PAHRUMP, Nevada — It’s not unusual to see a brash, boisterous, vinyl-wrapped musclecar nosed in at Sonic Drive-In, a gnarly plastic tray hanging from the passenger-side window. Sitting in downtrodden Pahrump, Nevada, sipping on my chocolate milkshake, watching the waitress feebly hobble back to the restaurant on her roller skates, I wonder if anyone looked twice at the new Camaro I’m driving as I pulled in. Probably not, considering it doesn’t seem all that special at first glance. But if they’d seen me a few hours ago, reeling in a BMW M4 at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch’s road course, they’d probably be as impressed as I am with the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE.
A quick history
The 1LE package has often been bred out of need, not want. Chevrolet developed the original 1LE package in 1988 to make its pudgy Camaro with weak brakes more competitive in the Showroom Stock road racing series; four examples were reportedly built that year, with 111 following in ’89. The previous 1LE came about because the fifth-gen Camaro had horrible on-track understeer, so Chevy started developing quick fixes and sort of stumbled into the optional $3,500 1LE looks-and-chassis upgrade that helped quell the understeer issue and also got the attention of track hounds. With the success of the last 1LE, Chevrolet knew from the get-go that it wanted to offer 1LE packages for both V-6 and V-8 versions of the sixth-generation Camaro. “You have to do it from day one,” says Al Oppenheiser, Camaro chief engineer, who I’m hanging out with in Pahrump. If you do that, Oppenheiser says, you’re then able to adapt major components, road loads, and computer-aided engineering to fulfill all project requirements while also reducing parts complexity and the duration of engineering discovery and development phases.
What 1LE is to the V-8 Camaro
The 1LE package costs $6,500 to fit to the Chevrolet Camaro 1SS coupe, so you’re looking at a starting price of $45,395 if you don’t opt for the $1,300 performance data recorder. That’s a hefty chunk of change, but it’s really a pittance if you consider what that money buys, like adaptive magnetorheological suspension dampers, an electronically assisted limited-slip differential, and a Brembo brake setup with six-piston calipers up front and four-piston calipers out back. Chevrolet cribbed all of those parts from the forthcoming ZL1 and put them to work on the SS 1LE, which also benefits from improved cooling systems and Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires mounted on staggered 20-inch wheels. (You may recall the last 1LE had the same size wheels and tires at all four corners, which some enthusiasts liked since they could rotate tires willy-nilly; Chevrolet decided not to go with matched tires on this all-new 1LE because the automaker wanted to more finely tune turn-in at the front and improve traction at the rear.) Cushy, heavily bolstered Recaro seats come standard, as does an active dual-mode exhaust.
Like the all-new V-6 1LE, the SS 1LE is set apart from other Camaros by its black vinyl-wrapped hood, black nose splitter, and black tail spoiler. And like its sister model, the SS 1LE doesn’t benefit from any additional horsepower — 455 hp, 455 lb-ft of torque — and the only available transmission is a six-speed manual finished with a 1LE-specifc short shifter. “I like that this car is 230 pounds lighter [than the last 1LE]… and that it has a higher structural capability, so it has better turn-in,” says Oppenheiser. “The biggest thing is the eLSD, which allows you to manage corner activity better for optimal performance.”
The hunted becomes the hunter
That electronically controlled rear differential is designed to work with the Camaro’s performance traction management (PTM) system, which has five gradations of controllability on top of the SS 1LE’s five standard drive modes, not including the most entertaining driving mode — all electronic assists turned off. Chevrolet claims the 2017 Camaro SS 1LE can go from 0-to-60 mph in 4.2 seconds, brake from 60 mph to a stop in 107 feet, and pull 1.02 g of max cornering. Those numbers are slightly improved from the last 1LE, but did the last car do anything this new one doesn’t? “What I miss about the fifth-gen,” Oppenheiser wonders aloud. “The fifth-gen had more of an old school musclecar feel, which gave you this visceral feel that I thoroughly enjoyed… more raw. The sixth-gen is more of a performance track car as opposed to a throwback musclecar that could perform on the track.”
Shaping the SS 1LE option from the outset of sixth-gen Camaro development has yielded pretty astonishing results. It’s a cohesive package that highlights and enhances the Camaro’s performance capabilities without turning the car into an uncomfortable, edgy, singularly focused sports car; consider it Camaro Kodachrome. The 2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE is friendly, easygoing, and refined when you aren’t hammering on it, even though the car is obviously happier being hammered on. On track the SS 1LE is thrilling and incredibly capable, with limits that require a lot of conviction and even more cojones to even approach. Acceleration pushes you into the Recaro seat, and the rev-matching transmission allows you to smoothly downshift as the 1LE’s strong brakes bite down and toss you forward toward the suede-wrapped steering wheel. Turn-in is exact, body movement is minimal, and the 1LE whips through corners quickly, predictably, and without drama. Lap after lap, the brakes don’t fade and the tires don’t fall off as I progressively gain on the unsuspecting M4 just ahead.
Chevrolet boldly brought the BMW for us to drive back-to-back with the SS 1LE, so I followed the M4 into the pits and swapped seats. The BMW M4 is an obviously nicer car. Its styling, inside and out, is more attractive, and being in the BMW reminded me just how poor the new Camaro’s sightlines still are. I figured the M4 would trounce the SS 1LE on the track, but it wasn’t so simple. I prefer the M4 to the SS 1LE, but the Chevy is just as lively as the BMW, hides its weight better than the BMW does, and transitions between turns more crisply. “You’re talking about a car that’s in the low $40Ks that can compete against cars like [the BMW M4],” says Oppenheiser. “We use those cars as target cars to shoot after. The benefit of our car is that in this segment, money is an object. I think it opens the door for people who look at the ZL1’s performance capability but can’t swing one. They can now put themselves in the Camaro performance family that’s using the same parts.”
Sitting at Sonic
As I slurp up the last bits of my milkshake, I wonder why not one of these Nevadans huffing down hot dogs has asked about my car. Then I remember I’m sitting in a Camaro, parked at a Sonic Drive-In — a common sight, no doubt. I just want these folks to realize how special this 2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE is. It’s phenomenal that a car that blends into packed parking lots can go from the mall to the track and throw down with some of the best performance cars out there. And there’s still something this car can do that these chubby, pale-skinned Sonic goers can appreciate: a big, smoky, all-American burnout. It might be able to keep up with a BMW M4 on the track, but the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE is still a Camaro.
2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE Specifications
|Engine:||6.2L OHV 16-valve V-8/455 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 455 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm|
|Layout:||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA Mileage:||16/25 mpg|
|L x W x H:||188.3 x 74.7 x 53.1 in|
|0-60 MPH:||4.2 sec|