By Dr. Bud E. Bryan
The Motor City. So explaining how I came to be somewhere in Detroit on an empty freeway very late on a Tuesday night - with my foot buried deep in the loud pedal of a new 2012 Camaro ZL1 at 150 mph plus - is well, fitting. Suffice to say it was one of those spur-of-the-moment type deals that Peter and I always seem to cook up. I was needing to go to Chicago on Wednesday, and I had it all planned out nice and easy like, when Peter started blowing-up my phone with a series of increasingly LOUD texts that went something like this: "This ZL1 Camaro is one BAD-ASS machine!" And, "There is no practical substitute for cubic inches... Never has been. Never will be. Truer words were never spoken." Then, "This ZL1 has a very, very bad attitude. A fuck-you attitude, in fact. And I love every inch of the thing." And finally, "I need to step out of this thing before I get arrested. Holy Shit!"
That did it. I mean, if there's a guy who doesn't get impressed much because he's so frickin' jaded about cars, Peter is it. So when he couldn't stop texting about the ZL1, I felt like "I just gots to know," as the bad guy said to Clint Eastwood in "Dirty Harry" and the next thing I know I'm re-routing myself through Detroit. Now don't get me wrong, it's not like I don't like coming to Detroit, it's just that my life is, how you say, a little complicated. And I have shit to do, all the time. And besides, I'm kinda occupied with keeping my ladies happy among other things, if you know what I mean. Yeah, I know, it never ends. But who would want it to, really?
But contrary to what you might think, I have zero interest in Dream Cruise week in Detroit. Yeah, it's good to see a few really cool cars and all, but the whole thing is startin' to reek of being stale. As in o-v-e-r. Too many old guys with too many not-so-special cars creepin' along on Woodward Avenue doesn't do a thing for me. Yeah, so sue me, but this business about the Dream Cruise bein' all that is strictly a Detroit-centric thing. I'm glad they have it. But you can have it. Now that I've pissed everybody off in southeast Michigan, let's get to The Show...
I came out of the baggage claim area at Detroit's Metro airport to find Peter leaning up against this glistening white ZL1 Camaro with a big wide black stripe on the hood and rear deck and gigantic black wheels and big fat tires. Chevy calls it "Summit White," but it looked for all the world like "Chaparral White" to me. After we greeted each other like a couple of assassins about to go do a job somewhere in the city, he fired the son-of-a-bitch up. Holy shit is right. The thing roared awake like we just woke-up the meanest, baddest-ass dog in the neighborhood who was in the middle of a T-Bone dream. I'm not kidding. The thing flat-out barks.
As he manhandled the thing into 1st gear, Peter rattled off the specs: "6.2-liter supercharged 580HP V8. 556 lb-ft of torque. Trick suspension developed on the Nurburgring. Pie-plate sized brakes. And absolutely HUGE 20-inch Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar G:2 tires." That's all I really needed to know. Peter lowered the windows so we could hear the thing wake-up the dead while reverberating its bad-ass sonic boom off of the walls as we left Metro.
We slinked our way out of the confines of the airport at a PTA-acceptable speed, especially given the fact that the airport gestapo is particularly nasty as Peter likes to point out, and then we took the ramp to I-94 east. We entered the turn at a fairly brisk pace in 2nd gear when Peter stood on it just past the apex, the thing did a side-step that required instant correction and then we were launched down the road. BANG! 3rd gear. BANG! 4th gear. BANG! 5th. Then he backed out of it going into 6th gear. I don't know how fast we were going (well into the triple digits), but all I know is that the light poles were melting into the barrier walls. Ummm, yeah, he wasn't exaggerating in the least, "Holy Shit!" is about the only thing I could muster right about then. And I knew my decision to do a little detour to the Motor City just became a most excellent idea.
We cruised down the freeway at 85, merged on to the Southfield freeway to go north, and then Peter grabbed a few downshifts before letting the Big Dog eat just before passing Ford headquarters. Oh Baby. We then got off a couple of exits later so we could do a driver switch, and with Peter telling me where to go (a state that comes naturally to him, I might add), I had a chance to wring the living shit out of one of the state-of the-art high-performance cars of this or any other era.
