2014 SLP Panther Camaro: I'd Buy It Over a ZL1
June 18, 2014
I've never been a big fan of the 5th generation Chevy Camaro. I don't really love its cartoonish looks, arrow-slit front window, gimmicky interior or its truck-like powertrain in the SS version. (The V6 version isn't worth discussing. It's all Mustang all day there.)
But then I drove a ZL1. Turns out, all the Camaro needed was a supercharged V8 that would fry the rear tires if you looked at the gas pedal funny.
The ZL1 was fast, controllable, comfortable, made cool noises, and generally made me want to go for long drives where the tires came back all melty and feathered. That car was fun. That car made me happy. Our long-term 2014 SLP Panther is all that and then some.
I may be biased here. See, I was raised in New England where the car scene was dreadful. (Though one BMW tuner had a slick McLaren F1 and a customer with an F1 LM, but that's for another day...) The cars on the road were, for the most part, made by Subaru, Saab and General Motors. Things had 4/AWD and were equal parts rust and indifference.
An import scene tried and failed. Exotics roamed Boston, but were just showpieces. The cars that were loved were American and most had V8s. There were a couple Chevelles, some Mustangs, a spattering of Mopars (my neighbor had a Petty-blue Road Runner Super Bird that I never appreciated as a youngin') and some truly frightening Grand Nationals running 12s or low 13s...which at the time was nutty.
But what really caught my still unlicensed eye were the fourth-generation Pontiac SLP Firehawks. Nothing, not even the 9C1/Police Interceptor cop cars had more mythical misinformation behind them. The Firewhawks surely had 400-450 hp (again, for the time, this was an insane number). They'd run 12s on street tires. The exhaust was so loud it was illegal. It would outrun a ZR1 Corvette. It was a racecar.
There were some nuggets of truth here: The car sure was loud and it would beat a ZR1 Corvette in a straight line according to tests at the time. But it only had 315 horsepower and ran something like a mid/low 13. But hard numbers and reality don't really matter when you run up on one at a stop light, burbling away, fat tires poking out of the fenders a little, Firehawk script subtly waiting for those in the know to notice.
They were always black. They were always clean. And they were always driven by guys who would do a burnout if you just asked the right way. Meaning, if you asked at all. Or gave them the thumbs up. Or looked at them. Or pulled up next to them. Pretty much if they were stopped, there was going to be a burnout and then a pair of red taillights sinking off through the trees.
I wanted one then and I still kind of do.
Our SLP Panther does away with the subtlety of those early cars, but still retains the cool. It's louder than a ZL1 inside and out. Boring people would call it too loud. The ZL Short Throw Shifter is better than the stock one out on the streets — that 1-2 shift at full whack is a thing of beauty. And finally, I like the supercharged LS3 more than I like the supercharged LSA in the ZL1. The LS3 here has a higher rev-limiter (even if it does crash into it annoyingly hard) and feels zingier (technical term) than the LSA. Oh, and in our testing the Panther outran the ZL1 turning in a 12.5-second quarter mile at 116.0 compared to the ZL1's 12.7 @ 114.7.
Our Panther wears a $67,020 sticker price as equipped while a similar ZL1 will run you $63,435. $4,000 isn't an insubstantial difference, but "cool" doesn't fit on a balance sheet and if it did, it'd be worth more than $4K.
Mike Magrath, Features Editor