Wondering where to look for high-end parts and powerful engines from the bowtie brand? Look no further than Chevrolet Performance!
Stellantis has Mopar, Toyota has TRD, Ford has Ford Performance, Subaru has STI – any good car brand has a performance subdivision. For General Motors, that area is covered by Chevrolet Performance – one of the most successful names in American motorsports. That’s a bold claim, but Chevrolet Performance has their hands in a number of big-name racing series like NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA, IMSA, and SCCA. Not only that, but there are tons of smaller racing teams all around the country that rely on Chevrolet Performance to provide them crate engines and other auto parts for their race cars.
Chevrolet Performance isn’t just for the racers out there though. It’s also made for you. This brand has technically been selling racing quality parts directly to the general public for over 50 years now. This GM performance division has given us a lot of automotive innovations since its creation and has even moved on to producing track ready cars in recent years, so let’s take a look back at Chevrolet Performance and see what they’re doing today.
Chevrolet’s roots in performance happened well before the Chevrolet Performance brand came about. You can almost pinpoint Chevrolet’s major involvement with racing to when the Chevrolet small-block V8 was introduced back in 1955. The new engine quickly became sought after by racers as it was not only a powerful engine option but also durable, accessible, straightforward to maintain, easy to work with, and affordable. In short, the small-block V8 was the perfect platform to modify and go racing with.
Some of GM’s top engineers, namely Zora Arkus-Duntov, bored out the small-block engine and added fuel injection. They were eventually able to create a fuel-injected 283 CID small-block V8 that was rated at 283 horsepower. Chevrolet advertised it as having “one horsepower for every cubic inch”. The enhanced engine eventually made itself into the historic 1957 Chevrolet Corvette Super Sport and unveiled the performance beast to the public at the New York Auto Show before becoming the engine of choice in the production Corvette.
What also occurred in 1957 was the Automobile Manufacturer’s Association ban of automakers directly participating in racing. While that hampered teams from getting direct involvement from Chevrolet, there were tons of rumors about under the table support and stories about racers purchasing parts behind the factory. Dealerships even got in on the racing side of things by ordering top spec parts and crafting dealer special performance models. This is where names like Yenko and Dana Chevrolet gained their notoriety in the automotive world.
GM would flip flop on allowing their brands to back racing teams throughout the early ‘60s until finally leaning into the motorsports business in 1967. The company was supporting a number of different Trans Am teams at this time and needed a division dedicated to producing performance parts for these race cars to stay competitive. From this need came the GM Performance Parts division.
GM Performance Parts opened up with catalog of crate engines, transmissions, and just about everything else from the production line of their vehicles. GM backed racing teams could now utilize GM dealerships as parts warehouses and have orders came straight from the factory to their local dealership for pickup. However, GM did the right thing and opened these performance part orders to the general public. This meant that small time racers, automotive enthusiasts, and those with a general need for speed could get their hands on some of the same parts that were used in professional NASCAR, NHRA, and SCCA cars.
During the introduction of the GM Performance Parts division, there was a corporate rule against installing engines larger than 400 CID in small production cars like the Camaro. Eventually, the Central Office Production Orders (COPO) Camaro came about in 1969 featuring the L72 427 CID big-block V8 or the drag ready ZL1 427 CID all-aluminum big-block V8 that had also been installed in the C3 Corvette that year. These introductions into the Chevrolet lineup made way for the GM Performance Parts catalog to sell the big-blocks as crate engines. Just in time for the pinnacle of muscle cars, the early 1970s.
The 1970s opened up the GM Performance Parts to host growing engines and an even more extensive list of parts to go alongside them. This time period also saw the official return to NASCAR for GM brands. The company was able to market their cars and their parts division by producing wins with the likes of racing legends Junior Johnson and Dale Earnhardt. GM Performance Parts also made its presence known throughout the various NHRA Drag Racing classes, especially in the Pro Stock division with the likes of Warren Johnson. The company would also see its engines used in the IndyCar circuit, amassing 86 wins over the course of 1986 to 1993. GM saw its motorsports presence continue to grow into the 2000s and with that came the continued support of the GM Performance Parts division by customers, but changes were on the horizon.
Performance vehicles continued to climb, but eventually the automotive market saw complications in the 2000s forcing GM to adjust its stance and brands. GEO and Oldsmobile were ended in 2004 while Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer, and Saab were ended under GM in 2010. 2009 saw the closure of the GM High Performance Vehicle Operations who delt with crafting models like the V-Series Cadillacs and Cobalt SS. GM still had its hands in motorsports with the likes of Chevrolet, so they decided it would be best to rebrand the GM Performance Parts division to Chevrolet Performance in 2012. This change also allowed Chevrolet Performance to engineer their own performance production vehicles for road use and on the track.
Chevrolet Performance is responsible for a number of exciting vehicles changes following its 2012 rebranding. First, they made some changes to the Camaro line by introducing the ZL1 version in 2011 featuring an LSA engine making 580 horsepower and 556 lb-ft of torque. Then there’s the 1LE package that tacks on added aero, an upgraded suspension, a stiffer chassis, and meets regulation for the Touring class for SCCA. Chevrolet Performance also took this opportunity to bring back the COPO Camaro as a modern production NHRA Stock Eliminator division racer to the delight of fans.
Chevrolet Performance also brought about the Chevrolet SS in 2014. While the production was short lived, this performance sedan was a rebadged Holden Commodore featuring an LS3 engine making 415 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque. The end of the SS unfortunately coincided with the shuttering of Holden’s Australian factory in 2017. It was a modern sleeper that’s grown to have a devout following even today.
For 2019, Chevrolet Performance provided us with the Corvette ZR1. This limited edition took the final front engine Corvette model and turned it up to 11. It was powered by an LT5 6.2L V8 engine that generated 755 horsepower and 715 lb-ft of torque making it the most powerful production Corvette ever. To keep this powerful Vette in check, extensive aero was added including a large rear spoiler and front splitter. The ZR1 was as close to the street legal C7.R racing Corvette as one could get.
Chevrolet Performance continues to provide customers with crate engines, transmissions, components, upgraded parts, and even the modern day COPO Camaro. The biggest difference to the catalog of parts is the mention of electrification. Chevrolet Performance has already unveiled electrified use cases in concepts like the E-10 restomod truck, Blazer-E restomod SUV, and the drag performance eCOPO Camaro. You can find their full 2023 catalog of parts here.
When it comes to their involvement in the Chevrolet lineup, Chevrolet Performance still has their hands in the engineering that goes into the Camaro and mid-engine Corvette – including the recently introduced high-performance Corvette Z06. While those are both exciting vehicles thanks to their involvement, the question remains if we will see a true Chevrolet Performance model like the Chevrolet SS before everything goes electric? Only time will tell. Even in the event that we do hit that fully electric future though, Chevrolet Performance is poised to still be there to bring the horsepower.