Home » This Chevy Camaro Trim May Be One Of The Most Underrated And Forgotten Sports Cars Of All Time

This Chevy Camaro Trim May Be One Of The Most Underrated And Forgotten Sports Cars Of All Time

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I owe my best friend some credit. He’s a factory worker at a UAW-backed assembly plant that builds various SUVs. Because of this, he stans General Motors and is well aware of Betty the Buick. He’s also managed to own three Chevrolet Camaros. All are sixth-generation models, and each has a different engine and transmission.

His current Camaro is what I’m focusing on today because, when I looked into it (thanks to the help of GM Heritage), I learned that it’s something of a Holy Grail. Having driven it myself, it became clear that he’s in possession of a sports car that is criminally underrated.

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It’s sort of fitting that the only new Camaros being built are stock cars that wind up on NASCAR circuits because that’s where a certain Camaro truly shines.

Behold, The Mighty 1LE

The sixth-generation Chevy Camaro checked out in Dec. 2023, even though the original plan was apparently to phase it out in Jan. 2024. After a nine-year run, production ended at the Lansing, MI plant with a Collector’s Edition to symbolize the coupe’s sendoff.

2017 Chevrolet Camaro - OEM - Two Camaro 1LEs

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Seven months later, the remaining stock hasn’t exactly been flying off the shelves. On the Alpha chassis shared with the Cadillac ATS (and eventually the CT4 and CT5), the Camaro came in so many different variants, from a base spec meant to fill rental fleet lots to the track-hugging ZL1 supercharged supercar slayer. But Chevrolet didn’t stop at just trim levels; it offered different packages to gussy up the speed or even the visual appeal — or both. The Camaro was meant to offer something for everyone. This explains why it didn’t take long after the sixth-gen’s introduction for the coveted “1LE” package to appear.

2017 Chevrolet Camaro 1LE - Interior - OEM

The 1LE is a package geared towards performance. GM Authority offers a fun breakdown showing that the 1LE appeared on Camaros beginning in 1988 but in extremely limited numbers. The package made a sporadic appearance for certain model years before a decade-long absence, and then it popped up for the 2013 Camaro SS. Only if you wanted the 6.2-liter V8, and only if you wanted the six-speed manual transmission would you qualify for the exclusive go-faster upgrades.

Should you have been lucky enough to nab a Bumblebee-era Camaro, you would’ve gotten a Matte black-wrapped hood, black rear spoiler, wider wheels on grippier summer tires, a 3.91 rear axle, and suede inserts throughout the cabin. Chevy offered this until the fifth-gen Camaro phased out in 2015 to make room for the new platform. Although the 1LE enjoyed a brief absence for one year, it was back in full force for 2017 with an expansive list of upgrades that didn’t apply to just one, but two engines. That’s right: It wasn’t just the V8 that you all know and love; there was another.

The 3.6-liter engine offered in the sixth-gen Camaro is the LGX variant of GM’s “high feature” V6, which is a later derivative of the one in my Buick that I passionately defended. The V6 continues to see use in some of GM’s more recent midsize SUVs like the Cadillac XT6. In the sports car I’m writing about now, the engine makes 335 horsepower and 284 lb-ft of torque — plenty to make use of what Chevrolet bolted on as part of the 1LE package.

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Chevrolet elaborated on what ticking the 1LE box adds to that humble V6: 

  • FE3 suspension components (from the Camaro SS), including dampers, rear cradle mounts, ball-jointed rear toe links and stabilizer bars

  • Lightweight 20-inch forged aluminum wheels with Goodyear Eagle F1 245/40R20 front tires and 275/35R20 rear tires

  • Brembo 4-piston front brake calipers

  • Mechanical Limited-slip differential with 3.27 ratio

  • Standard track-cooling package, with engine oil, differential and transmission coolers

  • Suede steering wheel and shorter-throw shifter

  • Standard dual mode exhaust system

  • Camaro SS fuel system for higher-load cornering capability

  • Satin black hood, front splitter and unique three-piece rear spoiler

  • Unique high flow upper and lower grille with satin black accents

  • Available Recaro seats and PDR video/data recording system

Add it all together, and you have a worthy sports car that weighs less than 3,500 pounds for just $32,895. That’s about 250 pounds less than the V8 and over $10,000 cheaper. The 1LE package on its own was a $4,500 upgrade on top of a V6 1LS Camaro. And the upgrades made the affordable coupe a real threat on the track, not just against the other domestic pony cars, but against the best of the best sports cars available from overseas. 

The V6 Camaro Blasts Track Records With Dynamite

2017 Chevrolet Camaro V6 1LE - Front - Yellow paint

Car And Driver’s Annual Lightning Lap is one of few tests that get to stretch the legs of pretty much all the performance cars that matter. It’s a way to break down how fast (or slow) it takes to get around the 4.1-mile track that is the funn Virginia International Raceway. The event started in 2006, with the then-current Ford GT setting the fastest time of 3:00.7.

Since then, over 300 vehicles of all shapes and power bands have blitzed around the circuit. 

