To paraphrase Rene Magritte, this is not a car. Yes, it is a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible, and it has an engine which can turn those 30-inch Forgiato gold saucers into forward motion. But the transformation by a Tampa tuning shop into what it calls the King ZL1 has placed the Camaro into the kind of debate heard around avant-garde galleries: Is it a piece of art, or a piece of garbage?
Built and shown by 813 Customs, the King ZL1 follows a similar effort on a less-powerful King Camaro unveiled earlier this year. Both required a near-complete teardown and reassembly, with bespoke fiberglass dash and door pieces to handle a Radio Shack's worth of speakers and monitors, including the three 23-inch TVs that pop up from the back seat. The outside gets a gold-chrome vinyl wrap, and the 6.2-liter V-8 also gets a brace of upgrades, such as a Whipple supercharger, that can never be used in anger thanks to custom-painted 30-inch Forgiato Maschili wheels that make the Camaro like Lolo Jones running hurdles in spike heels.
As someone who spends a lot of time reading what people say on the Internet about cars, I can safely say the King ZL1 has stirred a more heated reaction than any other vehicle I've seen in quite a spell. Camaro fans take their cars seriously, and the idea of turning a ZL1 into a slow-rolling rec room enrages many; one commenter called it "the murder of this American muscle car." The Facebook page of 813 Customs was so filled with invective, including some blatant racism, that the company's owner had to respond, noting that he's paid to build cars even when they're not to his personal taste:
Listen its pretty disgusting the things people are saying, everybody has there owns styles, lifted trucks with mud tires, lifted cars with big wheels, lowered cars, racing riding lawnmowers, clothing, hair, etc. To judge a car with such ignorance is disgusting. If you really no what it takes to build a car and your a fan of cars you would respect every custom car for the time, effort and style that,that person came up with even its not your style. Building cars is a hobby for people PEOPLE DONT BUILD CARS TO MAKE ANOTHER PERSON HAPPY they build it to there own style and what they want.
In this, 813 has a point. The majority of car enthusiasts see their passion spring from drivability; not just how much pure speed, but how a machine moves and sounds under power, and the appreciation for the engineering that made it possible. That dominant sensibility has always been at odds with those who care less about moving and more about catching people looking. If a donked Camaro or a BMW stanced so that it's only millimeters off the ground count as crimes against automotive culture, so too must the $2.3 million Bugatti Veyron L'Or Blanc, whose hand-crafted paint swirls and porcelain body and wheel inserts make it too valuable to drive at high speeds.
This King ZL1 isn't a muscle-car murder or a sign of America's impending moral collapse any more than the rolling cartoons emerging from George Barris' shop were in the 1960s. It's something else; an exercise in fashion that pushes the boundaries of taste and revs our passions -- but it won't transform back into a plain Camaro no matter how many gallons of haterade get spewed over it.