2000 Chevy Camaro SS - 375hp Berger 75th Anniversary SS - Super Chevy Magazine (2023)

Matt Berger blipped the throttle and tugged the leather-covered Hurst shifter into second gear just as our Camaro squeezed into a narrow, uphill corner, in the middle of which was a large, unsettling (for car and passenger) dip that felt for sure like it would be the car's over-the-curb launching pad.

Nope. Although the engine was calling for oversteer, the bright red, 375hp Berger 75th Anniversary SS dug its Goodyears into the pavement and powered up the hill. During the dip, Matt even found time to answer his cell phone.

"I'll have to call you back," he told his wife. "I'm driving."

He flipped the phone closed and stuffed it back in his suit coat. Then, it was another quick session through the gears in the quiet west Michigan city of Grand Rapids.

"We've had calls at the dealership asking which one of our salespeople was the maniac tearing down the backstreets here," Matt says with a grin.

So, when the dealership's in-house Camaro-phile, Dennis Barker, suggested a limited-production Camaro to celebrate the dealership's performance heritage, Matt Berger was an eager enabler.

Of course, Matt Berger isn't a salesperson. He's the dealer at Berger Chevrolet in Grand Rapids. He's the guy in charge.

"Our store celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2000 and we just completed a huge renovation," Berger says. "It seemed like a great complement to the dealership."

But he didn't just rubber-stamp a stripe job and called it a "special edition."

"There had to be more power in the package or we weren't going to do it," he says. "We have reputation to maintain."

That reputation for performance stretches back to the '60s, when Berger Chevrolet became one of the nation's premiere outlets for factory and aftermarket parts (see sidebar). In fact, people still call the dealership to ask for Berger's famed "Prescribed Power" decals or copies of Protect-O-Plates for long-gone musclecars.

Chambered Music
Although some of the wrench-turners at the dealership had been experimenting with minor upgrades to LS1-powered cars, Barker hooked up with former SLP Engineering employee Matt Murphy (SLP, of course, being the Chevrolet contractor that assembles the Camaro SS) and his partner, Reese Cox. Murphy, who had already established ties with the dealership when he took official delivery of one of the handful of '97 LT4-powered Camaro SS anniversary cars from Berger, was in a position to help develop a meaningful performance package for the already potent SS. The red car seen here is Berger's development mule and has logged more than 90 sessions on a Dynojet chassis dyno.

"We tried all kinds of things," Barker says. "Some worked, some didn't. Some actually cost some horsepower, but in the end, we came up with a great balance that doesn't sacrifice drivability for outright performance."

That's not to say there isn't outright performance, though. Far from it. Although Murphy and Barker don't want to reveal some of the tricks used to bump the engine's output to 375, we can tell you the LS1's engine wasn't opened up, which was key to making the project affordable and warranty-friendly. (The car was even re-certified for its emissions.) There's some creative airflow management in the exhaust department, but no headers.

Speaking of the exhaust system, the Berger Camaro employs an interesting cat-back system that utilizes a pair of 1969-style chambered mufflers. In fact, the system actually uses a pair of 1969 replacement mufflers aft of the rear axle. As the stock single pipe comes over the axle, the chambered system splits into two paths, each with a pinched resonator for a muffler. Exhaust tips flow from each muffler and exit at opposite sides of the rear bumper. It's a creative, great-looking design that delivers, by far, the best sounding exhaust note we've heard from a fourth-generation F-car.

Backing up the extra power and helping overcome the Camaro's inherent weight problem, the Berger Camaro runs 3.73:1 rear gears (a "mandatory" option that's installed after a deposit is taken, thereby ensuring warranty protection). The car's computer was also re-calibrated for the shorter gearset, so the speedometer reads true.

On the road and between stoplights, we were impressed and, frankly, a little surprised at how well the Camaro's performance combination worked. We couldn't detect any flat spots in its overall drivability. It pulled strongly and smoothly through the rev range, with no apparent peaks or valleys in the horsepower or torque curves. We've driven scores of modified fourth-generation Camaros in recent years, and this one ranks at the top in terms of seat-of-the-pants pull and around-town tractability.

And the sound of that chambered exhaust when cruising at about 2,500-3,000 rpm! It's music to the ears.

The Berger Camaro certainly feels quick, but our photo session came a little too early in the Michigan spring to take it to the drag strip. On the stock 17-inch SS wheels and tires, Matt Murphy reports turning a 13.32 e.t. in Atlanta with the car.

"It would have been a lot quicker, but a photographer wanted some tire smoke for his shot, so I dumped the clutch at the line," he says. "When I wanted another run for a truer time, the ambulance guys had left for lunch and didn't return, so we couldn't make any more passes."