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What’s amazing is how cheap speed has gotten in the last eighteen years. It’s at the point that an affordable sports car can breach the three-minute mark. That’s right, 3 minutes is just average today, meaning you can pace around VIR at a Ford GT pace, but for a fraction of the price.

So how did the Camaro 1LE do? With the V6, it achieved a time of 3:04.0. This was achieved in 2016, yet today it remains one of the fastest cars to complete the circuit with a cylinder count less than eight. Even the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 – which was made available with the 1LE package for 2019 – is no slouch, running VIR in just 3:05.6, highlighting what a fantastic chassis the Alpha platform ended up being.

For the longest time, the LL1 record – categorized by the cheapest sports less than $39,999 (under $30,000 in 2006) – was held by the Nissan 350Z, which clocked a not-slow 3:12.5 lap time. But not after the V6 1LE got its chance to impressed Car and Driver, who wrote about the machine:

“The 2006 Nissan 350Z Track lasted nine Lightning Laps and withstood 38 challengers before its LL1 class-record 3:12.5 lap fell. A Ford Mustang V-6 matched the Nissan’s time in 2011, but it’s the Chevy pony car that finally dethrones them both. The Camaro V-6 1LE does not merely claim the fastest LL1 time in the 10-year existence of Lightning Lap, it blasts the old record with eight sticks of dynamite.”

Well, maybe six sticks of dynamite.

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Why Nobody Talks About The V6 1LE: The V8 Problem

2019 Camaro 1LE - Chevrolet - OEM

You’re likely much more familiar with the 1LE on a V8 Camaro. Chevy was keen on giving you even more equipment for the latest (and so far last) generation of the V8 pony car; running on the LS1 version of the 6.2-liter V8, it produced 455 horsepower and 455 lb-ft of torque, sharing similar figures to the Corvette C7 of the last decade. Though the 1LE didn’t squeeze more power out of either engine, if you sprang for an SS, you got these upgrades in addition to the ones mentioned before for the V6:

  • Magnetic Ride Control

  • Segment-exclusive electronic limited-slip differential with 3.73 ratio

  • Unique forged aluminum wheels with 285/30ZR20 front tires and 305/30ZR20 rear tires

  • Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires with a compound and construction developed exclusively for the Camaro – offering exceptional grip on the track 

  • Brembo brakes with new six-piston monobloc front red calipers – featuring the 1LE logo – and two-piece rotors. Measuring 14.6 inches (370mm) in diameter, the front rotors are 7 percent larger than Camaro SS

  • Track-cooling package, with engine oil, differential and transmission coolers

  • Dual mode exhaust system

  • Recaro front seats with aggressive bolsters optimized for shifting and steering comfort

This raised the price considerably, of course, but to many buyers, it was worth every penny.

And that’s really a huge reason why the 1LE with a smaller motor isn’t very common despite being lighter and cheaper and still a track-day beast. Because the V8-backed SS 1LE was more readily equipped, more powerful, and had Goodyear Eagle F1 tires with a unique compound that was specially designed for the Camaro to excel on the track, it’s what got all the love. On the VIR circuit, it ran a time of 2:54.8. Car and Driver said: “Don’t tell the SS 1LE that it’s not a bona fide exotic.” Needless to say, consumers were willing to pay a premium for the upgrades. 

At launch, the SS 1LE stickered for $44,400 and neared $50k by production’s end for the 2024 model year. Opting for a smaller engine resulted in a significant price cut, to just $32,895 for the V6 in 2017. A 2021 1LE with the 2.0T commanded an even lower $31,195. It didn’t matter though, because SS 1LE production totaled at 13,895. And yet, over a five-year stretch, Camaro 1LEs with either the 2.0T or V6 engines finished at just 1,167!

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This is a damn shame because, in addition to Lightning Lap, existing owners will tell you that the V6 1LE is one hell of a sports car.

Raze – username UltraDork – shared how his V6 1LE held up on the track

So I bought a v6 1LE and I plan to track the hell out of it.  Track mode is excellent, sound is great, this thing sticks so hard it makes you feel like having a superpower…grip.  I don’t plan to DD (daily drive) it so track days here we come!

In a later post, he elaborated what happened in terms of wear: 

By the end of the weekend front brake pads still had just under 80% and backs were down to 30%.  Tires were at 30%.  Never experienced brake fade but RA is a big track and really only has 3 hard brake zones, 1, 6 10a…5 and 7 aren’t near as hard.  I also only used a half tank of gas for 4 runs per day and I was not timid with the throttle.

Biggest car eye opener was tires and braaaaaakes, I had no idea you could stop that hard, that late, without engaging T/C without race pads on stock tires, losing it or getting into trouble.  admittedly I inched up to being able to do that one session at a time and still have a looooong way to go, especially on tires and grip. I was very uncomfortable at first with late, hard braking but got used to it, it’s really not the same as karting or AutoX in my experience and I’m no expert.on either.

