Driving Nemo: 9-Second Stock Bottom End Sixth-Gen ZL1 Camaro

When Chevrolet designed and built the sixth-gen Camaro ZL1, they got it right. This car is a fantastic vehicle and is an absolute stunner on the autocross, road course, or drag strip. The supercharged 6.2-liter direct-injection engine cranks out an impressive 650 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 650 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm. While some enthusiasts weren’t happy about the automatic-only option, the car put down some blistering times, with a 0-60 time of 3.5-seconds and an 11.4-second 1/4-mile on factory Goodyear Eagle F1 tires. The official top speed was no slouch either as the ZL1 hit 198 mph. In stock form, this car is nothing short of spectacular. But, as you can imagine, when this car is modified for its intended use, it only gets better.

 

A few months back we headed out to a Street Car Takeover (SCT) event in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When we had a few moments to walk the pits, we couldn’t help but notice the Crush Orange ZL1, owned by SCT’s Justin Keith, that he calls Nemo. The car was stationed at the SCT trailer commanding the attention of people passing by. The body of the ZL1 was immaculate, as well as every other aspect of the vehicle, including the modifications. I located Justin talking to some of the racers about the day’s schedule and asked him about shooting the car. He was quick to pitch me the keys and told me “to get to work.” Without question, we hopped in the ZL1 and hit the ignition button as the car roared to life. The Camaro sounded tough, as the choppy cam let its presence know, but, at this point, I had no clue what mods were performed to the car.

Loaded with all of our camera gear, I put the car in drive and took off. We hadn’t been there long enough to scout a location, so I headed to the top end of the track away from everything. This was my first time in what I figured to be a heavily-modded ZL1, and it was interesting how mild-mannered it drove even with all of the modifications. We idled through the pits with stop-and-go type scenarios until we hit the road that would take us to the top end of the track. With the car up to speed, if it weren’t for the roll cage, cam, parachute, and Weld Racing wheels, this car could almost pass as a stock one because it drove so effortlessly. 

With the photos shot, we headed back to Justin to get all of the details on the Crush Orange ZL1 build. Justin said, ” The bottom-end of the 6.2 is still factory, but we’ve done a bunch of bolt-ons and in a short amount of time. In fact, it only took us two weeks to go from stock to the way you see it now.”

While the LT4 bottom-end was not touched, that’s about it. The factory heads were pulled off and sent to Frankenstein Engine Dynamics and reworked. Brian Tooley Racing (BTR) valve springs were used when the heads were reassembled. A Cordes Performance cam was installed in the short block along with a set of Johnson’s Performance Lifters while the engine was out for modification.

With the long block back together, it was time for the crew at Justin’s shop, Killer Performance out of Kansas City, to address the performance of the factory LT4 blower. A 2.3-inch upper pulley was mated to a 9.07-inch lower that’s used in conjunction with an ATI damper. This combination turns the stock blower to a tune of 26,000 rpm. Justin said, “Even with the pulley change, we’re still in spec and not over-spinning the unit.” The front snout was sent off to Jokerz Performance for porting, and upon its return was mated with a Nick Williams 103mm throttle body and a Roto-Fab Big Gulp air intake system. If you have an engine consuming massive amounts of air and fuel, you need to be able to move it efficiently with a good exhaust system, right? To our surprise, the exhaust system on the Camaro is stock except for the addition of a set of Kooks Headers, telling us the factory exhaust is much better than most think.

With a tune by Justune in Grain Valley, Missouri, the ZL1 made an impressive 830 horsepower at 6,400 rpm, and 850 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm at the wheels. The power is transferred through a stock GM 10L80e 10-speed automatic transmission and a factory 2.85:1 gear, with the OEM limited-slip differential.

 

For the suspension and brakes, Justin didn’t change much. A set of BMR Suspension lowering springs were utilized on the front and rear of the Camaro. The stock brakes were retained on the front while a set of Carlyle Racing sixth-gen Camaro 15-inch Pro-Kit conversion brakes were used on the back. The Weld Racing 18×5-inch front black S79 wheels, and 15×10 rears accent the Crush Orange nicely. Mickey Thompson (MT) Sportsman S/R 28×6.00-inch front tires handle steering duties while a set of M/T 275/60/15s ET Street Radial Pro rear tires keep the car glued under acceleration.

The only other mods for the sixth-gen are the addition of an RPM eight-point roll bar and a Stroud Saftey parachute. Even though this car is a relatively simple build, to do it in two weeks is nothing short of impressive.

At the time of the 9.50 pass, Justin was racing in less-than-ideal conditions for a boosted car, with 90-degree temperatures and a Density Altitude (DA) of 1,700-feet. Justin said, “The car has more in it, and I have plans to go faster. We’re going to add a Circle-D converter and install some new clutches in the transmission because we see a little bit of slip from 4th-5th gear in the data-logs. With these modifications, we’re hoping to go 9.20s at 15-pounds of boost.”

When asked why he bought a Camaro over some of the other cars on the market, Justin replied, “I’ve had Camaros my whole life. I’ve had a fourth-gen, and when the fifth-gens came out, I had to have one of those, too. It was a rowdy single-turbo car that I sold and then bought a sixth-gen. This is actually the second sixth-gen ZL1 that I have owned.” 

While we have owned several Camaros over the years, we have yet to own a sixth-gen. After driving Justin’s, we could definitely see one in our future. This car is the perfect balance of daily-driver and racecar to suit most performance enthusiasts’ needs. 

 

About the author

Brian Havins

A gearhead for life, Brian is obsessed with all things fast. Banging gears, turning wrenches, and praying while spraying are just a few of his favorite things.
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