Woe to the hopeful braggart whose 2017 Camaro ZL1 is still on order. They’ve gone from having the top dog to second best, because Chevrolet just announced the 2018 Camaro ZL1 1LE, an upgrade from the standard ZL1 that drops 60 pounds, only comes in a manual, adds the fifth-gen Z28’s Multimatic DSSV dampers, monster-wide special compound Goodyear tires, and aero extreme enough that it comes with an “X” in the clearcoat. That’s pretty Xtreme.
Camaro’s chief engineer, Al Oppenheiser has always been a fan of the 1LE program. “It goes way back to the 3rd-gen Camaro, when we were trying to get into SCCA racing and failing. Then we developed the 1LE variant, with improved handling, cooling, and fueling, and brought it back for the 5th gen, and now the 6th gen. The track-focused 1LE package offers progressive levels of performance across the Camaro lineup, from the V6 1LE to the SS 1LE. We wanted to push that ultimate track element on ZL1. The progression takes a quantum leap — this is the ultimate track-day Camaro.”
The ZL1 1LE keeps the same power levels as the standard ZL1, with 650 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque, but changes in suspension and aero make it three seconds a lap faster around Chevrolet’s proving grounds than the ZL1. While the supercharged LT4 6.2L direct-injected V8 is unchanged, the 6-speed manual does have a different 6th gear ratio. Rear gears remain the same, at 3.73. What is very different is the front fascia, which opens the already yawning ZL1 front grille with even larger side vents, and grows out the ZL1’s whiskers in a flurry of air deflectors and dive planes. Even the bezels and grille are ZL1 1LE-specific. The hood changes only in appearance, with a carbon-only center in a matte-black aluminum surround. Matte black details continue on the mirrors, splitters, and wing struts. Oh, that wing! We almost forgot. Big wing, not adjustable, but almost twice as high as the ZL1 with double the downforce; 300 pounds compared to the standard ZL1’s 150.
The real magic of the 1LE is in the suspension. The ZL1 1LE gets the track-tuned, lightweight Multimatic DSSV® (Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve) dampers front and rear, hard mounted for less deflection, and adjustable in the front with a quick wrench under the hood and able to offer negative-three-degrees of camber. The rear stabilizer bar also offers three-way adjustability. Removing the body roll won’t do much for you if the tires don’t stick, and the ZL1 1LE will come with Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3R rubber, designed just for the car, wrapped around 19×11 aluminum wheels in the front and 19×12-inch wheels in the rear. Front tires are 305/30-19 while rears are 325/30-19. That’s the widest tire package ever offered on Camaro but the lightweight wheels mean the rotating weight drops by almost six pounds overall. The Camaro also loses weight in the rear seat and the suspension, which should bode well for all the performance numbers when they are released.
“There is a lot of opportunity for parts to trickle down through Chevy Performance,” said engineer Mark Dickens, when we asked if the parts can be fitted to a standard ZL1 down the line. They can, so if you did order a standard ZL1, keep an eye out for a crashed 1LE and snag all the goodies for your upgrade. Mark and Al were less forthcoming about this new ZL1’s relationship to Z28, with Al saying only, “Z28 has always been our naturally aspirated track weapon.” The guys were also tight-lipped about price, top speed, and quarter-mile e.t.s, but you can be sure we offered to help with testing. We’ll end this with a reassurance for our depressed ZL1-owner from Al. “This car is a little bit more of a daily driver than the last Z28, but it’s still a solid mount suspension and a track oriented ride.” So maybe the standard ZL1 is the best choice for anyone who isn’t planning on regular racing.