Chevy Camaro 1LE | Vintage Views

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Dec 16, 2021 | Chevrolet, camaro, 1LE | Posted in Buyer's Guides | From the June 2018 issue | Never miss an article

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Grassroots Motorsports.]

Blame Canada. Back in the mid-1980s, Camaras and Firebirds came off the production line with brakes that were not quite up to snuff for track use. According to John Heinricy, Chevrolet’s product engineering manager at the time, IMSA and SCCA showroom stock racers just had to deal with it.

At least, they did until GM of Canada organized the Player’s Challenge series, a spec program featuring the Camaro IROC-Z and Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am. This program didn’t have to be bound by deficiencies in factory equipment, so the organizers eventually requested a favour, more brakes, please.

Aftermarket brakes would have been expensive, Heinricy says, so GM engineers looked for a parts bin solution. The Chevy Caprice, specifically the wagons as well as sedans fitted with the police package, featured 12-inch front rotors that would fit. The Corvette would donate its aluminum, dual-piston calipers.

Simply adding the brakes as an option package wasn’t possible, though, since that would involve other departments. “I needed an option that wouldn’t show up on the ordering form,” Heinricy explains. “And I’m scheming on how to make this happen.”

GM processing code would be the answer. Order the right options, and the big brakes would automatically be added. That now legendary designation, 1LE, was chosen simply because it was available.

The 1LE package would also come with a baffled gas tank, aluminum driveshaft, stronger transmission mount and stiffer rear suspension bushings. To aid cooling, the fog lights were deleted. The package couldn’t be paired with a convertible or T-tops, and it would include race-valved Delco dampers. “Totally developed on the race track,” Heinricy adds.

Purchasing one of these track-ready Camaros required three steps:

  • Step 1: Order an IROC-Z hardtop with the G92 performance axle package. That added a quicker final drive plus an oil cooler, rear disc brakes, limited-slip differential, dual exhaust and 245/50ZR16 tires.
  • Step 2: Choose between the 220-horsepower, 5.0-liter V8 backed with a five-speed manual transmission or the 230-horsepower, 5.7-liter V8 paired with a four-speed automatic. The G92 package required one of these drivelines instead of the standard 170-horsepower, 5.0-liter V8.
  • Step 3: Delete the air conditioning.

These steps triggered a phone call from Heinricy: Did the buyer know that he or she was ordering a truly track-tuned Camaro?

The 1LE package was initially available for 1988, and only four were sold that year. As word spread, the sales numbers tracked upward, reaching 705 for 1992–the final model year for the third-generation Camaro. Firebird Trans-Ams could also be ordered with the 1LE package.

As hoped, the 1LE dominated the day’s professional and amateur motorsports ranks, and today we’re seeing surviving street cars starting at around $20,000. The 1LE designation eventually moved out of the shadows, too, and today can be found attached to the Camaro’s most track-worthy option packages.

Practical Guidance


Joe Aquilante owns and manages Phoenix Performance, a professional racing and prep shop. Back in the day, he ran more than 60 SCCA Showroom Stock GT races in his own Camaro 1LE, winning some 40 percent of them.

In their day, these cars were extremely competitive in SCCA–both road racing and autocross. But as these cars have aged, their weaknesses have become more obvious.

These cars have two major weak points: the transmission and the differential. The car came with a BorgWarner transmission from the factory, and fifth gear is very weak. An aftermarket transmission like a T-56 is a nice upgrade here. The differentials are undersized, wear out quickly, and are prone to slipping. Again, there are many aftermarket upgrades available here, including units made by Strange and Moser.

A torque arm runs between the transmission and differential. The bracket that fixes the bar to the transmission can experience some stress damage over time. It’s worth looking for cracks if you’re shopping for a car, and it’s also worth keeping an eye on the bracket as an owner.

The engines in these cars are not tunable with the stock ECM. Modifying the PROM in the ECM is possible, but few people know how to do it. Instead, the car can be very roughly tuned by adjusting the fuel regulator by 1 or 2 psi.

The 1LE is prone to axle hop. There are a few different things that could cause this, so it’s hard to pinpoint the issue.

The 1LE needs a much bigger radiator to run at length on track.

If you want to pick a Camaro for track use, I would actually suggest not trying to develop a 1LE. These cars dominated SCCA road racing at the time, but big advances have made later versions much more suitable for track driving. The next generation of Camaro saw a redesigned suspension that handles a road course much better than a 1LE. It’s just not worth the time and money when you could buy an F-body Camaro that is much more adept on track–and still competitive in SCCA today.

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View comments on the GRM forums
snailmont5oh Dork
7/6/18 4:29 p.m.

A buddy of mine had one of those. It was a '91 5.7 liter, and had a 5-speed installed, but it was bona-fide. It was pretty beat down, though, and he sold it for a few grand to someone who beat it even harder. :(

7/9/18 4:26 p.m.

The GM Motorsport/Players Motorsports cars from 1988 or 1989 until 1992 were designated with option code: R7U with the 1LE Package. The Series cars, R7U, had select blueprinted and Sealed 305 engines with 5 speed manual transmissions only. A few small other changes above the 1LE were part of the package. I bought a 1991 R7U-1LE car new from Applewood Chevrolet. 

