What is it?
The Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE is big, brash, bold and, finished in our test car's premium bright yellow paint, can probably be seen from space.
Chevrolet's supercharged ZL1 and 7.0-litre Z/28 performance models are legendary, but as General Motors’ fifth-generation pony car nears the end of its production run, the manufacturer’s engineers have delivered what is perhaps the coolest and most desirable Camaro yet.
The 1LE production code originated in the 1980s as a secret, in-the-know option box for racers to check and, while today’s 1LE isn’t intended for the racer-only set, it includes much of the same clever engineering that makes it not only noticeably quicker than the SS but also thoroughly more enjoyable to drive.
By all rights, the fundamental changes made to the Camaro by the addition of the 1LE option package should demand a separate Camaro model, but in keeping with tradition and avoiding confusion in the marketplace, the 1LE is available exclusively on the Camaro SS with a manual transmission. The lack of 1LE badging adds a massive cool factor.
Under the bonnet is an unchanged 6.2-litre LS3 V8, producing a thundering 426bhp and 420lb ft of torque, but the exclusive Tremec TR6060 close-ratio six-speed gearbox awakens that lumbering engine.
What's it like?
While sub-5.0sec 0-62mph times are available at the driver’s whim, the 1LE is at its best while carving corners, either on the open road or race circuit.
The six-speed transmission is topped with the short-throw gearstick from the ZL1. The gates are well defined – misshifts are close to impossible – and the Alcantara-covered shift knob feels perfect in your hand.
The shorter gears and the feeling that the small-block comes alive after 3500rpm makes you want to carry revs all the way to the 6600rpm redline.
Refreshingly, the cockpit is very effective and the Camaro’s seating position is near ideal. The Alcantara steering wheel is a welcome upgrade and pedals are placed for easy heel-and-toe footwork.
A common theme here is the use of ZL1-derived components, which help keep the cost of the 1LE package at a very reasonable $3500 (around £2100).
Among them, the 1LE takes the ZL1’s variable-ratio, variable-assist electric power steering, which gives remarkable precision and feel for an electric system.
Turn-in response is as immediate as anything this side of a Porsche Cayman, belying the Camaro’s 1769kg kerb weight, though you do feel the mass in transitions.
The heart of the 1LE’s upgrades, however, is entirely within its chassis tuning. Only spring rates remain the same as the SS, but that’s where the similarities end. Retuned monotube dampers, larger-diameter anti-roll bars and ZL1-spec wheel bearings add a level of control that’s nearly as good as that of the Z/28.
Brembo calipers do the stopping and brake feel is superb, but track day drivers might want to upgrade pads at minimum.