additional pick-ups and the new (for ’13) electric power steering, controlled by a ZL1-sourced micro fiber-covered flat-bottom steering wheel and short throw shifter.

1LE specifics include a huge 27mm front sway bar taking point along with a 28mm rear piece, (25mm front/28mm rear are used in the ZL1) specifically-tuned monotube rear dampers (twin-tube in the SS and Magnetic Ride in the ZL1), a strut tower brace, front splitter and rear spoiler. Further enhancing its focused point and shoot abilities, the 1LE wears the ZL1’s beautiful black forged wheels, 20×10 front and 20x11s out back but wraps all four in the ZL1’s 285/35/ZR20 Goodyear Eagle Super Car G:2 front tires. And as for braking, the 1LE uses a balanced quartet of Brembo 4-piston binders at each corner just like the SS (but red), clamping 14-inch front and 14.4-inch rear rotors.

For $3,500, the 1LE package was a cost-effective way to achieve the track prowess, if not overall performance of its 505-horse LS7-equipped sibling the 2014/’15 Z/28, but when teamed with SLPs power-increasing ZL/Panther packages–especially those with the TVS blower–all bets were off.

Considering the special nature of the (FE6) suspension, ZL/Panther 1LEs still enjoyed most standard/optional SLP features, but with some very specific rule changes. As Dave Hamburger expands, since 1LE already came with heavy-duty half shafts and its own specific sway bars and springs, these options were deemed not available (N/A on 1LE) in SLP’s brochure. However, if an owner chose to deviate from 1LE-FE6, the more aggressive SLP Coil-Over Spring/Shock package was still available. And since most 1LEs were ordered and delivered with a dual-mode exhaust, SLP’s axle back, was also N/A and not necessary.

Last but certainly not least, wheel setups for ZL/Panther-1LEs were unique. For ZL-1LEs, the 20×8 front and 20×9 rear black chrome Red Line wheels remained optional, as was an SLP-added painted red line and ZL center cap for the stock 1LE rollers. For all Panther-1LEs except 700HP, which got its exclusive forged black satin-finished and gold trimmed 20x10s and 20x11s. The 20×8 and 20×9 black chrome gold-lines with Panther center caps were standard, with the factory forged 1LE rims returned to the dealer.

IN THE BOOKS: CONCLUSION

With the fifth-gen ZL/Panther Camaros, SLP once again did what they had always done best in taking Chevy’s already potent machine and making it even better. Whether naturally-aspirated or supercharged, with race-inspired suspension/braking, aggressive exhausts, unique performance-enhancing body components, track-ready rubber and interior/exterior retro styling cues with modern muscle car flair–they express the apex of form, function and Camaro heritage.

Comprising a rare 1,200 examples, they’re already collector classics, joining the exclusive ranks of yester-years and modern variants that have added to the legendary status of Chevrolet’s iconic pony car. It’s safe to say, SLP’s efforts to maximize Chevy’s original equipment with its impressive ZLs/Panthers most certainly succeeded in spades.

About the author

Andrew Nussbaum

Pontiac possessed by Smokey and the Bandit at 6 years old, and cultivated through the '80s by GTAs, IROCS and Grand Nationals, Andrew hails from Queens NY and has been writing freelance for ten years.
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