A New Camaro Has an Engine Too Powerful for Public Roads

It's the largest V8 engine for passenger-sized cars, and it's only legal on the track.
Brad Bergan
GM's 2022 COPO Camaro.Chevrolet

If you can't beat the system, cheat it until it learns better.

After 70 years of pumping out the most iconic American muscle cars, General Motors has outdone itself by cramming a colossal V8 engine under the hood of its renowned COPO Camaro for 2022, according to a recent blog post on the automaker's official website.

Unnervingly, this is the largest gas-powered V8 currently available in passenger-sized cars, and takes its cue from a kind of "hack" of its order system to place giant engines into small streetcars, from decades ago.

GM's COPO Camaro took inspiration from small dealers

Some automakers let prospective car buyers customize their potential new vehicle online, and simply wait for the big delivery at home. But back in the 1960s, customers were forced to order the car via the manufacturer by way of a rigid ordering flow. For Chevrolet, this was done through the Central Office Production Order (COPO) system.

The COPO process was initially created to enable dealers to make highly specific orders for fleet cars. But in short order, several dealerships uncovered a way to employ the COPO process to order wild and performance-intensive models of streetcars by placing part-specific codes in the vehicle configuration order sheet, according to a report from Popular Science. For example, one Illinois dealer in 1968 discovered it could order a compact Chevy Nova with a significantly larger block engine typically installed in the company's full-sized cars (like the Impala). But a few years later, General Motors discovered this Easter-egg loophole and shut the fun down. From then on, no one could use COPO to customize performance cars out of streetcars until the company revealed a factory-made COPO Camaro in 2011.

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Today, the COPO Camaro is regarded as a race-focused vehicle that Chevy builds for the NHRA drag races. And 2022's model is equipped with a monster engine under the hood: a 9.4-liter naturally aspirated V8, which is the biggest one you can buy in a car of this size from a factory, anywhere. The motor was constructed on GM's "big block" platform used way back in the 1960s, contrasting sharply with the COPO Camaros from 2011 onward — which only came with GM's "small block" footprint (or the more contemporary LS-coded platform).

572 Cubic Inch Big Block V-8 Engine
Chevy's Big Block V-8 engine is 572 cubic inches. Source: Chevy

Sadly, GM's 2022 COPO Camaro isn't street-legal

With the larger engine casting of the big block, Chevy substantially increased the internal volume of the engine, thanks to a widened diameter for every cylinder, which increased the maximum distance each piston can move. Taken together, these two dimensions comprise a motor's displacement in cubic inches, which determines how much air may be pumped through an engine. The 2022 COPO Camaro's flagship motor features a 5.7-liter block, and, with help from a factory-installed supercharger, the engine can push up to 600 horsepower. Customers can also buy a 7.0-liter LS-based V8, but it can only reach 470 horsepower.

The new 2022 COPO Camaro will probably sell for $105,000 with the 9.4-liter variant, and up to $130,000 for the heavy-hitting 600-horsepower 5.7-liter. As a bonus, Chevrolet will let customers buy the car as a rolling chassis, that enables you to install their own engine. But the price of this variant isn't yet known, since it's in limited production. Regardless, every car will ship with a carbon fiber hood, which means it's lightweight, in addition to wheelie bars to upgrade the safety rating. There's even an optional trunk-equipped parachute! But while it'd be cool to deploy one on a busy freeway to let everyone know how important you are, the COPO isn't street-legal. But, for the drag strip, this car represents a serious challenge.

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