They probably should have called it Z28. Or Track Rat. Somehow, 1LE doesn't have the same head-slapping ring to it as Boss 302 or Boss 302 Laguna Seca. Hey, as one Chevy engineer put it, at least they didn't call it IROC. That's pretty much where our complaints about the new model end. Yes, Chevy has brought back the fairly obscure 1LE designation from the late-'80s and early-'90s for its new ultra-high-performance open track machine. While the former was borne out of the need/desire to build a competitive road racer, the latest iteration is designed for the people who like to spend their weekends braking late, clipping apexes and wearing out sticky, expensive tires rather than hitting golf balls. For $3,500 over the price of a 2SS, you get a track-ready street machine that's capable of over 1g on the skidpad and according to Camaro Chief Engineer Al Oppenheiser, "will outrun a Boss 302 Laguna Seca on any track.
That's a bold claim, one we hope to verify in an upcoming issue. We will tell you this: It drives a lot like its much ballyhooed big-brother, the ZL1 on track, but it's less nose heavy without all the blower hardware up there. Think of the 1LE as "ZL1 Light and you're not too far off. Many of the lessons learned in developing the ultimate F-body were incorporated into this new version. True, the supercharged engine and magnetorheological dampers were left on the table, but you get ultra-sticky Goodyear Eagle Supercar G:2 tires all around, monotube rear shocks (instead of twin-tubes), different stabilizer bars, a unique six-speed manual gearbox with a standard air-to-liquid cooler and 3.91 gears. No automatic trans is available. Also making the journey from the ZL1 are electric power steering, dual-mode exhaust, flat-bottom steering wheel and short-throw shifter.
While the wheels and tires are the optional 10-spokes off the ZL1, the 1LE's tires are the same size all around as the ZL1's fronts--285/35ZR20. Wheels are 10 inches wide up front and 11 in the rear. As an added bonus, they drop 22 pounds from the weight of the car--not much, but it is critical unsprung rotating mass. You can read all about the hardware elsewhere, but the big question is how does it drive? Damn impressive. We saw no street time in the 1LE, but we did get a bunch of truncated laps at Gingerman Raceway in Western Michigan. Chevrolet had the course set up so you exited at pit out, but had to come back in at the pit entrance. Also, it coned off the newer addition to the track so we were using the original layout. Presumably, this protected a lot of journalists from themselves and saved a bunch of sheetmetal, but it kept us from getting into a rhythym on track. Still, we came away with the following impressions.
1 This car has tenacious grip and brakes. We have no doubt it'll back up Chevy's claim of being able to pull 1g on the skidpad. The suspension modifications and gummy Goodyears allow you to have your way with the car. It rewards good drivers without harming bad ones. Get it out of shape and it's easy to reel back in. The brakes are standard SS fare, but that's only a problem if they are inadequate, which these most certainly are not. The 14-inch Brembos up front and 13-inch rears were indefatigable, despite repeated stops from triple digit speeds and abuse from half a dozen moto-journalists.
2 It's very neutral. Sure, it'll understeer if you apex too early or too fast, but it also has enough brakes and power and whatever else you need to rotate the back end.
3 It's extremely predictable and a willing dance partner at speed. Do what you want, it's always catchable. It really does feel very much like the ZL1 on track, but perhaps one that's better balanced.
4 For $37,035 out the door (including destination), there are few cars that will be able to hang with it on a road course, making the $3,500 1LE option a real bargain if that's your bag.
The 1LE presents a wonderful combination of power, grip and brakes, and really bridges the gap between the SS and ZL1. The thing is, though, we always want more power. It's been said that this model wasn't call Z28 because there were no engine mods made to it. Which got us to wondering: What if there was a fifth-gen in the pipeline with all the suspension goodies of the 1LE, but with the 505-horse, LS7 V-8 underhood? That would be some Z28. Let's keep our fingers crossed.
1LE Specs & Features
- 426hp LS3 6.2L V-8, with 420 lb-ft of torque
- Tremec 6060-MM6 transmission with unique ratios and standard air-to-liquid cooler
- IRS with higher-capacity half-shafts and 3.91 gears.
- Larger, 27mm solid front stabilizer bar, and 28mm solid rear stabilizer bar
- Strut tower brace for improved steering feel and response
- ZL1-based 20x10-inch front and 20x11-inch aluminum wheels
- 285/35ZR20 Goodyear Eagle Supercar G:2 tires front and rear (identical to the front tires for ZL1)
- 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
- Matte-black hood, front splitter and rear spoiler--as well as the 10-spoke ZL1-based wheels, which are finished in black.
- Functional front splitter and rear spoiler to reduce aerodynamic lift at high speeds.
- Flat-bottom steering wheel finished in suede-like microfiber
Topless ZL1 Fun
As big fans of the new Camaro convertible, we couldn't wait to get our mitts on the ZL1 version. The base and SS ragtops are tremendous fun, but if something is good with 426 hp, it is a lot better with 580.
Of course, a lot of not-so-good things can happen when you lop the roof off a car. Yes, the base and SS models feel stiff when you drop the top, but on a car with as much power as the ZL1, well, it could go bad in a hurry.
We're happy to report than the ZL1 convertible, while a heavier than its coupe brother, makes for a delightful open-air experience. Cowl shake is virtually non-existent, nor does the steering column move or vibrate over rough surfaces, as is the norm in many open-top vehicles.
We drove the ZL1 convertible over some pretty interesting roads in and around Grand Rapids, but it was when we took a wrong turn and deviated from the prescribed drive route that we found a delightfully demented thoroughfare where we could truly find out how good the new droptop actually was. This particular stretch had wicked switchbacks, plus nasty dips and roller-coaster-like up-and-down sections. There were some pretty rough stretches with bumps, grooves--you name it--and we were really expecting the ZL1 to bottom out or worse at some points.
Nope. The open-air ZL1 ate this road up with aplomb. The MR shocks, electric power steering, and suspension tuning gave me the confidence to go back again and again for more and more fun.
On an unrelated note, the new color touch radio with 7-inch My Link “infotainment” system and borderless rear view mirror (the latter standard on all '13 Camaros) further enhance the fifth-gen drivng experience.
While motoring the hour from Grand Rapids to Gingerman Raceway, we were reminded of how peaceful the new F-body is with the top down. Conversations can be had while speaking in normal tones and wind buffeting is never an issue (at least under 85 mph). Our only complaint is the top is a little sluggish going up and down. This is a ride that makes you impatient to hit the road.
As for the price, it's got a base of $59,545, plus a $1,300 gas guzzler penalty. With the $500 microfiber faux suede package, you're staring down the barrel of $62,245 (including destination). That's a tough pill to swallow, but think of what an L78 Camaro convertible is worth today, not to mention L88 Corvette roadsters or LS6 Chevelle convertibles. They weren't cheap new, and they command a premium today.