Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 vs Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

Let’s get one thing straight right away: I am not the born US-Car-Guy, so no one who loses his mind because of a little V8-blubber. Quite the opposite, in fact! If the good car fairy with her glittering magic wand had once waved it in front of my nose to make me choose between a Mustang and a Camaro, I probably would have haggled for a BMW M4.Why am I confessing this to you? Because I want you to know … no, because I need you to know that the enthusiasm that is about to speak from these lines is genuine. That it does not stem from a personal taste that just happened to stray into the United States. No, these two have earned the hymn of praise here – honestly, with deeds that must be followed by corresponding words.

The icons of elemental force

The Shelby GT500 is the most powerful street Ford of all time and continues to give a damn about convention. Start-stop? OPF? WLTP? WTF!

Then, clear the way for two icons of elemental force. On the right: the Shelby, the most powerful road-going Ford of all time and youngest offspring of a relationship that was born 55 years ago from a common enemy, Enzo Ferrari.

You know the story: the Commendatore snubs the Yanks, who build a retort called the GT40 that eventually spanks the Italians in a big way. Since that time, the snake breed and the global corporation have been closely allied to shake up the automotive world with projects like this with nice regularity. Just say GT500, the descendant of Hollywood star Eleanor, which continues to give a damn about convention despite hints of technical newfangledness. Start-stop? OPF? WLTP? WTF!

Similarly anachronistic: the Camaro, which was the Mustang’s soul mate from the very beginning, but in 2009 apparently had enough of holding hands. Out of the cliché corner, was the motto of the then fifth Camaro generation, with which Chevy translated the sporty model approaches from American antiquity into international standards for the first time. All that was missing at first was recognition. But then the Z/28 was unleashed on mankind – a performance beast with a seven-liter naturally aspirated engine – and everyone who still smiled at the USA suddenly looked like squirrels when it flashed.

One model series later, the ZL1 is now heading in exactly the same direction – and knocking the bottom out of the barrel, so to speak. The hammer is that of the Corvette Z06, the 6.2-liter Tyrannosaurus Rex, which houses only one camshaft, only 16 valves, but a whopping 650 hp. Together with the surrounding equipment, the result is a neo-nostalgic consequence that only America can produce in this extreme form. As I said, the principles there have changed. In the past, problems with driving dynamics were solved with displacement. If that didn’t help, there was more displacement. And even more. Or, as in this case: bam, a supercharger on top.

A fusion of theories

Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Exterieur

The 1LE package of the Camaro ZL1 brings, in addition to sparsely treaded semislicks, an aero kit with rear wing and front flaps that once again underscores the seriousness of the driving dynamic intentions.

In the ZL1, these romantic customs are now mixed with the latest findings in driving physics. The result: a thesis core fusion of biblical proportions, the enormous force of which seems to visibly take the Camaro with it.

The facial features are swollen to a narrow crevice because of the need for so much fresh air, the extra-wide wheels barely have room in the wheel arch because of all the suspension know-how, a four-pipe symphony orchestra of destruction has spread out in the rear apron, and as if the announcement wasn’t clear enough, this specimen also strapped on the 1LE package. It includes sparsely treaded semislicks and an aero kit with rear wing and front flaps that underlines the seriousness of the dynamic driving intentions in thick, bold and warning colors.

No doubt, this is the stuff superpowers are made of. However, in this case they are still in their infancy. The ZL1 has exactly three kilometers on the clock when the big block boss, alias Karl Geiger, drags it out of the showroom. After handing over the keys, he urged the baby dinosaur to please, please spare him the hard test drive.

After all, the ZL1 is not a blank slate; it was already a guest in 2018, immortalizing itself with a 1:09.6 min on the small course, so we have an indication of its capabilities. And: a benchmark for those of the Mustang. The only inconsistency: Back then the Chevy was a manual, but this time it has the optional ten-speed automatic in its belly. With a torque of 869 Nm, the number of gears doesn’t really matter – neither in practice nor in theory. And the more complex transmission doesn’t even change the alignment.

Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Interieur

The ZL1 was and is an excessive athlete that mercilessly transforms its muscle mass into mechanical grip to such an extent that it unhinges everyday usability. Seating position? Like in a submarine.