Out of the box, a stock 2000 SS is a mid-13-second ride. We suspect the Berger Camaro, with its 3.73 gears, could hustle the car's 3,500 pounds down the track in about 13-flat, though Murphy insists high 12s. We say the stock tires are the limiting factor for getting into the 12s. Bolt on some slicks and this thing will probably go 12.80, maybe 12.75. We plan to find out for ourselves later this year.

Stripes Of Honor
It's natural that any car with an "anniversary" theme will have some stripes, badges, or other identifying markings. The Berger Camaro does, but thankfully, they're pretty tasteful.

From the front, there's a custom grille insert with a genuine 1969-style "SS" emblem in the center. "Heritage" stripes run the length of the hood and wrap around the SS hood scoop, along with "375 HP" call-outs.

Out back, the stripes conclude on the decklid. The taillight panel is blacked out, big-block-style, and wears a chromed "By Berger" badge, just as any '69 C.O.P.O. would have been delivered from the dealership. We really like the looks of the blacked-out panel, but our nit to pick would be the set of chrome "CAMARO" letters between the taillights. It's a little gaudy. (Matt Berger doesn't like them either, so they probably won't be seen on production versions, unless the buyer insists.)

On the inside, the Berger Camaro wears white-faced gauges and a commemorative "Prescribed Power" numbered badge on the center console. There's also a large, matching Prescribed Power decal on the air cleaner box to greet the eye when the hood is opened.

It's rare that a dealership-sponsored package would be much more than a collection of appearance add-ons. But with the performance to back it up, Berger's 75th Anniversary SS definitely delivers on the dealership's C.O.P.O.-heavy heritage. In fact, the work on the car hasn't gone unnoticed at Chevrolet, either.

"We've got the blessing of the Camaro brand team," Matt Berger says. "We told them our plans and they've approved everything we've done. In a way, it's kind of another C.O.P.O."

Its limited supply is also reminiscent of the C.O.P.O. cars. Just 30 Berger SSs are scheduled to be built (plus the development car we drove) and half were already spoken for when we talked to Dennis Barker for this story. Many have been sold to former Berger musclecar customers, including an Arizona resident who bought one of the original C.O.P.O. Camaros from the dealership.

"This was a natural project for us and it's been a lot of fun," says Matt Berger. "This dealership has always been about performance. We just like this stuff."

So do we, Matt. But on the next drive, leave your cell phone at the office...

Editor's Note: For information on available Berger 75th Anniversary SS cars, call Dennis Barker at (616) 575-9627.

Berger's C.O.P.O. Connection
Four generations of Bergers have sold Chevrolets in Grand Rapids, Michigan, since the '20s. Specially prepared cars began filtering out of the dealership in the late '60s, during the heyday of the musclecar era.

"One of our guys called Chevrolet and actually got Pete Estes on the phone one Friday afternoon," says Dale Berger, father of current dealer Matt Berger. "He told Estes he wanted a hot intake manifold he'd heard about for the small-block to put on a Camaro, and since no one was doing anything yet with Camaro performance, Estes was thrilled. The manifold arrived on Monday morning."

It was the beginning of a successful performance parts business, whereby Berger Chevrolet sold Chevy race parts and the top aftermarket components.

"People would show up on Friday with their paychecks and again on Monday morning with blown-up parts to replace," Berger says. "We shipped stuff everywhere. We sent huge crates full of parts to South Africa, I recall."

Berger Chevrolet also became one of the infamous outlets of the backdoor C.O.P.O. Camaros and Chevelles in 1969.

"I knew the guy in Central Office who handled those orders," Berger says. "He'd call and tell me about them and ask if I wanted to order any.

"Berger ordered 50 iron-block C.O.P.O. Camaros and 10 C.O.P.O. Chevelles. Rather than the stripper models that most C.O.P.O. Camaros were built as, most of Berger's were ordered with Ralley Wheels and the "hockey stick" side stripes. The dealership also delivered one of the 69 all-aluminum 427 ZL-1 Camaros. But the yellow machine didn't exactly fly off the showroom floor.

"It cost $7,400 when other '69s were going for $3,000," Berger says. "It sat at our store for more than a year. The staff would start it up once a week to keep it in good order."How did Berger sell it? With a rebate.

"I was at a Chevrolet event and someone mentioned the $1,500 Chevy was giving to help sell the ZL-1," Berger recalls. "I said, 'I never heard of that,' and they told me it was because I had already sold the car. I told them I hadn't, because I had false-registered it as a favor to Chevy so they could count the car as sold, thereby making the engine approved for racing. Once we dropped the price, the car sold."

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