Hanging around racetracks with the folks at Chevrolet is beginning to be a bit of a SEMA tradition for me. Last year, I found myself learning to drag race with near-COPO levels of awesomeness at Las Vegas Speedway; this year it's Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch with a few tricked-out Colorado midsize pickups and a slew of Camaro coupes brandishing all manner of performance parts. Desert trails and hot laps; if there's a better way to kick off the weirdest auto show on the calendar, I'd like to hear it.
Desert trails and hot laps; if there's a better way to kick off SEMA I'd like to hear it.
Chevy had its performance parts team on hand to show off how go-fast parts from the Camaro 1LE and Z/28 could be integrated onto a stock SS. Not to be out done, accessories designers for the Colorado were there to show off the slick new GearOn system for the pickup.
When the trail dust had settled, I found some real added usefulness from the truck accessories and seriously impressive performance from a selection of tuned pony cars.
As befits the occasion of the biggest automotive aftermarket industry event of the year, Chevy is using SEMA as a big stage to announce some high-profile additions to its performance parts catalog. This year, that means pulling the best bits from its Camaro SS 1LE model, as well as the track-destroying Z/28.
Chevy pulled the best bits from its Camaro SS 1LE model, as well as the track-destroying Z/28.
The parts work perfectly with all 2010-2015 Camaro SS models (5th-gen cars), and they've been engineered and validated by the same teams that design the car in the first place. That's good for two reasons: first, it allows the automaker to warranty every part that it sells. Secondly, it means Chevy can stand behind the vehicle warranty for cars with dealer-installed "street-level" parts – those that are non-racing specific.
For me, though, the best part was seeing what the addition of the bits and pieces did for the Camaro's performance on the track. The company brought along some stock Camaro SS models to serve as a baseline, which I then followed with drives in what Chevy called its Ultimate Street Camaro SS and the Ultimate Track Camaro SS.
The Ultimate Street car was modified with dozens of performance parts and accessories, but the most impactful of the bunch were carryovers from the 1LE model. Specifically, the 1LE suspension, tower brace and brakes transforms the SS from a nice-handling car around the 1.5-mile Spring Mountain north track, to a razor-sharp driving tool. The Camaro turned in faster and cornered flatter with this setup, and the sticky Goodyear Eagle F1 tires were a godsend, as well.
It's wild to think that the super sophisticated Z/28 suspension is now available in the aftermarket.
The Ultimate Track Camaro SS was yet another step in the racy direction. While it lacked the 7.0-liter, 505-horsepower LS7 of the Z/28, the Ultimate Track tune did boast revised heads and a hotter camshaft, upping output by about 40 hp. With a higher, 7,000-rpm redline, the big V8 was a pleasure to wring out, too.
But, it was the car's underpinnings that made the biggest difference. It's wild to think that the super sophisticated Z/28 suspension is now available in the aftermarket. The system uses spool-valve dampers for excellent bump and rebound response, and so-equipped, the Camaro flattened out the hilly parts of the track as if it were a racing steamroller. The helical limited-slip differential is also a tremendous upgrade, allowing me to tighten my line just past the apex of a few aggressive corners, then put the power down with hysterical efficiency. The Ultimate Track tune may not quite live up to the Z/28 legend, but I'd feel comfortable calling it the Z/27 if it were mine.
Unfortunately I didn't have access to the full official pricing for the performance parts I tested – obviously a critical factor in this dollar-sensitive aftermarket world – but I did get some specifics about the Ultimate Track car parts. Chevy estimates that build would cost just under $40,000 in total for parts only, assuming you start with a used 1LE for about $26,500 (close to the book value). That number includes $2,732 for the diff and $750 for the diff cooler, $3,876 for the Z/28 suspension, $2,143 for the exhaust and adapter and $1,287 for the power upgrade (cam and heads).
My modest 10-mile round-trip into the desert in the great-looking Colorado work truck was less exciting than my half-dozen laps in those Camaros, but it's fair to say that the GearOn system works as advertised.
A wink and a nudge leads me to believe that the roll bar will be in production soon.
GearOn adds to the suite of accessories that Chevy calls "fundamental" – bed covers, assist steps and the like – with a system of cross rails, bed dividers and racks that increase versatility.
My particular tester, properly coated in Nevada dust after driving over rocks and hills, also wore a roll bar in the back that Chevy is still calling a prototype... at least on the record. A wink and a nudge leads me to believe that the roll bar will be in production soon, and that the Goodyear DuraTrac off-road tires you see there will be offered from Chevy dealers, as well.
I should mention that I wasn't able to directly compare the GearOn parts to any of the mainline aftermarket competition, so I'm not positive how it stacks up to aftermarket competition. Also, pricing is still unclear. But at first blush, the stuff works well and looks cool in a tough-truck kind of way.
With these additions to Camaro and Colorado, for performance and practicality, Chevy is really trying to take a further step into the $33-billion aftermarket marketplace. I'd say its offering of factory-backed, engineer-vetted products looks tempting, should the urge to modify your Bowtie strike.