Pace Off: 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Indy 500 Pace Car vs. 2013 Camaro ZL1 NASCAR Pace Car

Comparing Chevrolet Camaro pace car history at the 2014 New York International Auto Show

There’s a lot of performance-oriented hardware on the Chevrolet stand at the 2014 New York International Auto Show, but two cars in particular stand out.

  • A 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS/RS 396 Indy 500 Pace Car replica and
  • A 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 NASCAR pace car

Both on display this week in New York.

Although they don’t quite bookend the history of Camaro pace cars – the first pace car honor goes to the 1967 Camaro SS and the 2014 Camaro Z/28, – they do help give us a taste of just how far pace cars and Camaro performance have come over the past 40 years. Let’s compare the two, shall we?

Origins and Venues: Although this 1969 Camaro looks identical to the two official pace cars used at the 1969 Indianapolis 500, it isn’t exactly the real McCoy. Instead, it’s a replica – but one built by GM’s factory in Norwood, Ohio.  Interested buyers could order a new 1969 Camaro SS/RS convertible with the Z11 option package, which replicated the actual Indy 500 pace cars down to the Dover White paint, Hugger Orange stripes, Z28 hood, orange fender stripes, and if so desired, the “Official Pace Car” door graphics. Roughly 3675 cars were built with the Z11 replica package, including 131 cars used at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The 2013 Camaro ZL1 pace car on display, however, is the real deal. This car has served as the pace car for a number of NASCAR events, including the Nationwide Series Drive for COPD 500. The pace car ZL1s, built on the same Oshawa, Ontario assembly line as all other 2013 Camaros, are essentially stock save for specialized lighting, a roof light bar, and unique exterior graphics.

Dimensions:  It’s not surprising to learn today’s Camaro is bigger than the original, but it is a little surprising to see just how dimensionally close the 2013 Camaro ZL1 is to the 1969 Camaro SS/RS pace car. At 190.6 inches long, the 2013 Camaro ZL1 is only 4.6 inches longer than the 1969 Camaro convertible, while its 112.3-inch wheelbase is but six inches greater than the 1969 Camaro.

Chassis: Both old and new Camaros utilize unibody structures, but their suspension arrangements are certainly different. The 1969 Camaro features A-arms and coil springs up front, while a leaf-sprung live axle lurks out back. The 2013 Camaro ZL1 uses MacPherson struts in front and a 4.5-link independent rear suspension. Magnetic Ride Control, which actively adjusts damper stiffness, is standard on the Camaro ZL1.

Brakes: Although the two 1969 Camaro Indy 500 pace cars were specially fitted with the JL8 four-wheel disc brake option, this particular car instead utilizes front disc brakes with 11-inch rotors, and 9.5-inch rear drum brakes. As four-wheel disc brakes are common in modern performance cars, it’s no surprise to find them fitted to the 2013 Camaro ZL1 pace car – although its Brembo-sourced system, which includes 14-inch rotors and six-piston front calipers, is some heavy-duty hardware.

Powertrain: By default, the 1969 Camaro Indy 500 Pace Car Replica was fitted with a 350 cubic-inch V-8 engine, but buyers could further emulate the actual pace cars by ordering the big-block 396 cubic-inch V-8, topped with a four-barrel carburetor. According to official Chevrolet documents of the era, this engine had a gross rating of 325 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque. Although 3- and 4-speed manual transmissions were available, this car sports the optional Turbo Hydramatic 400 3-speed automatic transmission.

Meanwhile, the 2013 Camaro ZL1 is powered by the LSA, an all-aluminum, 6.2-liter supercharged V-8. Although it’s smaller in displacement than the 396, it throws down some serious power. In stock form, the LSA is rated at 580 horsepower at 6000 rpm, and 556 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm. A six-speed automatic is available, but this NASCAR pace car is equipped with the standard Tremec six-speed manual transmission.

Performance: We don’t have exact performance statistics for this particular 1969 Camaro – but we have a good idea as to its potential. In the May 1969 issue of Car Life magazine, a 1969 Camaro SS 396 coupe rocketed from 0-60 mph in 6.8 seconds. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but the 2013 Camaro ZL1 pushes performance to new echelons. The Camaro ZL1 can sprint from 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds, and ultimately hit a top speed of 180 mph.

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