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A few years ago, Chevrolet revived the Z/28 moniker for a track-focused version of the previous-generation Camaro. In all but name, the 2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE is the Z/28's torchbearer.
Starting with the supercharged 2018 Camaro ZL1, the 1LE package consists of a host of changes to the suspension, wheels and tires, plus a conspicuous body kit. The result is the most extreme Camaro ever built, and its sights are trained well beyond rival Ford's most potent Mustang variant, the Shelby GT350R, for outright track-day dominance.
Trackworthy, But Not Gutted
Sales of the Z/28 were initially modest and promptly slowed to a gelatinous ooze, making the existence of this spiritual successor that much more of a surprise. The formula has changed slightly in the meantime, however. While the Z/28 stripped out features in order to shed pounds, the ZL1 1LE tips the scales at 3,820 pounds without trading away creature comforts — you can still get the amenities offered in the ZL1 such as heated and cooled seats and navigation.
Still, the ZL1 1LE is not a car for poseurs. The only transmission offered is a six-speed manual. Its tires are highly specialized. The civility implied by the console rocker button is a facade — Tour mode won't soften the ride one iota. If you're not tracking a ZL1 1LE, you're doing it wrong.
Where The Rubber Meets The Track
A car is often only as good as the tire it wears, and the ZL1 1LE delivers in a big way. Goodyear developed a new tire, the Eagle F1 SuperCar 3R, specifically for the ZL1 1LE. The widest ever offered on a Camaro, they're mounted on wheels that are an inch wider and an inch smaller in diameter than those of the standard ZL1. While the 3R is legal for street use, dry track performance is its overarching priority. It has a bare minimum of tread depth, huge outer tread blocks and an all-new compound derived from Goodyear's racing tires. Drive through standing water or in cold weather at your own peril.
You might expect a track-oriented car like this to boast stabilizer bars as thick as your wrist, and you'd be wrong — the ZL1 1LE's rear bar is slightly smaller than the ZL1's, but it gains three-position manual adjustability. The ZL1 1LE gets its increased roll stiffness from new coil springs that are roughly twice the rate of the ZL1's springs.
Overall, the ZL1 1LE's ride quality is said to be very similar to that of the Z/28, though our track-only drive time precluded confirming this characterization. Given its predecessor's unyielding disposition, it's a safe bet that the ZL1 1LE won't shine as a daily driver.
New Dampers, Less Slop
Multimatic spool valve DSSV dampers are part of the 1LE package and replace the ZL1's variable magnetorheological dampers. These fixed dampers are fundamentally different from traditional shim pack-based dampers. The gist is that DSSV dampers provide more precise tailoring of damping rates and exhibit far less sensitivity to temperature. So while the tires will probably be useless in cold weather, the dampers won't care.
Compliance in the chassis was exorcised on many fronts. For the ZL1 1LE, GM ditched the rubber mounts in the rear subframe in favor of solid aluminum inserts and replaced the rubber-isolated front upper strut mounts with rigid ball joints. The dampers boast aluminum housings to shave weight and increase stiffness, providing more consistent suspension geometry during hard cornering.
Track day addicts will love that the ZL1 1LE's front struts have threaded lower spring perches to allow for manual ride height and corner balance adjustments. Plus, the forged aluminum front upper strut mounts can be rotated to increase negative camber by 1.5 degrees for track use. This is impressive dedication to track-day use for a production car.
All This Plus a Supercharged V8
On the powertrain front, changes from the ZL1 are minimal. The 650-hp, 650-lb-ft supercharged 6.2-liter pushrod V8 is carried over with no changes. Sixth gear in the Tremec manual box is shorter to suit Nurburgring marketing purposes and little else, and there's a 1LE-specific calibration for the electronically controlled differential. That's it.
Various cartoonish aerodynamic appendages have sprouted on the ZL1 1LE, and you'd be hard-pressed to miss them. The large, freestanding wing, a deeper front splitter and canards make it look as though a ZL1 made a top-speed run through a Super Autobacs store. At least these bits are functional, reducing lift.
If there's an obvious cost-saving measure, it's the brakes. Stopping power is handled not by carbon-ceramic brakes à la Z/28 but with the conventional steel brakes from the ZL1. They may not have the fade resistance of the pricey carbon ceramics, but replacement costs will be lower.
Our track time was brief but enough to cement several impressions. For one, the ZL1 1LE's juvenile looks are at odds with the way it hustles around the track. Beyond its crazy-glue grip, it inspires confidence with its friendly manners yet has surprising fidelity. It feels at once planted and eager on turn-in, not quite tossable but supremely composed.
If you carry too much speed midcorner, it continues to grip hard while it slides, and the recovery is gentle rather than abrupt. Its limit of grip is not an edgy peak that unduly punishes you for getting it wrong; rather it is a big, friendly plateau. You can be more deliberate with the throttle when firing it away from an apex than you'd expect, too, for a car pours such an avalanche of torque to only two tires.
The ZL1 1LE works with the driver no matter his or her skill level — it won't bite a novice, and it still responds willingly to an experienced driver's attempts to influence its corner entry attitude through weight transfer adjustments. It's a fat man that can dance. Oddly, its sense of speed is masked by the husky torque curve and indifferent engine note. Six hundred fifty horsepower has never been so anticlimactic. But it is certainly effective.
The ZL1 1LE's uptick in performance relative to the Z/28 hasn't resulted in a commensurate price increase. In fact, the ZL1 1LE's $71,295 sticker is $7,500 more than a standard ZL1 but thousands less than the erstwhile Z/28.
The Camaro ZL1 1LE won't be a "limited edition" item either, though GM doesn't have unrealistic expectations of demand for such a specialized vehicle. Roughly 800 to 1,000 examples are expected to find homes this year. Poseurs need not apply, but they probably will anyway.
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