/Shelby GT500 or Camaro ZL1 – Which Is Better

Shelby GT500 or Camaro ZL1 – Which Is Better

ZL1 vs GT500 at Shelby GT500 or Camaro ZL1   Which Is Better

So it seems the muscle cars cold war is heating up again as Ford and GM both unleash two new extra-hot versions of their most iconic ponies, Mustang and Camaro.

Yep, we’re talking about the latest Shelby GT500 Mustang – the most powerful ‘Stang ever made – and the new Camaro ZL1 – the most powerful Camaro ever made. Both these cars are designed for the most hard-core thrill-seeker, those who are not satisfied with the usual level of lunacy that normal muscle cars offer.

And because these car are made primarily for fun, they’re both wonderful and amazing. Sure there are differences between the two, but they will both satisfy your thirst for adrenaline for sure.

2012 Camaro ZL1 037 at Shelby GT500 or Camaro ZL1   Which Is Better

But, we’re talking rivalry here. These cars have already sparked fury between Ford and GM fans, and nobody is giving in. Ford has been kinda cleverer and waited for GM to finalize the ZL1’s specs and lock the power at 580 hp, then came up with a startling 650 hp for the new Shelby. So naturally, they have the upper hand here.

GT500 2 at Shelby GT500 or Camaro ZL1   Which Is Better

In this article we are going to take a deeper look at these fine American athletes and see if we can work out which is a better buy.

Muscle cars, as a breed, are not that sophisticated. In fact the only main difference between them is the amount of power they make. That doesn’t seem to be the case with these two however. They are both packed with electronic and computer-controlled stuff to contain the fury of what’s under their bonnets.

Speaking of which, let’s begin with what’s under the bonnet, starting with the ZL1.

zl1 engine at Shelby GT500 or Camaro ZL1   Which Is Better

This ultimate Camaro features GM’s renowned LSA small-block 6.2 liter V8, beefed up with a meaty 1.9 liter Roots-style supercharger. Most of the engine’s parts are replaced with high performance ones. It gets a lower-restriction air filter, dual inlet paths, and improved airflow through the supercharger housing, a compact intercooler, an efficient four-lobe rotor set, and even an electric power-steering system which consumes less engine power.

All that means this super V8 churns out 580 horsepower (432 kW) and 556 lb.-ft. of torque (754 Nm), which as mentioned makes it the most powerful Camaro, and one of the most powerful muscle cars, ever.

gt500 engine at Shelby GT500 or Camaro ZL1   Which Is Better

If you think of the engine in the Camaro as a highly-destructive bomb, the one in the Mustang is a full-on nuke!

It is also a V8, but at 5.8 liter it’s considerably smaller than the Camaro’s. It too comes with a supercharger and other high-performance bits and pieces such as new cross-drilled block and heads, updated camshaft profiles, a larger cooling fan, fan shroud with high-speed pressure-relief doors, a more efficient charge air cooler, a higher-flow intercooler pump and an intercooler heat exchanger with volume increased 36 percent.

The Shelby GT500 makes a simply staggering 650 horsepower and 600 lb.-ft. of torque, which not only makes it the king of all production muscle cars, it is also the most powerful production V8 in the world.

You have to give it to Ford and Shelby. They have made a true masterpiece here. Especially as it somehow stays exempt from the gas-guzzler tax!

gt500 31 at Shelby GT500 or Camaro ZL1   Which Is Better

So, the first round goes to the mighty Shelby because it just has a better engine. Fact.  I mean how can argue with those power figures?

Now, if it was the good old days of raw power and not much else, the Shelby could have been declared the undisputed champion. But you see, these days muscle cars are also expected to handle. Straight-line performance is not the only criteria of judging their capabilities.

gt500 4 at Shelby GT500 or Camaro ZL1   Which Is Better

Here Camaro counts on its advanced and clever Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) version 3.0 to give the Shelby a bloody nose. It’s amazing what you can do with the electronics these days. A bunch of 0 and 1 can actually make up for lack of power and torque.

The way this system works is very complicated and a bit boring frankly to explain. To put it simply, when the iron particles in the dampers’ synthetic fluid are magnetized, they change the flow resistance and make the dampers firm and sporty. In normal mode, they just act like normal dampers, very nice, very comfortable. There are three settings for MRC in the ZL1: Tour, Sport, and Track.

Zl1 2 at Shelby GT500 or Camaro ZL1   Which Is Better

MRC is not just some useless badge for the marketing man to sell. It has proved itself on the Nurburgrig. European sportscars have been using similar systems for years.

