Better stuff costs more money. Think Five Guys vs. McDonald’s, Yankees vs. Mets, hot 22-year-old gold digger vs. loyal Lane Bryant customer. This overwhelmingly obvious and universal concept explains why the supercharged ZL1 Camaro commands a hefty premium over its less potent, naturally aspirated siblings. But is it really worth the extra greenbacks if big mods are on the horizon? Chris Poole didn’t think so. “I was very impressed after testdriving the ZL1, but still wanted more power. I didn’t want to spend $60,000 just to take the factory blower off and put a bigger one on it, so I saved $20,000 by buying a 1LE and made it way faster than a ZL1,” he explains. Can’t beat that kind of logic, and with 801 rear-wheel horsepower on tap, his 1LE has the balls to back up the trash talk.
Although he doesn’t discriminate against Detroit’s other car manufacturers, there’s nothing Chris digs more than a hopped-up GM LS small-block. He started out with a ’99 Pontiac WS6 that ran low-12-second passes courtesy of nitrous, and then stepped it up to an ’07 Corvette Z06 good for 9.93-second e.t.’s on engine alone. He admits to being tempted by the GT500 Mustang but the LS habit proved too tough to kick. “I’ve always liked fifth-gen Camaros, and when the ZL1 first came out I really wanted one. After driving one, I didn’t want to spend $65,000 on a car that only had 580 hp,” he says. “Since I planned on upgrading to a bigger supercharger anyway, I thought it made a lot more sense to buy a 1LE. It has suspension, transmission, steering, and wheel and tire upgrades that are the same or very similar to the ZL1, and it costs $20,000 less.”
A mere two weeks after purchasing the 1LE, Chris dropped the car off at Lethal Racing (www.lethalracing.com) for a Whipple 2.9L supercharger installation. At least that was the plan. After hearing other cars at the shop loping around the parking lot, Chris had to have Lethal Racing install one of its custom 231/242-degree duration at 0.050-inch lift hydraulic roller cams, along with a set of ported PRC LS3 cylinder heads and Stainless Works 1.875-inch headers. The combo laid down 716 rear-wheel horsepower, but it wasn’t enough. Adding a methanol injection system and a smaller supercharger pulley allowed for an increase in boost pressure to 13.5 psi. Other supporting hardware includes a ported throttle body, Siemens 63 lb/hr fuel injectors, a C5R timing chain, a Melling oil pump, and a ZL1 fuel pump. The result is a staggering 801 horsepower and 710 lb-ft of torque on the chassis dyno. This kind of serious grunt requires a serious driveline, so Lethal Racing installed a Mantic twin-disc clutch and The Driveshaft Shop axles. Not surprisingly, the badass factory 1LE suspension and brakes are more than capable of handling the extra power.
With the 1LE’s horsepower continuing to skyrocket despite the simplicity of the mods performed, Chris informed the Lethal Racing crew that he wanted to shoot for 1,000 hp. They quickly talked him out of it, however, and recommended first driving the car around town with 801 hp to see how he liked it. “I had never driven a car with this much power before, and I love the lope of the cam and the sound of the exhaust. I especially love the fact that it can blow the doors off most anything on the street, and even with 305mm-wide Mickey Thompson drag radials it still spins the tires through Third gear,” Chris reports. “That said, after a few weeks of driving the car around, it didn’t feel as fast anymore and I started getting bored with it. This combo probably has some more power left in it, but at this level it’s not a good idea to push the stock LS3 short-block any further.”
At this point, Chris’s mod tally was up to roughly $25,000, thus accomplishing his goal of making way more power than a ZL1 for the same amount of money. Nevertheless, he still wanted more, so he consulted with Lethal Racing to devise a new scheme. “Currently in the works is an all-new 427ci engine combo based on an ERL block, forged rotating assembly, Mast Motorsports Mozez cylinder heads, and a much bigger supercharger. This will be the first fifth-gen Camaro with a 4.5L supercharger,” Chris explains. “We will also be upgrading to a TH400 transmission, a Strange 9.75-inch rearend assembly, and BMR subframe connectors. Our goal is to run low-8-second passes at the dragstrip and lay down 1,200-1,300 rear-wheel horsepower. Without the help of the guys at Lethal Racing—Shawn David, Mike Trahan, Nick Chauffe, and Steven Garcia—this build wouldn’t be possible.”
Sure, spending money to hop up cars is stupid fun, but it’s not necessarily the smartest thing to do. Even so, some methods of hot rodding are smarter than others, and Chris has earned a huge return—horsepower wise—using the money he saved by opting for a 1LE over a ZL1. Any ZL1 owner that thinks that better stuff costs more money better hope they don’t find themselves lined up next to Chris’s car at a stoplight.