After re-adjusting my eyeballs that had been lodged somewhere in the back of my head, I gripped the wheel and that stumpy shifter, and I put my boot hard down on the throttle. The beast reared-up as if to say, "C'mon man, is that all you got?" and launched us down the road like there was a six-pack of RPGs strapped to our tail. And the sound. I loathe the use of "OMG" in this day and age, but O-M-G the thing sounded like it just pulled out of Junior Johnson's garage with a tank full of nitromethane and a couple of drums of White Lightning on board. Bad-Ass, as Peter would say, only begins to cover it.
Just as I noticed the HUD indicate a cool 142 mph, Peter calmly mentioned that we were coming up to one of the biggest speed traps in Michigan (the Southfield freeway running through Allen Park if you must know), so I lambasted the brakes and the big brute of a car about stood on its nose. I mean, if I had false teeth they would have been rolling around on the pavement somewhere. We trundled through the Revenue Zone and ended back on I-94 going the other way, west toward the airport. Peter pointed out the three places where the cops sit, and once we were by those he gave me the magic words to "Hit it!" and we were off to the races again. For a car that weighs just over 4,000 pounds, to say that the ZL1 Camaro just flat gets it is a criminal understatement. (And can I tell you how much I love big honking V8s? V12s are magnificent and all but there is nothing, and I mean n-o-t-h-i-n-g like the brutal growl of a well-built V8, and man, the engine in the ZL1 Camaro waves its V8 freak flag high.)
After having a little time to think about it, the ZL1 is a rogue elephant of a high-performance car, a brutal, politically incorrect act of a defiance to the gaggle of touchy-feely, pass-fail, wussified hordes that seem to be growing in number by the day in what passes for society these days. You know the type, they teach their kids that they're all so very "special" and that everybody gets to play, and, don't worry about losing because you kids are all winners - and did we tell you how so very "special" you are again?
There are a lot of people out there (more than we enthusiasts would like to admit) who scoff at the notion that cars like the ZL1 Camaro are necessary at all anymore. The terms "wasteful" and "selfish" and "offensive" are bandied about in some circles to the point that should make all of us cringe more than just a little. Well, the reason cars like the ZL1 Camaro are important is that I don't believe we live in this country to be told what to drive and when to drive it. I believe we are allowed to make our own choices, as brilliant or stupid as they may be. If you want to saunter down to a dealer and get a new car when all you can really afford is a 6-year-old Subaru, have at it. And if you want to drive a rolling huggy-mobile that only emits the equivalent of a faint whiff of potpourri that's your prerogative as well. We all should be able to figure out what we can afford to do on our own, given our respective realities and desires.
When I say the ZL1 Camaro is politically incorrect that ain't the half of it. It is a raucously unapologetic tribute to every hot-rod tuner with scuffed knuckles and a grease-stained T-shirt who has toiled away in everything from crusty old garages to dirt parking lots in the pursuit of two wonderfully intoxicating words: More Speed.
And it's proof-positive that the notion of playing to win the game, to reach farther and to go faster and to perform at the highest levels you can possibly muster isn't old, or obsolete, or quaintly out of touch in this "mediocrity is bliss" world we live in (borrowing one of Peter's favorite phrases), but instead it is the way it should be.
Cars like the Camaro ZL1 represent more than just the golden era of American high-performance cars, they represent freedom in its purest form.
At the close of our drive we both realized that mystical moments like these are going to become more fleeting. The open road and the brutal cacophony of a highly-developed V8 engine will become more difficult to come by just by the nature of the societal winds blowing in the wrong direction of late. This kind of performance will become more difficult - and expensive - to come by too.
And we also realized that time itself is fleeting for us. So when we are afforded these kinds of opportunities we must savor them with everything we have. And as far as mystical moments go, I couldn't imagine a better moment in time then spending it in a fast car with no particular place to go.
Adios until the next time...