We know this match-up might deserve more inches than what we’ve devoted it here. The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and the Ford Mustang R-Spec have a lot in common; they’re both supercharged V8s, rear-wheel drive, rebuilt to some degree on local soil, and share a rivalry that has developed over half a century. This biff has the potential to feature on Main Event.
But there are also some glaring disparities between the two. Like price. The Camaro ZL1 is priced $60K clear of the $99,980 R-Spec, since it needs a much more thorough rebuild in Clayton than the Mustang does on the other side of town in Broadmeadows.
In danger of oversimplifying it, parts are essentially installed onto the R-Spec while the Camaro is entirely gutted so HSV can reweld its firewall to welcome a new steering shaft on the right-hand side.
Then there are the gearbox options. My ZL1 is equipped with a 10-speed transmission while the R-Spec is manual-only (six speeds). And the ZF-developed 10R80 auto can make a devastating difference.
Finally, the R-Spec is a limited special edition whereas the ZL1 lives in Chevrolet’s product line-up full-time and is adapted to local requirements.
And yet when Nathan Jacobs needed an extra car to capture tracking shots of the R-Spec for this month’s magazine feature, the ZL1 seemed the perfect companion.
We didn’t have the time to test the ZL1 after the R-spec on the strip, but it wouldn’t have been much of a fight. A week before on a similarly hot day, the ZL1 logged some dominant acceleration times. Its 4.0sec 0-100km/h run, followed by an 11.8sec quarter-mile pass at 200.47km/h, on the supposedly inferior Continental tyres, trumped the R-Spec’s heat-affected figures by some margin.
We’re not saying the R-Spec doesn’t have that sort of ticker. The blown Coyote V8 is monstrous, but we found the window to unleash its full might is a lot smaller. I reckon the ECU doesn’t want the pistons – snugger than ever in plasma-coated bores – expanding too far under heat. So it pulls power.
It was the same story for when we actually drove the cars back-to-back on our cornering ‘stage’. The R-Spec slowed in the heat, allowing the ZL1 to pull away.
That’s partly due to Chevrolet designing the ZL1’s bodywork around a 477kW/881Nm furnace under the bonnet. Behind those gaping cut-outs in the front bumper is a wall of radiators, including a transmission cooler lying flat behind the front lip, to pull temperatures out of the powertrain.
They don’t fully protect the ZL1 from heat soak – in fact you could feel it suffering a little – but it was nowhere as dramatic as the R-Spec, which relies on the American Performance Pack’s larger radiator and a rear diff cooler designed by Herrod Performance.
The two are more evenly matched in other areas. With upgraded performance springs and anti-roll bars, the R-Spec now has the stuff to match the ZL1’s handling muscle. In fact, on Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres it feels like the grippier car.
In Sport Plus mode the R-Spec’s steering is extremely heavy, enough to make the ZL1 (in Sport mode) feel astonishingly light-steering and less direct. Sometimes a Mustang’s front-end feels too darty, but the R-Spec balances its grip levels beautifully. We only wish we could have the power to exploit the grip.
Sliding the ZL1, meanwhile, is not a question of whether it can, but how much you want it to. The electronic locking diff and extremely relaxed ESC in Stabilitrak mode mean it’s so much more capable hanging out its rear. And you are too, since the driver’s seat is more centred between the front and rear wheels. It places you in a better spot to feel yaw movements.
Overall, there’s a lot of crossover between the two that favours the Mustang. It packs all of the aggro and muscle-car mojo found in the ZL1 but for much less. It’s also the car I wanted to drive home, on account of more damping travel and a more spacious cabin where you can actually see over your shoulder. Transmission-wise, the six-speed manual in the R-Spec is also more involving than working the ZL1’s plasticky paddles.
But there’s no denying the ZL1 justifies its extra dosh. That price buys a car purpose-built to handle the heat, so to speak, a big supercharged V8 produces, to deliver head kicking performance. And on that note the ZL1 wins this brief encounter. It’s by default, yes. But as we said, a battle of such epic proportions deserves a bigger stadium. And perhaps a date in winter.
|Ford Mustang R-Spec||Chevrolet Camaro ZL1|
|Engine||5038cc V8, DOHC, 32v, Supercharger||6162cc V8, OHV, 16v, supercharger|
|Transmission||6-speed manual||10-speed automatic|
|Drive||Rear wheels, Torsen LSD||Rear wheels, electronically controlled LSD|
|0-100km/h||4.7sec (tested)||4.0sec (tested)|
|400m||12.78sec @ 189km/h (tested)||11.8sec @ 200km/h (tested)|
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