The 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 bumps the pony count up to 640 with its LT4 V-8.

If you think the battle for the White House has gotten nasty, just check out the fight for supremacy in the pony car market. Ford and General Motors are lobbing everything but hand grenades at one another, and GM is firing the latest shot with the announcement that it will bring out an all-new version of the Camaro ZL1 next year.

Chevy gave a handful of automotive journalists a look at the new model – and a brief ride — during a sneak preview at the Spring Mountain race track an hour outside Las Vegas. And, if seeing is believing, it only takes a lap inside the 640-horsepower monster to know that the bowtie brand is playing for keeps.

“We’re delivering world-beating levels of performance, on the track and off,” proclaimed GM President Dan Ammann, before strapping on his element and heading out onto the track.

While we’ll likely have to wait until closer to next year’s official launch to get all the details, we’ve learned a fair bit about what’s in store with the sixth-generation Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. To start with, it shares the same LT4 V-8 found in the new Corvette Z06, the supercharged package hammering out 640 horsepower and 640 pound-feet of torque. That’s 60 ponies and 200 lb-ft more than the gen-5 ZL1.

The new ZL1 will be offered with either a 6-speed stick or an all-new 10-speed automatic.

It also works out to an impressive 6.46 pounds per horsepower. So, while the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 won’t likely out-accelerate the Z06, a Corvette driver will have to keep a nervous eye in the rearview mirror. And Chevy is hoping that Ford Mustang buyers will pull over and wait when they see the new model come flying up.

“This is the hammer in the Camaro line-up,” proclaimed GM’s global product chief Mark Reuss, who also took some scribes for a spin around Spring Mountain.

Though the two executives declined to discuss 0 to 60 numbers, those who went along for the ride saw numbers as high as 137 mph on the short track’s back straight.

The LT4 will come stock with a 6-speed manual transmission, but the reality is that the automatic gearbox option is likely to be the quicker alternative, Camaro Chief Engineer Al Oppenheiser cautiously conceded.

Inside the 2017 Camaro ZL1.

(Chevy gives a performance boost to the Camaro with 1LE package. Click Here for more.)

Not just any automatic, we should note, but the first application of the all-new 10-speed transmission GM developed, ironically enough, as part of a joint venture with Ford. By 2018, Reuss revealed, it will show up in eight different GM models. Ford, for its part, plans to first use the new gearbox in its F-150. The Camaro application, Oppenheiser stressed, will see the 10-speed specifically tuned for performance.

The latest version of the Camaro undergoes a number of modifications before wearing the  ZL1 badge. There’s a lot of emphasis on aerodynamics, the product team working hard to strike a balance between low drag and maximum downforce at high speeds. They’ve also worked to make sure air is delivered to all the right places, including the engine, brakes and 11 separate heat exchangers.

Aero features include a unique rear wing spoiler, a large front splitter, special ZL1 rockers, and an underbody package.

The ZL1 will use 11 heat exchangers.

(Click Here for our review of the new Cadillac CT6.)

Other modifications include:

  • A standard, performance-tuned version of GM’s Magnetic Ride Control suspension;
  • An electric limited-slip differential;
  • A driver-selectable mode switch that adjusts a wide range of vehicle functions; and
  • A customizable Launch Control system.

Inside, the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 gets standard Recaro sport front seats, as well as flat-bottomed steering wheel. It rides on unique Goodyear Eagle F1 tires.

The magneride suspension serves several duties. It’s great on track, but it’s also quick to adapt to the street, said Reuss, suggesting, “You can be a track hero or a daily driver.”

As good as the new ZL1 appears to be, don’t think Chevy is done tinkering with the latest Camaro. Expect to see thinks notch up even higher when an all-new Z/28 makes its inevitable appearance. We can only guess what we’ll see under the hood of that track model.

(Callaway pumps out 600 hp with SC600 Camaro. Click Here to check it out.)

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