The ZL1 was and is born to be a racing stretch bench – an excessive athlete that so mercilessly wraps its muscle mass in mechanical grip that it unhinges everyday usability. Its radical goodyears struggle with the hockenheim autumn, the already extremely modest view from the basement cockpit is built up even further by the hood’s mighty powerdome, and instead of at least restraining itself a bit in the tamer modes, the suspension seems to want to split your skull with every manhole cover. Sure, this stubbornness fits the focus, but the Shelby shows that hardlining doesn’t have to degenerate into masochism.

In general: This GT500 is a car that old Carroll would have taken his cowboy hat off to. It’s not a stubborn oaf like its predecessor from Mustang episode five, but an astonishingly multi-layered powerhouse that combines technical determination with typical model escalation and drives you crazy in the motordrome just as surely as on a pony ride towards the sunset.

Sure, the turning circle has taken on bizarre dimensions, which is causally related to the 305 front tires. And yes, due to the exorbitant fuel consumption on the one hand and an exceedingly tiny 61-liter tank on the other, the moments of happiness are sometimes highly fragmented. But, dear friends of bliss, you can’t really spend the little bit of time that passes between pit stops any better. Not anymore! Simply because the Mustang showers you with all those attributes that are increasingly being taken away from us elsewhere. With character, with manual strength, but above all with sound.

And what a sound it is, holy cow, you’re at a loss for words: fanfares, timpani, trumpets – no matter which text instruments we would now bring out, they mock the acoustic facts. So, please, just take your ideal idea of V8 thunder, add two heaping earfuls of exhaust bass – and then multiply the whole thing by about seven. Got it? Now we are in the normal mode of the exhaust system. However, there are still two sharper ones: “Sport” and “Track”, with which the sound backdrop then finally styles itself up into the incomprehensible. Oh, the press release also mentions a quiet mode, but in the end – how can I put it – no one will have “found” it.

Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, Motor

The heart of the Shelby is the 5.2-liter V8 with four overhead camshafts, which has a huge supercharger stuck between its legs. “Built with Pride” is emblazoned as a badge on its broad chest.

Anyway, the impressive thing about this hard rock festival is not only its infernality, but the fact that it doesn’t seem in any way forced or even exaggerated. On the contrary: the background music is extremely appropriate. For the GT500 in general, but especially for its heart – that 5.2-liter V8 with four overhead camshafts that has a huge supercharger stuck between its legs. “Built with Pride” is emblazoned on its broad chest. And even though this smacks of sticker pathos, there is no doubt whatsoever about the credibility of the inscription.

The road in the shredder

The acceleration is still fairly moderate due to the flat torque rise. I emphasize: reasonably. From 3,500 rpm, however, when the turbocharging circuit is cranked up, it no longer keeps the church in the village. The engine musicians, who just trudged peacefully drumming through the engine room, now ride across the cockpit on fire-breathing industrial milling machines. In the digital instrument cluster, events come thick and fast, and you can feel the drivetrains twisting with tension against the chassis, while up to 847 Nm put you through a time-lapse shredder along with the road. At 7,300 rpm, 771 hp flares up in a storm before the seven-speed dual-clutch gives the V8 a kick and the attacking lust begins to roll on the next wave.

Wait a minute. What was that? Double…, what? Yes, you read that right. As the first Shelby Mustang ever, the GT500 is no longer available hand-cracked, which, by the way, causes fierce protests over in the States. Especially since the Tremec box doesn’t really show off its conceptual benefits. There’s nothing wrong with the gear changes themselves, but the launch control, which should actually shape the powerful punch into fabulous values, is simply run over by the engine.

Instead of propulsion, the result is primarily sound and smoke, so that the more solid, more powerful Camaro can still keep up at speeds of up to 100 km/h. After that, as soon as the Shelby’s foot hits the gas pedal, it’s no longer a problem. After that, however, as soon as the Shelby has found its footing, it too burns up in the supernova of this truly furious Ford. Exactly 6.7 seconds needs a fully loaded GT500 for the intermediate sprint from hundred to two hundred – 2.8 seconds less than the ZL1, which itself is certainly not inferior!

