There are a couple of salient points about the new Chevrolet Camaro that are inescapable. First, it has the looks that kill. And whether or not you dig the Camaro’s aesthetics, you can’t deny it stands out from the crowd. Actually, that’s not the right way to put it – a new Camaro in a mall parking lot is like an economists’ convention crashed by Kiss.However, much like the infamous New York rock band that always looked mean and scary but actually wrote some pretty pop-centric stuff, the Camaro might look like a sports car, but it’s not. Sure, in SS trim you get General Motors’ awesome LS3 6.2-liter V8 and all the power that entails (426 horsepower, 420 lb-ft of torque), but the choppy suspension and near-two-ton bulk drag the Camaro down from the sports car it could be. And if the recently reborn for 2011 Mustang GT is any indication, the sports car it should be.But what if… What if you could change the suspension, reduce unsprung weight and up the power to deal with the Camaro’s bulk? What would you have then? Could some serious tuning turn the Camaro into a serious sports car? Legendary Corvette tuner Callaway has taken on just that task with their new SC572 (manual) and SC552 (automatic) new age ponies. We drove ’em both, and the results are… jump.
First, a word about the names. Muscle car fans are well aware that you only get 426 horsepower from the Camaro SS if you order the manual version. The automatic Camaro SS ships with “just” 400 hp. The reason why might come as a shock to some, but the automatic SS ships not with the Corvette-sourced LS3, but instead the LS3-based L99, essentially an LS3 with variable valve-timing and cylinder deactivation. As such, the Callaway SC572 is based on the LS3 and with the help of a supercharger makes 572 hp, while the Callaway SC552 uses a supercharged L99 and makes “only” 552 ponies. Yeah, we’re smirking, too.
What a difference a blower makes. As mentioned, horsepower is up by 146 ponies in the SC572 and torque rises by 121 to net 541 lb-ft. That’s beyond tire-shredding power and close to what the long-rumored LSA-stuffed Z28 Camaro would bring to the performance table, if not a smidge more. However, we wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Callaway’s horsepower rating is a bit on the conservative side. The SC572 pulls and pulls hard, delivering the kind of straight-line acceleration that you want from anything with four wheels. The numbers bear this out: the run from 0-60 mph happens in a supercar quick 3.9 seconds and Callaway claims the quarter-mile is dispatched in a Shelby GT500-smacking 11.9 seconds at 120 mph. The forward oomph is simply wonderful.
As is the shifter. In the SC572 we drove, Callaway wisely replaced the balky, inaccurate stock shifter with a short-throw setup. Then it did a really smart thing and replaced the cartoony (and gigantic) stock knob with the unit from a Corvette. Talk about night and day. The shifts are quick, notchy and tight – exactly what’s needed in a serious performance car. Even if you have no interest in what Callaway’s selling, any current Camaro owners out there would be crazy not to install this short throw kit in their rides.Back to the serious performance car part. Again, and not to beat on the ailing horse, the new Chevy Camaro just doesn’t handle as well as it should. There’s a rumor floating around auto-journo circles that after the negative press about the Camaro’s handling at launch, Chevy turned to a third party suspension expert to see if a quick-fix to the Camaro’s suspension issues could be sorted out. According to said rumor, the engineer took the Camaro out for exactly one lap, pulled in and said something to the effect of, “Sorry, but you built a crap car.” Even if that’s nothing but urban legend, turning a sedan (the 2010 Camaro is based on the Pontiac G8’s Australian-designed chassis) into proper sports coupe isn’t as easy as it sounds. As Callaway general manager (and Reeves’ son) Pete Callaway explained to us, Callaway is interested in a total engineering solution, and not just a geezed up motor.
Luckily for us and Callaway, their brand-new 20,000 square foot factory happens to be right next door to Eibach. As such, the SC572 is loaded front and rear with Eibach suspension pieces. The results are spellbinding. Gone is the floaty, imprecise near-wafting of the stock car. Instead the SC572’s steering is tight, direct and even provides some feedback. Specifically, you’re able to dial in the correct amount of lock and sit in amazement as the SC572 tracks true to the course you’ve dictated. Across tight switchbacks – the kind of back-to-back turns that overwhelm and flummox the stock suspension – the SC572 is not only happy, but eager to shift its formidable weight back and forth. As in any nose-heavy vehicle, the tendency is to initially understeer, however, a well-planted rear-end and some judicious use of the throttle keep the car planted and tracking true. It’s awesome, really, especially considering what Callaway had as a starting point. The ride’s even pretty good, which is another point of amazement when you realize how savage the SC572 can be when you fully open the taps. In case you were wondering, yes, Callaway did see fit to give the SC572 some serious stoppers: six-piston calipers clamping onto huge 15-inch rotors in front and four-piston calipers on 14-inch rotors at the rear. And yeah, they work as good as the specs would suggest.We also drove the Callaway SC552, an automatic rendition of Callaway’s mega-Camaro. Because the Roots-style TVS2300 supercharger is blowing air into GM’s L99, the package produces 20 less horsepower (552 hp) though the torque figure (541 lb-ft) remains the same. The other big difference between the SC572 and SC552 is the suspension. Specifically, the SC572 comes with fixed dampers while the red SC552 we took out features double-adjustable (both compression and rebound) dampers at all four corners.
Even though 20 ponies among friends shouldn’t be noticeable, it quickly became apparent that the SC552 just didn’t have the brain pan-shattering acceleration that the manny tranny equipped SC572 has in spades. Now we’re not going to claim that our butt-ometer is so finely tuned as to pick out this seemingly minor discrepancy. Instead, we’ll blame it on A) the relatively slow-shifting GM slushbox and B) the less furious nature of the L99 when compared to the the fiercer LS3. That said, the SC552 is still wicked fast. It’s just that we drove the cars back-to-back and the automatic version sure felt slower. But isn’t that always the case?As for the adjustable suspension, the way Callaway had the SC552 configured didn’t come across as laser-precise as the non-adjustable SC572. Again, the SC572 is the best handling new Camaro we’ve ever driven. Of course, given time we’re sure a very similar (if not identical) tune could be dialed in, but the fixed dampers are so good out of the box we’re left wondering why you’d bother. Forced to stereotype the two cars, the SC572 is a sports car. Psychotically fast, yet with impressively sane handling to go with all the gumption. Plus you get that super-sweet shifter. The SC552, then, is the muscle car. Fast enough to win 99.99-percent of all red light encounters, yet a little sloppy when the going gets twisty. But, hey, life is all about choices.