Shelby GT500 relies on a more traditional setup to provide the driver with the grip and cornering ability he expects.  Only if you get the optional Performance Package, you get the SVT-designed Bilstein electronic adjustable dampers. Normal mode gives customers a more comfortable ride over road irregularities. Sport mode is all about performance, delivering improved response time on the track and less body roll while cornering and pitch under braking.

gt500 5 at Shelby GT500 or Camaro ZL1   Which Is Better

Same goes for the cars’ electronic control systems. The Ford gets AdvanceTrac settings and steering assist, plus a bespoke Electronic Stability Program tailored for the GT500. The ZL1 however benefits from the latest Performance Traction Management (PTM) with five settings:

  • Mode 1 – Traction control set for wet conditions, with stability control on and Magnetic Ride Control set on Tour.
  • Mode 2 – Traction control set for dry conditions, with stability control on and Magnetic Ride Control set on Tour.
  • Mode 3 – Traction control set on Sport 1, with stability control on and Magnetic Ride Control set on Sport.
  • Mode 4 – Traction control set on Sport 2, with stability control off and Magnetic Ride Control set on Sport.
  • Mode 5 – Traction control set on Race, with stability control off and Magnetic Ride Control set on Track. Launch control tuned for VHT-prepped drag strips.

ZL1 side at Shelby GT500 or Camaro ZL1   Which Is Better

The Camaro uses 20-inch wheels with Goodyear Supercar F2 tires on all four corners, while the Shelby has 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels are coupled with Goodyear Eagle F1. Both cars get Brembo brakes with six-piston calipers.

So the Camaro can claim it is more sophisticated and better to drive. Do this fancy electronic stuff make it faster round a track than the significantly more powerful Shelby GT500? Well, there’s only one way to answer that and that’s a head-to-head race.

Round two then goes to the ZL1 and its more advanced chassis.

gt500 look at Shelby GT500 or Camaro ZL1   Which Is Better

In terms of body and aerodynamics, well, it’s not like these cars are designed for maximum downforce and stuff like that, but they both benefit from front splitter, side skirts, tiny wings and rear diffuser. If anything, they make the cars look cooler and distinguishable from normal models.

Looks-wise, if you are not a muscle car fan, they both look kinda infantile to you, what with those swollen wheel arches, massive chins, and stripes. We do like muscle cars, and we have to say this generation of Camaro is a better–looking car than this generation of Mustang.

We also like the styling details of the ZL1 better than those of the GT500. They suite the Camaro, but on the Mustang, they look a bit ungainly. Or maybe it’s just us.

zl1 rear at Shelby GT500 or Camaro ZL1   Which Is Better

It is the same story with the cool-o-meter. Muscle cars are generally considered as uncool in Europe, but in America that’s a different story.  But you have to admit they are not cars for every occasion. And nobody said they have to be. Muscle cars are practically toys. And anyways, style is a matter of personal preference. So we guess it’s a draw.

That brings us to the most important factors, value and desirability. We do realize Ford fans will buy the Shelby and GM fans the ZL1. But what if you are new to the game? What should you go for.

gt front at Shelby GT500 or Camaro ZL1   Which Is Better

Price-wise, both cars cost around $60,000. Mind you, the ZL1 starts at 54 grand and will get to 60 if you put every single option on it. The GT500 will probably start at 60. It’s not that big of a difference though. Five or six grand is not something that make or break a deal. So it is basically a question of which is more desirable.

The awesome power of the Ford is hugely appealing, but the Camaro seems like a better package to live with. It is less shouty and better equipped with stuff like Six-way power driver and passenger seats,   Unique instrument panel and door panel inserts; and ZL1-logo sill plates, Steering wheel audio controls with Bluetooth capability, Wireless PDIM and USB-port, Boston Acoustics premium audio system, Rear parking assist, Rear camera system and…

zl1 1 at Shelby GT500 or Camaro ZL1   Which Is Better

That said, luxury amenities, practicality and comfort really mean nothing to a true muscle car lover. What they want is tons of power and the ability to win every single drag race. On that basis, the 650-hp of the Shelby GT500 wins the day.

We think there’s more to life than raw power. As the saying goes, absolute power does corrupt absolutely! The Camaro looks and acts a bit more civilized than the Shelby, and for that reason the ZL1 is our pick.

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(Founder / Chief Editor / Journalist) – Arman is the original founder of Motorward.com, which he kept until August 2009. Currently Arman is our chief editor and is held responsible for a large part of the news we publish.