When Multiple Personality is a Good Thing
By Barry Winfield, Contributor
Published May 6, 2010
As fast as the Chevrolet Camaro moves off the showroom floor, it’s no wonder special aftermarket versions pop up in every roll-up rental workshop in the country. But here’s the deadly little secret, children: Hardly any of these cars is street-legal.
Want to know why? Because the stock Camaro V8 has a few pieces that are too sophisticated for hop-up hacks and torqued-down tuners. Remove or modify these bits and you’ve altered the car’s emissions control system.
That’s what makes the 2010 Callaway Cars SC572 Camaro SS L99 different from the typical brain-dead, street-illegal tuner car. First, it’s legal. And second, you can drive it every day, because it’s in a sophisticated state of engine and chassis tune. It even has an automatic transmission.
The Callaway Cars Concept
Changing a car’s basic emissions profile means re-certifying it, and you don’t want to go there. As an EPA-certified small manufacturer and an approved vehicle partner of General Motors, Callaway Cars did not want to go there either. Reeves Callaway figures that the market is ready for a Camaro that punches out big power, has the necessary chassis control when corners loom at big speed, and yet can chill back down to a sweet-natured puppy. You can even drive the 2010 Callaway Cars SC572 Camaro SS L99 to work. Did we mention that it has an automatic transmission?
The idea for the 2010 Callaway Cars SC572 Camaro SS L99 didn’t just arrive in a champagne-fueled hallucination. Reeves Callaway has been doing business at Callaway Cars since 1977 with his specialty Corvettes (among other things) like the legendary 1988 Callaway Sledgehammer, so he’s been collecting data about his cars and their owners for some time. Turns out that Callaway owners have fewer peeves with Callaway cars than drivers of GM’s stock vehicles. GM sees this as an indication that Callaway owners are GM’s best customers, so it’s given Callaway Cars a backstage pass to not only its development programs but also its dealer body.
That’s why the 2010 Callaway Cars SC572 Camaro SS L99 is sold through Chevrolet dealers. Not every dealer, mind you, just enough of them to make the cars exclusive. The cars vary in specification according to owner preference (both manual-transmission and automatic-transmission cars are available, for starters), yet each car carries a 36-month/36,000-mile warranty. Each car also retains most of GM’s hard-won emissions control technology, which includes both the stock catalytic convertors and the stock airbox with its special pad that cuts evaporative emissions when the car is switched off — key items that your local DMV knows all about, we assure you.
The Supercharged Formula
Let’s start with the engine, shall we? Or more properly the four-lobe Eaton TVS2300 supercharger, a Roots-type blower that has made supercharging the engine-tuner’s friend.
The supercharger’s 7 psi of boost wakes up this car’s L99 V8. The L99 V8 is the engine that Chevy specifies for the Camaro SS with an automatic transmission, while the LS3 V8 is specified for the Camaro SS with a manual transmission. The stock L99 is rated at 400 horsepower at 5,900 rpm and 410 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm, while the LS3 makes 426 hp at 5,900 rpm and 420 lb-ft of torque at 4,600 rpm. The L99 has a compression ratio of 10.4:1 instead of 10.7:1, plus it has cylinder deactivation electronics for better fuel economy, too.
The Camaro’s stock catalytic converters provide something of a challenge to Callaway’s performance-enhancing intentions, since they’re a little less than free-flowing. As a result, Callaway rates its LS3 V8 for 572 hp at 6,400 rpm and 541 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, while the L99 puts out 552 hp.
This isn’t headline-grabbing output, but Callaway is after something else here, trying to preserve the Camaro’s balanced personality by enhancing the car’s original charms rather than going for a fire-breathing transmogrification.
The Right Stance, the Right Attitude
This red car sits just about in the center of Callaway’s perceived sweet spot of Camaro performance. The heart of the basic conversion is the Eaton supercharger, its air-to-water intercooler, and the necessary electronic and plumbing upgrades (a $16,990 package). This car also wears Callaway’s coil-over suspension package with double-adjustable stainless-steel dampers ($4,990). In addition the Callaway cast-aluminum wheels ($2,995) really lighten the appearance of the Camaro’s somewhat monolithic profile.
Matched with linear-rate Eibach springs that are stiffer in front by 36 percent and in the rear by 25 percent, the monotube shocks offer 10 positions of adjustment for compression damping and seven positions of rebound damping. Callaway’s antiroll bars are fully 262 percent stiffer in front and 174 percent stiffer at the rear.
