The last time we talked to Al Oppenheiser he set the world on fire with the incredible ZL-1. Then the 1-LE was introduced, and now, to prove that Chevrolet is the performance car manufacturer, it has re-launched the grand-daddy of all nameplates in our opinion, for road racing and Chevrolet, the Z/28. The chief engineer of the Z/28 gives us a deep dive into the car, how it came to life, and what to expect when you drive it. Welcome to Chevy Hardcore’s “Five Questions” with Al Oppenheiser.
Chevy Hardcore: Tell us about the significance of the new Z/28 to Chevrolet performance.
Al Oppenheiser: “The most asked questions since we launched the new car in 2009 were: Where is the Z/28? When are you coming out with a Z/28? Why didn’t you call the ZL-1 the Z/28? Why didn’t you call the 1-LE the Z/28? As I have said before, we are never done with performance. Have faith. We are never done making the car better, and this was the car that we knew was coming. The car itself had to be deserving of the historic Z/28 name. This one definitely is deserving. I’m telling you, this will be a car like no other that you have ever driven.”
CHC: What are some of the performance highlights, especially aerodynamics, of the new car that sets the Z/28 apart from all other Camaros?
AO: “If you start with an SS, which is our 426 V-8, we have gone after the things that make the car go around the track faster – Go, Stop and Turn are our three mottos. The Go is the naturally aspirated LS-7 plucked right out of the Corvette. These are hand-built at the Wixom Performance Build Center and have no shortage of power.
“We also set the team on a mission to put the car on a diet, and have set a goal to take at least 100 pounds out of the standard SS, which is more than 300 pounds lighter than a ZL-1. We are not done yet, but we have already met our goal of removing at least 100 pounds from the car. We have also done things like added carbon ceramic brakes on 19-inch 305-series tires, front and rear. The overall unsprung mass at each corner is lighter. We have also down-gauged the thickness of the back windshield; and we redesigned the rear seat, using lighter weight materials, instead of removing it.
We have also done some things that you should do with a Z/28 track car. We have taken the air conditioning out of it. You have to order that special. It does not come with air conditioning standard and it does not come with an audio system standard.
We’ve got one speaker in the car and the only reason that we have one speaker in the car is because you need a speaker to have the seat belt chime audible to the driver. You can option up, if you desire, the air conditioning and a base radio system. We have been very strategic in where we have taken mass out of the car.
You mentioned aerodynamics. The car has a unique front splitter, different from the ZL-1. We have lowered the ride height, so that specific rocker panels, rear fascia, and rear spoiler in the car – at some point when we tell you how much, it will knock your socks off how much down force this car makes.”
CHC: Obviously with the LSA making 580 horsepower, was there a strategy behind picking the normally aspirated LS-7 for the Z/28 versus the already 580 horsepower available in the ZL-1?
AO: “Absolutely, that goes back to the question, ‘Why didn’t you call the ZL-1 a Z/28’? As you know the ZL-1 harkened back to the ‘69 aluminum block ZL-1 that we did. It had the highest horsepower that was in a Chevrolet at the time. We thought that a supercharged aluminum-block, high-horsepower engine was more deserving of a ZL-1 name, not a historical Z/28 name. So, naturally aspirated and the 427, it just equates back to what a road racing car should be, and not to take anything away from the ZL-1, but if it were to stand true to the Z/28 name, a supercharged engine didn’t belong under the hood.”
CHC: Speaking again of power-to-weight ratio as sort of that all-mighty watermark of performance, are there any other ways that Chevrolet could see shaving weight from the Z/28 in the future models?
AO: “Absolutely, as I mentioned, our goal was 100 pounds and have already exceeded that. We’re approximately a year away from bringing it into production, so we’re not done yet. We are always looking for lightweight materials. To give you reference in terms of lap time, you would have to remove 250 pounds to get another second on the track and have to weigh that against another tenth of a G in lateral acceleration. I can get that same second on the track.
So you have to weigh where you are going to get your lap time down and these P-ZERO Trafeo R tires are capable of a 1.05 g-max sustained lateral acceleration and we’ve already seen decel’s of 1.5 g, so we’re getting better lap times in other ways. But the 100 pounds definitely helps the lap time. We took significant chunks out as opposed to an ounce here and there, helping us on the track.”
CHC: One last question. We thought it was interesting that instead of going with the magnetic ride such as on, say the ZL-1, you went with not only a dual adjustable shock but a true racing style four-way adjustable shock. Is this technology you chose again specifically for the Z/28 or was it that you really wanted to differentiate the two cars?
AO: “We definitely picked this specifically for this application. Multimatic is the company we’re working with. They are well known for their ability to set up dampers for racing vehicles and we felt that the limitations of the mono-tubes that we’ve got in our 1-LE and, of course, the MR, while it’s awesome on the ZL-1, we didn’t feel it belonged in a Z/28 so we did go with the adjustable dampers that are in the Z-28. They’re truly, again, trying to stay with the heritage of the car. They are track designed specifically for the Z-28.”
Bonus: Do you think that soon after the production launch of the new Z-28 we will see parts and pieces of this car making its way onto scratch built cars, or in some way a program that might mimic in some way the COPO program?
AO: “That’s a great question. We’ve had that debate all the way up through GM President Mark Reuss on whether or not we want to see clones driving around on the streets, and we’ve made the decision that since offering performance parts helps sell Camaros, we’ve got a great performance parts team now under Vice President, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports Jim Campbell, who is growing that very dynamic industry.
“You will see Z/28 performance parts available for other Camaros and you know specifically as far as suspension, drift, and so on, you’re going to see those parts. Some of the parts are kind of integrated into the body but we definitely plan on allowing customers to have the opportunity to get ahold of some Z/28 parts for their car.”
Thanks again to Al Oppenheiser for his time with Chevy Hardcore. This has been another segment of “Five Questions.” Stay tuned for more!