2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible review: Love in the sun

The Camaro Convertible LZ1 looks great, sounds great and drives wonderfully.

Love in the sun with 580 horses

Our first drive with the potent and exciting Camaro ZL1 was less than desirable, but not because of the Camaro. Buckets of rain falling from the sky are not the conditions one wants while testing on a race track.  Our passionate reporter pressed on through difficult conditions to get a sense of this 580 horsepower monster. It was particularly difficult as he was on the track while other, less talented drivers were shedding all sorts of Camaro fenders, bumpers and sundry parts.

We were fortunate to have wonderfully clear skies and plenty of sun to experience the drop top Camaro ZL1 during our testing in western Michigan. From our base in Grand Rapids we traversed miles and miles of near empty country roads out to the resort town of South Haven, on the shores of Lake Michigan. What we found was the answer to the question; what do you get when you cut the top off of the most powerful Camaro ever produced? Well, you get one hell of a fun drive to South Haven and back.

Starting from a solid basis as the ZL1 coupe gave this convertible a huge leg up on the competition. The Camaro ZL1 has more power than any production Camaro ever produced. The ZL1 nomenclature comes from a legendary all-aluminum racing engine developed in the late 60’s and was installed in just sixty nine, 1969 Camaros. It was meant to and became a vehicle achieving mythical status. Which, we are sure is going to be the fate of this Camaro.

The interior is sporty with plenty of gauges to keep take of what is going on under the hood.

This ZL1 comes right out of the Chevy factory with 580, adrenalin pumping, horsepower and 556 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers sum up to power that will not only get your attention, and capture your heart; they will make everyone who sees you driving this Camaro jealous.

It is this appeal that brought Chevrolet to build the Camaro ZL1 Convertible. If you are going to be seen you must be seen in full view. They wanted to build an American classic automobile that will match and exceed that of many European icon vehicles. With 580-hp the ZL1 bests the 2012 Aston Martin DB9 Volante’s 470-hp, 2012 Mercedes SL63’s 518-hp and even Porsche’s 530-hp 911 Turbo. This Camaro can keep some pretty impressive company. Well actually leave them in the dust.

Two transmissions are available for the ZL1 Convertible, both with six-speeds. While we prefer the manual gear box, the automatic with its manual-mode steering wheel mounted paddle shifters comes in an awfully close second. The solid feel of the manual shift lever impresses. In some ways it betters one of our favorites, the Porsche 911 Carrera. The Camaro ZL1 truly is the first American muscle car that has created such smoothness and precision through all gears.

If an automatic transmission makes sense for your life style, be assured you will not be disappointed in the 6L90 automatic used in the Camaro ZL1. Not only does the ZL1 feature shift paddles for manual gear selection, the car also has three selectable shift modes. Controlled via a console mounted switch, the driver is able to select Drive, the standard setting; Sport, calibrated for maximum performance in automatic mode or Manual, where the driver maintains control of all shifting. One truly important aspect of the system offered here is that Chevy engineers gave the driver control of shifts. Upon up-shifts the transmission will not shift to the next gear even if you hit redline. The fuel cutoff will activate to save damage to the engine. Of course, you may feel the fool as the engine chokes for power.

Top up or down the Camaro Convertible LZ1 is an attractive ride.

Beyond the incredible power, one feature that we give big kudos to Chevy for and one everyone notices immediately is also one that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. It is the detail put into making the perfect exhaust notes. The sound emanating from this car is magnificent. From the very first turn of the key this engine roars to life and is every bit a part of the experience. We like to keep our car’s rpm levels up, believing we have more control over the automobile, which is also the case here. We so enjoyed the sound of this engine and exhaust so much that we remained in lower gears just to hear that beautiful American V-8 music.