Despite its substantially stiffer suspension, this Callaway Camaro is still a pleasant partner on a long interstate trip, where it politely refrains from crashing across joints and ridges. The tires are original-spec Pirelli P Zeros, and other than singing lustily on certain concrete textures, they ride as well as they do on the stock Camaro. The payoff on the chassis investments comes when the road begins to wriggle. As the car digs deeper into its suspension travel, the springs become tauter, the shocks bite down, the bars flex and suddenly you’re driving a hard-edged sports car.
Sports Car Handling
The 2010 Callaway Cars SC572 Camaro SS L99 can make an impression as a sports car because it adds strict ride-motion control to an already stiff structure. No modifications were needed here; the GM Zeta platform remains impervious to any attempts at twisting or bending, and the worst of the bumps come through as a muted skateboard clatter. Steering that feels over-assisted and artificially light in the stock Camaro seems mysteriously to have acquired some heft. Not such a big mystery, it turns out. The car rides an inch lower and Callaway has changed the wheel offsets, thereby altering the scrub radius.
Through the slalom, the Callaway Camaro shows its goodness with a run of 68.4 mph, enabling you to make steering corrections with the throttle like no other Camaro — stock or aftermarket — that we’ve ever driven. The car’s balance on the skid pad is impressive, and while the 0.88g result is largely a function of the tires, the drivability of the Callaway SC572 is outstanding. Pete Callaway, the general manager of Callaway Cars West in Corona, California, tuned the suspension himself, and his training as an engineer and his experience on the racetrack are evident.
Another sudden shift in personality occurs when the throttle is flattened. The engine responds in midrange with the kind of muscular acceleration one might reasonably expect from a 6.2-liter V8, then abruptly hits the fast-forward button. There’s no sudden smack in the shoulder blades or anything, but the car is very soon traveling at rates you are not sure you asked for. A little request for some hurry-up on a freeway ramp now has a line of traffic backing up to you as if you pulled onto the wrong side of the freeway.A similar demand for passing power on the highway sees you running so hard past the slower cars that you need the brakes to get back in the lane. Our tests at the track produce a 4.3-second run from a standstill to 60 mph (4.0 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip), and the quarter-mile arrives in 12.4 seconds at 113.9 mph. This is even more impressive when you remember that we’re using the stock Pirelli P Zero tires.
When you’re getting the 2010 Callaway Cars SC572 Camaro SS L99 away from the starting line, there is some difficulty balancing the car between bogging and spinning, but it’s nothing we couldn’t take care of. And since this performance is very much in the same realm as other aftermarket Camaros that boast higher horsepower figures, a limited amount of available traction is evidently the common denominator here among all these cars.
Power for the Road
On the road the responsive six-speed automatic conspires with the muscular motor to provide effortless thrust any time you call for it. It can be deceptive, because the power is never abrupt or crude. With 541 lb-ft of torque, there’s a copious supply of jetlike propulsion on call. While cruising, it’s nice to know that the supercharger stands by on a bypass system when not needed (it is said to require just 0.3 hp to keep it in motion), which maximizes your fuel economy.
Considering the ease with which this car picks up speed, the Callaway Le Mans GT brake package, featuring components from StopTech, is a welcome addition. As you’d expect, you don’t see their impact in the car’s stopping distance from 60 mph, as the result of 109 feet is the same as another Camaro we tested that had the stock Brembo components. No, it is the improved resistance to fade that sets this expensive ($8,190) racing-specification brake kit with its high-tech calipers and massive rotors apart from lesser equipment.
Another costly accessory for this Camaro (it’s a showcar for Eibach springs, so it has all the good stuff) is the Callaway “CamAero” body kit, which includes a front splitter, extended rocker sills, rear aero diffuser and a wing on the rear deck. All these carbon-fiber body parts are made by Callaway using its clever vacuum-assisted molding technique, and they are beautiful pieces (as they need to be, since they’re stickered at $19,900 for the set). Meanwhile the hood features Callaway’s ZR1-style window that showcases the Eaton blower, a piece of real glass framed in carbon fiber that costs $3,950.
Plenty of Camaro hot rods have hit the street since the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS began rolling off the production line. But the number of them that can stay on the street with the sanction of the EPA is not so certain.
There’s no uncertainty about the 2010 Callaway Cars SC572 Camaro SS L99’s ability to stay on the street. That’s what happens when you build a car that can be purchased right off the floor of a Chevy dealer, complete with a warranty and financing and all that good stuff.
And this is also one such Camaro that you’ll want to keep on the street, because the combination of its sophisticated hardware and its automatic transmission makes it a car that’s for driving, not just burnouts.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.