From drag racer to track tool

Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, Exterieur


No reduction to longitudinal dynamics: Inertial mass is still present in excess even during turn-in, but the kinematic counter gets it down. Outstanding Brembo system.

The true achievements of the new GT500, however, only reveal themselves off the drag strip. Although, unlike the Chevy, it comes as a stock car, i.e. in stock trim without the expensive track pack that would have given it carbon fiber wheels and an adjustable wing as well as pappy cup tires, its superiority is no longer reduced to longitudinal dynamics.

Instead, you can tell just how serious it is about performance this time around: no wobbling, no slackening of the huge Brembo system, even though it has to kill off some rough speeds. Compliments! There’s still a lot of inertia when you turn in, but the kinematic countermeasures it and presses the four individually suspended wheels against the course of the road, so you can confidently reach for it more forcefully.

It only gets tricky when accelerating out. The Torsen-locked rear axle can handle more power than you’d like. The other way around, however, there is always much more power than you can expect it to handle. So there’s never more than a few millimeters of throttle travel between slope and looseness, which is certainly in keeping with the nature of a real Amis, but now, thanks to their transformation to lateral dynamics, they’ve taken on a completely different twist – a more serious, a more violent one.

What I’m getting at is that the days when a Shelby Mustang surfed smoothly through the gray areas of the limit are now over. Due to the higher chassis stability, you no longer smear into oversteer, you snap into it. Sometimes quite suddenly, which can end quite uncomfortably depending on the situation and speed.

The same applies to the Chevy, although the situation is a bit more relaxed. More grip, less power – logic. In general, the Camaro seems almost civilian after the change, but this is less due to the car itself than to the fact that the relations first have to settle down again after the experiences in the Mustang. And that takes time.

Helpful for grounding: the steering of the ZL1, which they should have a go at over in Detroit! In “Tour” still casually stored, it clamps you one driving mode upward ever more firmly into the action. In the Track program, which squeezes even the last bit of foam rubber out of the joints, the forearms are then finally stuck as track rods on the 19-inchers and grab the Hockenheimring by the collar. The speeds aren’t quite as monumental as in the GT500. On the other hand, the ZL1, which weighs around 150 kilos less, takes corners harder. Principle: less side lean, more lateral control. Plus: better traction, which compensates for its power deficit to a good extent.

Where does all this lead? According to our projections, to about a second and a half lead over the Ford, which, however, is mainly based on the glaring grip differences of the respective tires. Conversely: With the same rubber denominator, the two fatheads would probably be neck and neck – and on a level roughly equivalent to that of the BMW M4 GTS!

Afflictions? Yesterday’s news!

Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, Vergleichstest, spa1220

Today’s muscle car no longer just has biceps, it also has a backbone – and such a sturdy one that it brings together even the most remote flavors.

The reason for my enthusiasm should thus be just as given as its justification. Whereby I am actually less concerned with the performance as such, but rather with how it came about. About the inner peace that the two fighting machines have now found – this combination of the usual V8 madness and a newly developed ingenuity in dealing with it. And nowhere is this more apparent than when comparing the current GT500 with its predecessor.

It, too, was definitely meant to be serious, and it, too, had all the power it could handle, so it was certainly not without reason that the GT500 was under the sign of the king cobra. Only woe betide this cobra when it was supposed to be writhing in curves, then the will stumbled over the possibilities, and snake charming turned into rodeo: The forehand bucked, the butt kicked out, while the pilot hung in the saddle, buffeted by inadequacies.

In the new one, all parts of the body are now on ideal line, they hold together. And more importantly, they can be held together. So the muscle car of today no longer just has biceps, it also has a backbone – and such a stable one, in fact, that it brings together even the most remote flavors. With this in mind, dear car fairy, buzz over quickly, we need to talk.


The bad news first: Camaro ZL1 and Shelby GT500 are only available in this country via importers, who have to modify the
who have to change the software to bring them up to local noise regulations. Now the good news: Both have survived the changes unscathed. The sound remains bloodcurdling, the propulsion monstrous, and the driving experience just as quintessentially American as ever-although the respective performance now exceeds even European standards.

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