Trips to the Nürburgring 24 Hours and Ypres Rally prove our hot hatch's racing DNA...
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What’s a Chevrolet Camaro 1LE when it’s at home? A reason for much excitement to those initiated in Chevy’s arcane alphanumeric model variant naming structure. To those of you who aren’t, 1LE is the name given to a kit of factory-fitted parts that turn a standard V6 or V8 Camaro into a track-ready rocket ready to embarrass cars costing two and three times more. The name, in case you were wondering, officially stands for Track Performance Package, and first broke cover in 1989. Other fact: the Camaro is 50 this year. Why so much excitement about what is essentially a parts kit? Fair question. To answer that, you have to first understand what an extraordinary aftermarket parts operation GM Performance has become. In the same way that the whole of GM’s product line up has been transformed over past five years, its aftermarket parts division has, too. The range and quality of parts now available – as factory and/or dealer-fitted accessories so retain full warranty coverage – is nothing short of astonishing. We tried several cars fitted with a range of the parts and all felt better handling, faster than the stock cars. Yes, yes, but what about the 1LE? OK, so the 1LE kit is available for manual 1LS and 2LT – sorry, there’s going to be more of these codes as we get through this – V6 models. And 1SS manual V8 models. You can’t get it in automatic form, which will please some and not others. What do you get in the kits? The V6 1LE kit gets the beefier suspension, tyres, and fuel system from the V8. The engine remains standard. Special 1LE bits include a short-throw shifter, mechanical slip diff, four-piston front brake calipers, plus a track cooling package that vents the engine, diff and transmission. Bodywork differences include 20in wheels, front splitter and rear spoiler, plus a black-wrapped bonnet and high-flow mesh grilles. You can also option your 1LE to have Recaro seats and a performance data recorder, which you should. What about the V8? The V8 1LE really turns up the heat. Starting with either a 1SS (base) and 1LT (posher) models, it adds the new FE4 magnetic ride dampers, springs and stabiliser bars, all tuned for track use. On top of that comes an electronic limited slip diff, some new, super sticky Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tyres (as will be fitted to the new ZL1 debuting next month), six-piston Brembos and bigger front discs, all the coolers, a short-throw shifter – working with active rev-match – and you get the Recaros as standard. The PDR is an option. Cosmetically, it changes with a satin black-wrapped bonnet, and side mirrors. Plus black splitter, diffuser and rear spoiler.
OK, enough of the shopping lists. What are they like to drive? When we first drove this Gen six Camaro, we said it felt and drove more like a sports car than a muscle car. So GM fitting this relatively modest amount of kit to an already great handling car should produce some good results. But good is a long way from the truth. These cars aren’t just good, they are positively great. So great that they categorically outperformed – they were faster, smoother, better handling – a new Mustang GT with a track pack that was on hand to try next to the Camaros. The V8 1LE felt only a hair slower than the M4 with Competition Pack in a straight line, and was way more composed and settled than the Beemer for the rest of the lap. Unsurprisingly, the V8 is by a large margin the faster of the two and would be our choice, if for no other reason than you should always buy the V8 option – or greater – of anything while it’s still available. But the V6 is a cracker, too. How is that possible with just a few parts? The key here is not just the parts themselves but how they’ve been tuned and fitted to the car. By designing them in at the beginning of the car’s life and then fitting them at the factory, everything has been dialed in just so. Which means you can wring every last drop out of the car in any given situation. All secure in the knowledge that your warranty is still intact, which feels almost wrong. But I’ll bet they are horrible on the road though, right? Wrong. We took both cars on a 100-mile road loop through Death Valley and, apart from confirming that their high-speed stability is excellent, both cars were as supple and comfortable to drive as ever. All of the track ability has been added without subtracting anything on the road. If anything, they are better there, too. OK, I’m sold. Hit me with the massive price tag. It’s not massive at all. The 1LE package price is just $4,500 for the V6 and $6,500 for the V8. So, before you start haggling on the base car’s price, you can get the V6 from just over $33k and the V8 for little more than $44k. So should I buy one? Ever since we got out of the car we have been thinking if there is a better performance car bargain out there right now. And we are struggling. The V8 1LE feels as fast as a Ford GT350 (with Track package) and could maybe even get close to a GT350R on the right course. The V6 would eat any Mustang V6 on any track. So the only thing that might stop us buying one, if we wanted a hot Camaro, is the fast approaching ZL1. But then that’s another story.