Biggest on track eye opener was the shear quantity of things going on and how to process all of it at once.  I found the wet sessions much more useful in this as I focused more on surroundings since I couldn’t go as fast.  This helped a lot when it got dry, it was much easier to watch what was happening, and payed off when there was a red flag on my first solo, in the esses right behind another vehicle I would have passed into the 5-6 straight.

In other words, it was doing race car things without making you yearn for a V8. He even posted a video of him going around Road Atlanta at not-quite-slow speeds. 

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The fact is: If you want to be like UltraDork and buy a 1LE solely for track duty, General Motors has you covered with a warranty. Road & Track confirmed with Al Oppenheiser, chief engineer of the Camaro ZL1, that spirited driving is covered if you get the Camaro that’s geared for it. And this perk was not limited to the most potent engine. 

So what did critics say of the non-V8 1LE? Well, non-car-centric CNET tried the 2.0T inline-4 and recommended skipping the $4,500 1LE. Track prep aside, they concluded the Camaro can’t shake the pony car persona:

(T)he Camaro is still best viewed in its original segment. Sure, it’s brimming with sacrifices, but that’s part and parcel with the muscle car experience. Its handling chops are obvious, and it packs a 21st-century complement of creature comforts without sending the window sticker into orbit.

MotorTrend was kinder in trying a 2021 car with the turbo four:

What the four-cylinder Camaro 1LE does best is prove that the Camaro is truly a multitalented vehicle. It’s not just a muscle car, and it’s not quite a sport compact. Instead, the 2021 Chevrolet Camaro 1LE Turbo is truly its own thing—and that thing is pretty darn talented.

Predicting a similar conclusion, C/D tried a V6 1LE when it was first made available in 2017, around the same time it posted the blistering Lightning Lap time.

(W)e acknowledge that the V-6 still feels like a sizable step up from the base turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four. While we doubt that Camaro V-6 1LE buyers will ever grow tired of the grip generated by this chassis, whether on a road course or an actual road, we suspect many of them may regret not digging deeper for a V-8.

Indeed, the V8 reigned supreme. A smaller-engined Camaro in 1LE guise is a fine automobile, but perception killed its popularity. But now, years later, however, it should score some redemption points as a used-car darling.

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It’s A Bargain. If You Can Find One

Finding a clean 1LE is tough, especially if you’re on the lookout for a V6. If you can settle for a couple fewer cylinders, there is a used 2021 Camaro 2.0T four-cylinder 1LE at Mitsubishi Lewisville right now. One owner, just 10k miles, and it’s presently listed for $27,991. For one of the cleanest examples of a 1LE, it seems the Camaro isn’t too affected by depreciation. 

As for the V6… well, a couple of years ago a Redditor named AuspiciousFrog posted this thread about a $30,000 2LT Camaro V6 1LE:

Screen Shot 2024 07 08 At 1.25.46 Pm
Screenshot: Reddit

The V8 also hasn’t depreciated a ton, despite its popularity. This 2021 2SS Camaro 1LE is going for $53,998. That’s a $26,000-plus difference between it and the four-cylinder also actively for sale! Yes, you get a handful of mechanical upgrades and the 2SS nets you some extra luxuries inside, but it’s remarkable what a few more cylinders can cost you. You’ll struggle to find a bigger-engined 1LE below forty grand.

The V6 Camaro 1LE Is Cheap And Good, But…Is A V8 Still Better?

Concluding the Camaro 1LE saga is difficult. It isn’t a GM Miss. It may not be a Holy Grail, especially to those who want the V8, nor is it an Unholy Fail. It’s not a Beige Car You’ve Been Sleeping On because you can get the same brilliant chassis on any of them. It also hasn’t depreciated enough to get a Gavel Gazing shoutout. And it is far from Glorious Garbage.

What the 1LE is is yet another example of General Motors’ capabilities when it comes to producing sports cars. Still, I think it deserved more love. Chevrolet billed the Camaro as the “Best Handling Muscle Car,” and that was probably correct, but ending production at just 1,167 for a 1LE model equipped with a smaller engine, a smaller number on the scales, and a smaller price tag… it just seems like such a shame.

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With that said, if I were ever in the position to buy one, it’d be hard to pass on that V8, especially once I heard it do a cold startup.

Image credits: Chevrolet

[As you figured, I am not a regular writer of this glorious site and that makes me special, dammit. If you wish for more wacky content by yours truly, I am rebooting my Substack with a refined message of my stance on cars. You can find it via the link in my bio. -TA]

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Paul Van
Paul Van
15 days ago

As a Tall Person who can’t fit in a Miata, the V6 1LE was the cheapest track-ready-from-factory alternative. Although I still hit my head a lot getting in and out of it because of that very tight roofline.

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
15 days ago

I think the issue is so few people really buy these for the track, and on the cheaper model, they probably don’t check that option box because…its is cheaper not to. They just think the Camaro looks cool.

On the other hand, your SS buyer is probably in a better financial position and is more likely just to check all the boxes. It’ll never see the track, but he still wants to say it has the 1LE package because it is “loaded”.

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