“Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” is an axiom that’s been bantered about by car manufacturers for some time now. In short, it’s a correlation between winning at the racetrack and sales at the dealership. After all, everyone loves a winner, and even guys (mostly) who don’t plan on hitting any sort of track, like the idea of driving a ride that is capable of running on and kicking ass at the track.
This concept of adapting race car type parts to “average Joe” cars has been around a long time. Heck, it’s the reason we have a Z28 Camaro, and in that same vein, there’s the 1LE option. It started back in 1985 with the Canadian Players Challenge racing series where they ran all out for 30-45 minutes. No pit stops, no excuses. The cars were showroom stock, which meant that other than wheels, tires, and shocks, they had to run the way they were sold from the dealership. The bad news for the third-gen Camaros was that from the showroom they had brakes that could politely be considered awful, which were lucky to even be functional after 40 minutes of racing. Due to this, GM of Canada began begging the corporate office to offer up some sort of track-capable braking system. Here in the States things weren’t much better, with the Camaro routinely getting trounced by Mustangs in the IMSA and SCCA autocross, road racing, and Pro Solo events.
It was GM brake parts engineer Phil Minch who got things rolling. He figured out the Camaro shared the front wheel bearing package with the Caprice. This meant that its heavier 12-inch rotors could easily replace the anemic 11-inch rotors on the Camaro. It was this epiphany that eventually led to the Regular Production Option (RPO) code of 1LE. Minch later teamed up with the Camaro’s chief engineer Chuck Hughes and powertrain manager Ray Canale to grab a Camaro and toss on the Caprice brakes. What they found was a need for a better caliper. After digging around, the best candidate was an aluminum twin-piston PBR piece from the Corvette. Unlike the rotor, it wasn’t a bolt-on deal and the Camaro’s spindle had to be tweaked for everything to work. Rear disc brakes were already a factory option, so they also became part of the 1LE package.
A company called Special Vehicle Developments, owned by Bill Mitchell, was given the cars and told to take them to Road Atlanta’s 2.5-mile course. These F-cars were bone stock, with items like air conditioning and power accessories removed. After a few laps, it became apparent that the braking bias was off and the non-adjustable stock proportioning valve was useless to fix it. A new proportioning valve with the proper bias was added to the package and the braking became good, very good.
The race teams loved the new “stock” option, but new chinks in the armor were found. Better brakes meant more negative g’s, which caused the Camaro’s fuel-injection pump, mounted inside the tank, to become fuel starved. Stalling under hard braking is a buzz kill, so GM totally redesigned the fuel tank. New baffles and a new pickup kept gas around the pump, even below a quarter tank. Sometime in the early ’90s, the revised tank design became standard on all Camaros. Prior to that it only came in the 1LE package.
As the Camaro got faster, more changes were made. First up was a change to Fifth gear to address the painful lack of torque. There wasn’t much racers could do about power since the only engine mods allowed were basic blueprinting and balancing work, as well as some massaging of the fuel system. Unlike other “stock” style racing, these cars really were. On the straight sections of tracks the Camaro had zero chance of passing the lighter Mustangs. Part of the problem was that GM switched to a 0.62 Fifth gear so that their everyday car buyers could get better mpg and pass ever-increasing emissions standards. This gear was simply too tall and GM swapped to a 0.74 Fifth gear in all transmissions slated for 1LE Camaros. To this they also added in an aluminum driveshaft.
So now, rather than just a brake upgrade, the 1LE coalesced into a full-on performance package. But Chevrolet didn’t want non-racers buying these hopped-up Camaros so they mandated that 1LE cars would have to forego air conditioning and all power amenities. This had the desired effect. In 1988 only four were produced and in 1989 111 1LE Camaros were sold. Eventually, gearheads caught on that the 1LE option would make their Z28 way faster on the street, and 478 1LEs were sold in 1990. By 1992 the yearly tally was up to 705 units; obviously, these weren’t being snatched up by racers alone. The stripped nature of the cars kept cost down, and in 1990 you could get a 1LE Camaro for under $16,000. The lack of T-tops, stereo, power leather seats, air conditioning, power door locks, power trunk, cruise control, and power windows kept the weight low as well, somewhere around 3,100 pounds.
