After Chevy Camaro production ended in 2002, GM was left was a pony-car-sized hole in its lineup for the first time since the car’s September 1966 debut. When the fifth-generation car returned in 2010 with concept car looks and a chassis borrowed from GM’s Australian brand Holden, the marketplace welcomed it with open checkbooks. At that point, few if any could guess that from that seed would germinate one of the most supremely impressive production track cars in recent memory—the Camaro Z/28. And right now, they’re getting just cheap enough to make you peek at that rainy day fund.
Initially the LS3-powered SS was the alpha dog of the Camaro lineup, but engineer Al Oppenheiser and the rest of the car’s development team never stopped working on higher-performance versions to turn up the wick. Development mules started appearing, with the undeniable whine of a supercharger providing the soundtrack. Rumors pinged across the automotive blogosphere that this high-powered beast would be the new Z/28, and maybe that was the plan at one point.
Either way, the supercharged car became the Camaro ZL1, marking the return of an iconic Camaro name that stood for a big engine, big power, and dragstrip dominance. Considering it packed a 580-horsepower supercharged LSA V-8, it was a fitting powertrain for the job. Still, GM’s engineers continued to hone Camaro’s chassis, releasing the 1LE handling package for the SS. The Camaro SS 1LE was a worthy successor to the track-tuned third- and fourth-generation Camaros that came before.
Leading up to the 2014 model year, the sixth-generation Camaro was just over the horizon, and many thought that GM had already wrung the last bit of performance form the Camaro’s chassis. Chevrolet proved them wrong, unleashing a delicious romp of a swan-song for the fifth-generation Camaro—the Z/28. Track-focused to the core, the Camaro Z/28 employed a mesmerizing 505-horsepower, 7.0-liter naturally aspirated LS7 V-8. Previously, this mammoth of a motor had only been used in the U.S. in the C6-generation Corvette Z06.
The Z/28 wasn’t all engine, either—far from it. 305-series Pirelli Trofeo R tires on all corners provide unbelievable grip, despite being slightly terrifying in the wet. Yep, 305-mm-wide tires up front as well. But that’s not all. At the time of its launch, the Z/28 was only the second production car to use dynamic spool-valve dampers, made by Multimatic and made famous by dominating Le Mans and Formula One racing. The first use was on Aston Martin’s limited production One-77; they are currently used on the Ford GT and Chevy Colorado ZR2. Massive carbon-ceramic brakes were also standard and helped the Z/28 charge deep into corners and brake late. Carbon-ceramic brakes haven’t been used in any other Camaro to date, even the new ZL1 1LE.
It was offered exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission. Many creature comforts were sacrificed to lower the curb weight. It had no standard stereo, just a single speaker to run warning chimes. Air conditioning wasn’t standard either. Chevy left out much of the of Camaro’s default sound deadening materials. However, unlike the track version of the ZL1's rival, the Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca, the Camaro packed a rear seat for 2+2 cruising off the track (with the wire frames under the rear seat padding removed for weight savings at the expense of some thigh support).
Automotive publications heaped praise on the Z/28. It earned the title of Motor Trend’s Best Driver’s Car for 2014 and was an Automobile All-Star for 2015. You couldn’t open up an enthusiast title without seeing track reviews of the 7.0-liter screamer. Chevrolet announced a Nürburgring lap time of 7:37.47, which at the time beat the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, Ferrari 430 Scuderia, and Lexus LFA. Oh, and did we mention that lap time was set with wet portions of track? Oppenheiser said that based on telemetry the Z/28 could have done the deed in as much as six seconds faster with dry conditions.
When new, the Z/28 carried an MSRP of $75,000, including the destination fee. It was a bargain for the kind of car that could claw through corners with 1.19 g of lateral acceleration and put down lap times that would embarrass V-12 exotics costing more than four times as much. But that price landed it $20,000 into Corvette Stingray territory. The 2014 Corvette was all new and very attractive for its seventh generation, bringing with it a 455-hp LT1 V-8 engine, an intelligent limited-slip rear differential, superb weight balance thanks to its rear-mounted transmission, and the prestige of being at the top of the Chevrolet food chain. It was, in short, a sexier and much more civilized ride for a daily driver, making the Z/28 look like a one-trick track pony. Things got harder for the Z/28 when 2015 brought the 650-horsepower Corvette Z06 starting at $78,000. Z/28s lingered on the lots at Chevy showrooms.
Now that they’ve depreciated quite a bit, we asked our valuation specialists what they think about the timing of purchasing a 2014 or 2015 Camaro Z/28. “While the fifth-generation Z/28 was well-intentioned and an objectively excellent performance car, GM missed the mark,” noted valuation data support specialist Greg Ingold. “Given the price bracket this car was in at $75,000 before any dealer markups, the car was just too hardcore for the pockets deep enough to buy one. The Z/28 was playing in the same sandbox as the BMW M3 and M4, Corvette Z06, and low-end Dodge Vipers. All of which are a bit less harsh. That’s some serious pedigree to try and compete with for the same money but with fewer creature comforts to offer.” Ingold also mentioned that there doesn’t seem to be as much of a cult following with the Z/28 as you’d think, which is odd considering its crazy performance and limited production of only 1807 copies over two model years.
When we looked at the data from quotes and auction sales, it seems that the Camaro Z/28 depreciated about $6000 on average over the last year and might be poised to continue at that rate. There are lots of examples to be had right at $50,000, with a few examples just under $40,000, and some likely lower at dealer auctions. If a no-nonsense naturally aspirated track weapon is your idea of a good time, you might want to act soon. As Ingold added, “I think anyone interested in buying one should do so in the next couple years. At least they won’t be any cheaper, and aside from the carbon ceramic brakes, the Z/28 is bound to be cheaper to maintain than many of the other cars it is competing with.”
As manufacturers move to smaller-displacement turbocharged engines, it might not be too long before a 7.0-liter V-8 seems like a very exotic piece of machinery and collectors realize what a special machine the fifth-generation Chevy Camaro Z/28 truly was.