I’m in Miami in January, and it’s so cold that it’s raining iguanas. But a sharper-clawed reptile is on the prowl: A modified Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 whose 750 horsepower, courtesy of NASCAR heavyweight Hendrick Motorsports, tops every supercar I see in South Beach, even a 729-hp Lamborghini Aventador S.
Now comes the crazy part: anyone 25 or older with a valid driver’s license (and a need for speed) can rent this Camaro, the way one would rent a Chevy Malibu or other kitchen-white appliance car. The 2020 Hertz-Hendrick Motorsports Camaro ZL1, created in partnership with the 12-time NASCAR cup champion, is a killer bumblebee. In stock 650-hp form, it can get to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, blitz a quarter-mile in 11.4 seconds at 127 mph and pull 1.02 g’s of lateral grip. That’s before Hendrick’s team goes to work, adding 100 horsepower via a larger Callaway supercharger for the ZL1’s 6.2-liter V-8.
Just 24 rental ZL1s were produced, each with custom Hertz paint, wheels, door sill plates and a numbered series plaque; Hendrick team logos; and embroidered headrests boasting the signature of William Byron, the crazy-talented Hendrick driver who was the 2018 NASCAR Rookie of the Year and pole-sitter at the 2019 Daytona 500. (Byron, a literal Eagle Scout, looks 18 but is actually 22, so he’d still need a fake ID to pry this car from a rental-counter agent.)
More, um, mature Hertz customers can finagle a ZL1 from several cities in temperate climes, including Hendrick’s hometown of Charlotte, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco. If a $299-per-day Chevy seems steep — especially with a 75-mile daily limit and a cost of 75 cents per mile beyond that — Hertz and Hendrick also teamed to build 200 custom Camaro SS models, with 480 horses saddling up thanks to cold-air intakes and catback exhausts, and a Hendrick strut tower bar for added stiffness. The SSs rent for just $99 a day, too.
Handing keys to a 750-hp, rear-drive track star to any sunburnt tourist — or worse, a Jimmie Johnson wannabe — can sound, well, poorly thought out. But surprisingly, it appears that no renter has managed to wrap a ZL1 around a telephone pole minutes after signing the paperwork. (Give it time). On the Las Vegas strip, a party bus did run into one of the 480-hp models, “but it wasn’t even the SS’s fault,” says Dale Ledbetter, general manager of Hendrick Performance.
Ledbetter allows that the SS is plenty fast for most any amateur driver.
“You’ve really got to manage your throttle with the ZL1,” he says, with winning understatement, of a Camaro that can brush 200 mph.
How’d we get here? Well, Sixt, another rental company, began offering a 600-hp Shelby GT-S Mustang tuned by Shelby American. And Hertz, bless their red-blooded hearts, seemed to take that as a street challenge.
“We turned the Camaros up so we could beat those cars, so it’s good to see the drag-race wars going again,” Ledbetter says with a chuckle. He adds that Hendrick’s actual NASCAR cup racers, including the 2020 Camaro ZL1 1LE that debuted at Daytona Speedweeks in February, produce “a little under 750 horsepower.”
“We put William Byron and Jeff Gordon in the ZL1, and they said ‘We wish we had one on Sunday.’”
On this chilly Wednesday in Miami, I’m reacquainted with a Camaro that I first drove, in stock form, over 500 miles from Charlotte to the 2017 Daytona 500. I goof with the ZL1’s ingenious launch control — which lets you set engine rpm levels and wheelspin percentage targets for the simulated clutch drop — to set its Goodyear Eagle F1 tires to “flambe.” (The less renters know about the burnout-ready Line Lock function, the better).
I peer over its wheelbarrow-sized carbon-fiber hood scoop, thrill to the V8’s supercharged bellow, and keep eyes peeled for every cop in Miami-Dade County. For evident reasons, these ZL1s are all equipped with GM’s excellent 10-speed, HydraMatic paddle-shifted automatic transmissions, rather than the optional manual gearbox and clutch that customers would burn up like a California hillside in fire season.
Can I feel the bonus 100-hp over a standard 650-hp ZL1? Of course not, without a detour to nearby Homestead-Miami Speedway. But the car is stupid-fast, and its howling paint job is right at home in extroverted Miami. Since there’s not a fun, winding road in the entire swamp-flat state of Florida, I take to linking freeway on- and off-ramps to create an impromptu road course.
Naturally, muscle car lovers and NASCAR fans will likely trade their firstborns to drive this lunatic ZL1, and without a Chevy salesman playing chaperone. Three bits of advice: Ixnay on the driving selfies. Return the Camaro with some tread left on those Goodyears. And watch out for telephone poles.
Hertz provided this product for review.
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