In 1993, the fourth-gen Camaro hit the scene and was a big hit. GM still offered the 1LE, but only a few were bought. To generate more excitement, GM sweetened the package to appeal to the everyday driver. A six-speed Borg-Warner trans with better ratios was one of the major changes. After 1993, the cars came with an ABS system far more capable than what preceded it. Post ’93 1LE cars had Koni shocks on all four corners. GM even went so far as to sneak a small, unmarked instruction sheet into the glovebox detailing how to tune the shocks for various track surfaces. Higher rate bushings and stiffer 32mm front and 21mm rear sway bars joined the package. Eventually, GM decided to start marketing the package to performance drivers and not just to racers. To make the package more enticing for the guy wanting a 1LE for the street, air conditioning became standard in 1996. The 1LE option was now branded by the marketing department as the Performance Suspension Package and GM started really making an effort to sell the option to performance enthusiasts—odd, considering the 1LE’s “track-only” beginnings. For profit reasons GM scrapped the 1LE program in 1999, but SLP did offer a 1LE option (RPO Y2Y) in 2001, although given all the weight-adding power options and T-tops, it was really just a shadow of the original track pack first offered on the third-gens.
01. This ’92 1LE Camaro was one of only 30 cars built for the last year of the Canadian racing series, but it never ended up hitting the track. Tom Hollinsworth found this sweet ride while cruising the Internet and scooped it up. Only 5 of the 30 cars were painted in Quasar Blue, so it’s a pretty rare example. Tom confirmed the car’s lineage with GM of Canada and found out that his was the first 1LE/R7U car built in 1992.
02. The SCCA had a Showroom Stock Racing series and Canada had the Motorsports Division Players Challenge/GM Motorsports Race Series. Both were more than happy to take advantage of order code R7U. This added a hand-built LB9 305 to the 1LE. The engines were run on the dyno at the factory and the bolts were paint-marked to discourage creative tampering by the race teams.
03. If you love 1LE cars, thank a Canadian. It was pressure from the racers north of the border that got the performance upgrade package moving forward and into the winner’s circle.
04. A specially geared five-speed manual transmission helped racers get the most from their stock powerplants.
05. The 1LE option continued in the fourth-gens, but it was no longer considered a “racer” option and was marketed towards performance enthusiasts.
06. We got the chance to hammer on some factory-fresh 1LE Camaros at GingerMan Raceway (South Haven, Michigan), and we were impressed with how much faster and confident the car felt compared to SS Camaros we’ve piloted in the past. Earlier, GM took the new 1LE to Virginia International Raceway (VIR) for some track testing. “To break a 3-minute lap on the four-mile long Grand Course is an incredible accomplishment for any car,” Oppenheiser said. “Like the Nurburgring, at VIR there’s never a moment when the car rests at steady state. Each lap tests every aspect of a car, including power, brakes, steering, tire grip, and chassis balance. Earlier in the year Camaro engineer Aaron Link drove a ’12 Camaro ZL1 Coupe around the Grand Course in 2:52.4. Link’s 2:58.37 lap time in the 1LE further demonstrates the Camaro’s capabilities on a road course.”
07. The ZL1-based 20x10 and 20x11 aluminum wheels come bathed in black and are wrapped in Goodyear Eagle Supercar G2 tires. These are the front tires from the ZL1 (285/35-20), and GM found that the car was much faster with the 285s on the rear due to the car’s weight balance compared to the wider ZL1 rubber. The brakes are the same as the SS, but the calipers have been given an attractive coat of red paint.
