So it's 2011 and some gearheads over at GM are thinking about the good old days when a lightbulb clicks 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 for helping the SS Camaro take down its newest nemesis, the Boss 302 Mustang. It all started back in 1985 with the Canadian Players Challenge racing series where cars were ran all out for 30-45 minutes. No pit stops, no excuses. The cars were "showroom stock", which meant other than wheels, tires, and shocks, they had to run the way they came from the dealership. The bad news for the third-gen Camaros was from the showroom they had dismal brakes, which were lucky to be even functional after 40 minutes of racing. Due to this, GM of Canada began begging the corporate office to offer some sort of track-capable braking system. Here in the States things weren't much better with the Camaro getting routinely trounced by Mustangs in the IMSA and SCCA autocross, road racing, and Pro Solo events.

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 had 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," Al Oppenheiser, Camaro chief engineer, says. "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 back roads or working on lap times at the track. Best of all, the Camaro 1LE is $10,000 less than its nearest competitor," Oppenheiser says. "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."

Birth of an Icon

It was a GM brake parts engineer named Phil Minch who got things rolling in regards to the 1LE program. He figured out the third-gen Camaro shared the front wheel–bearing package with the Caprice. This meant the 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 and missing items like air conditioning and power accessories. 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 tank-mounted fuel-injection pump 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, but prior to that it only came in the 1LE package.

As the Camaro got faster more changes were made. First up, was a painful lack of torque in Fifth gear. There wasn't much racers could do about power since the only engine mods allowed were basic blueprinting and balancing work and some massaging of the fuel system. Unlike other "stock"-style racing, these cars really were. In the straight sections of track 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 miles per gallon 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 conditions 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. By 1992 the yearly tally was up to 705 units; obviously these weren't just being snatched up by racers. 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.

The 1LE continued in the fourth-gen Camaro, but was dropped as an RPO code at the end of 1999 for the same reason air conditioning was made standard in 1996—parts de-proliferation. "We were asked to drop either the 1LE package or the B4C (Special Service Police). The B4C, while packaged a bit different than a Z28, essentially had two additional part numbers. The 1LE package had substantially more part numbers than the B4C, plus we were having a harder time getting certain suspension components from Europe. We eventually took the 1LE package to SLP to install after the fact. It was the same component available on 1998 and 1999 factory-built 1LEs, but now it was only available on the SS instead of both the SS and Z29 models," GM's Scott Settlemire comments.

'89 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
  • Aluminum spare wheel with smaller spare tire (N64)
  • 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).

'13 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 and 20x11 aluminum wheels
  • 285/35ZR20 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
  • ZL1 powertrain mounts
  • 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 contributes to the car's on-track performance by helping to reduce aerodynamic lift at high speeds.