What GM Performance division engineers have done with this Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE is nothing short of remarkable. Starting with the latest, sixth generation Camaro we all know and love, they’ve turned it into something that’s quicker around a racing circuit than most supercars, the sort of cars that cost three and four times as much as this humble pony car. And they’ve engineered it to be so approachable that you don’t need to be a professional racer to enjoy most of its performance.
That’s right, you can take this American made, 1,730-kilogram Camaro to your local track day and blow the doors off plenty of expensive numbers from Europe. Starting with the top-spec ZL1 and its massively powerful supercharged, 6.2-litre LT4 V8, the 1LE – or ZL1 1LE Extreme Track Package option, as it’s officially known – adds suspension tweaks, a serious aerodynamic package, near race-spec tires, and loses some weight to make this the fastest Camaro to ever lap a racing circuit.
For those of us with long memories, the 1LE name is steeped in GM racing history and this latest 1LE takes Camaro performance to the literal extreme. Just a few minutes behind the wheel and you know this is the most hard core Camaro that GM has ever produced. Indeed, this car is so focused on speed that it’s nearly ready for wheel-to-wheel competition.
The 1LE’s drivetrain is ported over from the ZL1 with one key exception – there is only one transmission available, which is the excellent six-speed manual from Tremec. The 6.2-litre LT4 V8 is unchanged from the ZL1 and makes 650 horsepower at 6,400 RPM and 650 pounds-feet of torque at 3,600 RPM. With that much torque available in the engine’s mid-range, there’s rarely a need to shift, but the gearbox and clutch are so satisfying, that you’ll find excuses for gear changes.
Helping put all of that power to the ground is GM’s electronically controlled limited slip differential and it’s a cool bit of engineering also found in the latest Corvettes and Cadillac Vs. Instead of having a predefined amount of lock as you would in a mechanical limited-slip diff, the e-diff varies the amount of lock-on power for maximum acceleration, but also fully opens up off power for stability under braking. It’s near perfect with just a bit too much lock at parking speeds, which might be programmed to satisfy the autocross crowd.
The suspension has been reworked for the 1LE by dropping the ZL1’s standard Magnetic Ride shocks in favour of a set of DSSV spool valve dampers from famed Canadian racing specialist firm, Multimatic. Rather than a conventional shim stack inside the shock controlling fluid flow, Multimatic’s design uses a spool valve that was traditionally found in aerospace applications. Spool valves are much more accurate and repeatable in terms of regulating fluid flow through an automotive damper. In fact, Multimatic’s spool valve dampers have won four Formula 1 World Championships with Red Bull Racing and they’re found around the world in the top levels of sports car racing.
The front coil over strut design is adjustable for ride height as well as camber. Rear ride height is fixed, but the rear anti-roll bar is adjustable for stiffness. Of the ZL1 1LE’s roughly thirty kilo weight loss, 10kg comes from the lightweight Multimatic DSSV dampers alone. Brakes are lightweight Brembos with two piece rotors and six piston calipers up front, and smaller four piston calipers in the back clamping one piece vented rotors.
The front splitter, dive planes (those racing-derived winglets you see on each front corner), and carbon fibre rear wing are legitimate downforce-adding devices, and they really come into play at higher speeds. Chevy smartly produced the front splitter and dive planes in a simple composite instead of carbon fibre for reasonable replacement cost. The only carbon fibre you find on the exterior is on the hood and that decklid-mounted spoiler, both well out of harm’s way. The aero package does contribute to more frequent fuel stops, however. This test averaged just 16 litres per 100 kilometres in predominantly highway driving.
Further weight loss comes from thinner rear glass and, more importantly, unsprung weight. Where the ZL1 rolls on twenty-inch wheels and tires, the 1LE uses a lighter set up based around nineteens. They’re eleven inches wide at the front and twelve at the rear, rolling on Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3R tires that are 305/30-19 and 325/30-19, respectively. That’s a mouthful of a name for a tire, but it translates to ultra sticky and barely street legal. The tread grooves that are found on the tire are there simply to meet road regulations at the barest of minimums, but when you have that much rubber in contact with the road, you’ve got near limitless cornering grip.
The modern interior of the sixth-gen Camaro carries over with some key appointments for the 1LE. The deep bucket seats from Recaro are necessary, given the amount of Gs this Camaro generates in any direction, side to side, or fore and aft. The wheel and shifter are properly finished in Alcantara, which is a nice finishing touch for a driver’s car like this 1LE. With a range of adjustment in the seat and steering column, most drivers can find their perfect seating position. The only compromise is the view out the rear window, which has a large carbon fibre wing taking up most of your visibility.
Even though it’s a track car, the latest in Chevy tech is found on board. Everything from OnStar, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, 4G wifi and GM’s excellent track data acquisition Performance Data Recorder is optional—though it should be mandatory, standard equipment for this 1LE.
This Camaro is set up to demonstrate its prowess at any racing circuit, without compromise, and it’s in the 1LE’s nature to encourage drivers to take it to the track. It set a supercar-humbling time of seven minutes, sixteen seconds around the famed, twenty kilometre Nürburgring Nordschleife circuit. To pull that off, the suspension’s been tuned to race-level specs.
On the road, however, the ride is extremely rigid and the lack of suspension travel and compliance is profound. Once you’re on the move, however, and your concentration shifts to attacking corners at ever-greater speeds, the 1LE is endlessly rewarding.
The thrust of the LT4 seems to know no bounds and those Goodyears grip the road like plaid on a hipster. The driver is rewarded with a chassis and a brake pedal that provide superb feedback, giving pilots of any skill level the necessary information needed to throw this Camaro ever faster into corners. Engage full throttle and you’re thrown into the seat, and the rate of acceleration from this ZL1 1LE doesn’t dissipate until you’ve hit fourth gear, at which time you’re doing highly, highly illegal speeds.
It’s obvious that this Camaro has been carefully engineered, but the GM Performance team should be acknowledged for the special attention paid to the driver interface. The end result of their hard work is that the 1LE possesses that sublime, man-machine connection reserved for only the finest of drivers’ cars. It’s no surprise their driver-engineer could throw down such an impressive time at the Nürburgring because this ZL1 1LE is uncommonly easy and confidence-inspiring to drive at speed.
This latest go-fast Camaro genuinely honours the original 1LE in that it’s an authentic track-ready road car. Much like the original 1LEs, you could, at least theoretically, throw a cage into it and go racing. You’d be crazy, because it’s a uniquely focused and competent road car, but you really could. And you’d have a blast doing it.
While it may not be the best choice for a grocery getter or hauling the kids to school, the Camaro ZL1 1LE is one of the finest and most rewarding track cars you can buy today, regardless of price.
Brian Makse is a championship-winning racing driver, performance driving coach, and an auto writer and presenter. He holds multiple road racing track records, has raced off road trucks, and has driven many of the world’s famous circuits including the Nürburgring Nordschleife, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Road Atlanta, and Laguna Seca. As a life-long automobile enthusiast and accomplished racer, his stories are filtered through the lens of a highly experienced driver, giving his readers and viewers a unique perspective on the world of automobiles. You’ll find Brian’s work in automotive publications around the world and on his YouTube channel.