08. While the Camaro SS utilizes a Tremec TR6060-M10 transmission, the Camaro 1LE features an exclusive Tremec TR6060-MM6. Paired with a numerically higher 3.91 final-drive ratio, the close-ratio gearing of the transmission is tuned for road racing performance. The 1LE, just like the ZL1, uses a standard liquid-to-liquid cooling system for track use.
09. The 1LE features exclusive monotube rear dampers instead of the twin-tube dampers on the SS model. This new hardware allowed engineers to tune the 1LE suspension to focus on optimal body-motion control while preserving much of the ride quality and wheel-motion control found in the SS. The 1LE also has a unique rear spoiler that aids in downforce.
10. For 2013, the 1LE package is offered only on 1SS and 2SS coupe models and features the 6.2L LS3 V-8, which is rated at 426 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. For additional chassis stiffness, a strut tower brace has been borrowed from the drop-top Camaro.
11. Inside, the 1LE package incorporates the ZL1’s flat-bottom steering wheel, which is trimmed in suede microfiber and designed for easier heel-and-toe driving on the racetrack. The quick-acting, short-throw, shifter from the ZL1 is also trimmed in suede microfiber. Also new for 2013 in most all Camaros is the integrated touch screen center cluster that has navigation as an additional option.
So it’s 2011 and some gearheads over at GM are thinking about the good old days, when a light bulb clicked on. “Why not bring back the 1LE option for the newest Camaro?” After all, it made perfect sense and this would be just the ticket to help the SS Camaro take down its newest nemesis: the Boss 302 Mustang.
This time around the 1LE package adds $3,500 to the price of a ’13 SS Camaro, and like the 1LE of decades ago, it can only be applied to those equipped with a manual transmission. Do the math and you can get a ’13 1LE Camaro for $37,035, which is way less expensive than the Boss 302. “The Camaro 1LE combines the best elements of the SS and the ZL1, with a focus on handling,” said Al Oppenheiser, Camaro chief engineer. “We optimized every part of the SS for improved track driving, including gear ratios, suspension tuning, and chassis mounts. The result really brings the Camaro SS alive at every turn, whether you’re carving through your favorite backroads or working on lap times at the track. Best of all, the Camaro 1LE is $10,000 less than its nearest competitor. For drivers looking for an affordable way to get on the track, what they save with the 1LE will the cover a lot of days at the track.”
1989 1LE Camaro rundown
- Level 1 IROC-Z with 5.0 TPI engine with five-speed or 5.7 TPI engine
- Optional axle ratio (G92) (305/3.45, 350/3.27) and its required options
- Air conditioning delete (C41) (standard heater)
- Foglamp delete
- Aluminum driveshaft (JG1) (PN 10085375)
- Performance exhaust system with dual catalytic converters (N10)
- Special deflected disc shocks
- Lower control arms (PN 10164151)
- Larger (11.86 inch) front rotors (PN 18016035)
- Larger front spindles (PN 18016737 and 18016738)
- PBR front, dual-piston aluminum calipers (PN 10132827 and 10132828)
- Special swinging fuel pickup in gas tank and special 18-gallon baffled fuel tank for fuel pickup down to 0.5-gallon reserve to prevent fuel starvation in hard cornering.
- Some came with special 16x8 light alloy mesh wheels (XWL)
2013 1LE Camaro rundown
- Larger 27mm solid front stabilizer bar, and 28mm solid rear stabilizer bar for improved body control
- Strut tower brace for improved steering feel and response
- ZL1-based 20x10 front, 20x11 aluminum wheels
- 285/35-ZR20 Goodyear Eagle Supercar G2 tires, front and rear
- ZL1 wheel bearings, toe links, and rear shock mounts for improved on-track performance
- ZL1 high-capacity fuel pump and additional fuel pickups for improved fuel delivery during high cornering
- Visually, the 1LE package for 2013 is distinguished by its matte-black hood, front splitter and rear spoiler, as well as the black 10-spoke ZL1-based wheels.
- The functional front splitter and rear spoiler contribute to the car’s on-track performance by helping to reduce aerodynamic lift at high speeds.