Proof There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Tire
We've heard a lot this political season about the "1 percent," but Chevrolet is more concerned about the "2 percent." That would be the sliver of Camaro owners who spend enough quality time on racetracks to feel qualified to complain about the Camaro's understeer. In response, Chevrolet has brought back Regular Production Option 1LE.
Striking out to "fix" understeer can be tricky enough, but there is another thing driving the development of the 1LE package for the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro: pride.
The Camaro guys are a little tired of losing the lap-time war to Ford's Mustang Boss 302, particularly the Laguna Seca version. Ford even has an openly designated "Track Package" for the standard Mustang GT. Nuthin' like that for the Camaro, so Chevy thought it was high time to get back in the game.
What You Get and How To Get It
The 1LE option package is an amalgam of reverse-engineering-type thinking and parts-bin scrounging, but it starts with a 2013 Chevrolet Camaro SS. Specifically, a Camaro SS coupe with a six-speed manual transmission. Automatics and convertibles need not apply.
Most of the 1LE's suspension hardware is borrowed from the prodigious Camaro ZL1, and we'll get to that nitty-gritty shortly. The most important takeaway, though, is that a 2013 Camaro SS with the 1LE option — the Camaro that effectively is being billed as the hot setup for the racetrack — actually gets less tire. Sort of.
See, the 1LE package adds the 20-by-10-inch-wide front wheels and 20-by-11-inch-wide rear wheels straight off the ZL1. But instead of also employing the ZL1's staggered tire setup (285/35s up front and 305/35s at the rear), those crafty development engineers stretched the ZL1's narrower front tires over the 11-inch rear wheels in their quest to dial out understeer.
It was a little more complicated than just having a 285/35 at each corner. You don't get a demonstrable change in chassis behavior just with a change of rubber width — you've got to get down to some suspension work, too.
So the 1LE package brings in monotube dampers and 27mm front and 28mm solid antiroll bars, both 1mm thicker than the standard SS bars. The ZL1's wheel bearings, toe links and rear shock mounts are also added as part of the 1LE package. It didn't hurt that for 2012, all Camaro SS coupes got the ZL1 stabilizer-bar links that are positioned outside the control arms, facilitating steering response and further helping resist body roll. There's a strut tower brace and beefier rear axles along with some of the best feedback you're gonna find from any electric power steering (all 2013 SSs get this new variable-ratio EPS).
What Don't You Get?
Those same development engineers didn't think it was vital to upgrade the SS's standard brakes. They're already four-piston Brembos and you have to draw the line somewhere when it comes to cost.
And of course you'll note the 1LE is not like a ZL1 in two major ways: Under the hood is the SS's LS3 6.2-liter small-block V8, not the ZL1's whacked-out supercharged 6.2-liter (LSA). And although it gets new monotube dampers, the 1LE clearly doesn't step up to the ZL1's high-tech, magnetorheological Magnetic Ride Control adaptive damping.
There are some suspension upgrades, too. They include the ZL1's fuel pump and extra pick-ups for high-g track work. There's also the heavier-duty TR6060-MMG version of the Tremec six-speed transmission with closer gear ratios and a transmission cooler. Lastly, a shorter 3.91 final-drive ratio is also standard on the 1LE.
On the outside, 1LEs get a blacked-out hood and the same matte-black look for the rear spoiler and front splitter, as well as the black ZL1 wheels. And you'd have to be mad not to have some love for the ZL1's flat-bottomed steering wheel (good riddance to that ridiculously dished original wheel) swathed in suede microfiber, as is the short-shift lever from the ZL1.
Lose Some Grip, Right the Ship
It all sounds good on paper, but we didn't know what to make of it all until we took some hot laps around Gingerman Raceway in southwestern Michigan. And damned if it doesn't work.
After just a few acclimation runs, we started going into each turn a little deeper and attempting to adjust the line with the throttle. You can get the 1LE to rotate in a controlled and progressive fashion, a more difficult task with the standard SS and something that probably wouldn't be wise to attempt with the bombastic ZL1.
This with the Camaro's stability control set to the otherworldly calibrated "Competition" mode, leaving enough of a safety net to make us feel comfortable with indiscriminately applying power in 3rd-gear turns. At those speeds, the 426-horsepower LS3 is in the heart of its power band and begging to bust loose that narrower rear rubber. We can't answer for fully defeated stability and traction control; we judged there is plenty of "useful" oversteer without the sweat or drama of no traction control in a powerful car on a tight road course.
It's all about making the most of a just-right amount of slip from the rear tires, says Camaro Chief Engineer Al Oppenheiser. Where the standard Camaro SS (and even the ZL1) have just plain too much grip at the back, forcing the front tires to lose grip first in the corner, the engineered-in slip of the 1LE's narrower rear tires — in conjunction with the rest of the suspension fettling — facilitates rotating the car and steering with the throttle.
After our laps, we figure the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro SS with the new 1LE package might just be our favorite Camaro to drive — and probably not just on the track. Steve Padilla, the Camaro 1LE ride-and-handling engineer and the guy who probably most sweated the details, doesn't seem at all surprised by such a bold — and perhaps premature, given the brevity of our exposure — statement. He briefly flashes the knowing smile of a guy who may have reached the same opinion something like a thousand laps ago.
Street Legal, but Do You Really Wanna?
Chevy didn't give us any street time in an SS with the 1LE package, but we don't think the setup would be unbearable for everyday use. There's nothing necessarily "hard" about the tuning or the setup. Those accustomed to handling-oriented suspensions won't mind the ride quality a bit.
The 1LE is for the hard-core bunch, said John Fitzpatrick, Camaro marketing manager. He said the 1LE — the RPO code goes back to parts-catalog hardware put together for Pro-Am racing in 1988 — will be instantly known to the kind of Camaro buyer who wants such a setup. Chevy expects that to be about 2 percent of all Camaro buyers. Almost all will be ordered, Fitzpatrick adds.
And the best part about it? Those 2 percent won't have to have a "1 percent" level of resources to afford the 1LE. When it's available sometime around the end of August, the 1LE package will add just $3,500 to the price of the standard SS. Oppenheiser said owners of current Camaros will be able to replicate most of the 1LE package from the parts catalog, although they won't have access to the unique final-drive ratio or the new electric power steering. Bummer.
Better yet, the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro SS with the 1LE starts at $37,035 including destination, which makes it, ahem, nearly $6,000 less than a Boss 302, much less the Boss Laguna Seca.
"That buys a lot of track time," Oppenheiser deadpans.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.