Suprf1y PowerDork
7/9/18 7:53 p.m.

Used to see these for sale all the time. If I recall they seemed to bottom out around $10k and stayed there for a long time. 

Saw  this one looking for something else

Ranger50 UltimaDork
7/9/18 8:32 p.m.


Suprf1y PowerDork
7/10/18 8:36 a.m.

so the organizers eventually requested a favour,     

I saw what you did there Dave

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
7/10/18 4:19 p.m.
Suprf1y said:

so the organizers eventually requested a favour,     

I saw what you did there Dave

Yay, someone noticed. 

7/11/18 5:03 a.m.

The 1LE package was a great setup in it's day by GM. 

Around 1999 or 2000, you could still order a Firebird Formula with the 1LE package. A/C was included, but if you wanted you could still get crank windows and no t tops. I came very close to ordering one, but not close enough. You could also add SLP exhaust and air intake on the factory checkbox also - from the now retired Pontiac brand.

airwilf New Reader
7/11/18 10:27 a.m.

That's Ron Fellows car in the cover shot & have seen that car run dozens of races . His brother Rob dabbled in racing a bit, but didn't go on to do great things like Ron did for GM in Corvettes.  I have one of Robs pieces of Corvette artwork & an autographed hat from Ron from the winning Corvette at the 24 Hours of LeMans. Both really classy guys.Ron is nw part owner of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, aka Mosport to us older guys.

racerfink UltraDork
7/11/18 10:52 a.m.

In 1988, I went to work for Joe Varde’s Firestone Firehawk team.  They ran two IROC-Z’s and two Trans-Am’s to start the seasons first three races.  GM then decided after the Watkins Glen 24hr race that they wanted Chevy to win the SCCA Escort Endurance series, and Pontiac to win the IMSA series.  So, we took a pre-production 1989 GTA 350 w/automatic theft recovery that Pontiac gave us, and turned it into a 1988 Trans-Am 305 w/5spd, and went on to win the championship that year.  There were more than a few 1LE cars running Escort and Firehawk in those days.

We had developed a way to make quick pad changes on those cars. We had quick disconnect dry-break couplers on the brake lines, and would replace the whole caliper with new pads already in it for longer races.  We even made a rear end change at the Glen race in under 20 mins.  

Koopsy New Reader
7/11/18 11:45 a.m.

Awesome pieces of Canadian racing history and amazingly fun cars to drive. 

They have been having reunions at the new Area 27 Motorsports park in Oliver, B.C. with many original drivers, crew members, and large Players car counts in attendance. The track was built, designed and is managed by original Players series drivers. 

I am currently the caretaker of this ‘91 R7U. I actively track the car and continue to maintain its originality as much as I can.  

7/11/18 11:09 p.m.

Well guys. Let me jump in.  I am a proud owner of a true 1992 1LE Camaro.  I love the racing pedigree of these cars and that is one of the reasons I purchased this one when I had the chance.   My car has been covered by Super Chevy.   You can check out the link at:

The previous owner, Jim, bought the car completely stock. He took it to a couple nostalgic track events and was hooked. He began adding this and that to the car to make it hook better or be safer.  Long story short, it was eventually turned into a full caged race car that was very successful in the Camaro Mustang Challenge series at tracks such as VIR and other NASA and SCCA tracks.  

The car is easy to find all over the internet.  Several youtube videos use this car in their track videos of when it ran in the series.  

trucke SuperDork
7/23/18 8:26 a.m.

The Kozlak's 1LE at the Solo II Nationals in 1991 or 1992.  Lynn Rothney Kozlak shown.


wspohn Dork
7/23/18 10:50 a.m.

Discs were used back in 1968 on Z28s and when the Trans Am cars came to Westwood track in BC. They had been running on mostly flat tracks and were appalled at the downhill hard braking needed at Westwood. The next year they came back and all of the cars had disc brakes and the Camaros had 4 wheel discs that had been made an option but wasn't widely adopted in Spring of 1968 (the JL8 package adapted from the Corvette). Made a huge difference.

ZOO GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
12/24/18 4:29 p.m.
David S. Wallens said:
Suprf1y said:

so the organizers eventually requested a favour,     

I saw what you did there Dave

Yay, someone noticed. 

Editorial Director, Grassroots Motorsports & Classic Motorsports

I didn't notice.  As an English teacher, I never notice correct spelling . . .

ZOO GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
12/24/18 4:30 p.m.

This was such a great series to watch.  Right there with the 944 series, and the Honda Michelin series.

Streetwiseguy UltimaDork
12/24/18 4:53 p.m.

This has been on the wall of my home office for almost 30 years now.

pontiacstogo New Reader
12/24/18 5:29 p.m.

Not a 3rd gen, but I own a 94 1LE - one of 135;

 photo 20080915_WGI_D12B_7312 Cropped_zpsq4dyvnua.jpg

Matt New Reader
1/2/19 7:04 a.m.

Thanks David - this is great! as a 1LE owner and Canadian, its great to read outside perspectives into our awesome racing heritage! The series was "east vs west" and there were 2 series that had a final shootout against each other. An interesting note in the development of the series goes back to the first year when the cars were running out of brakes a little early and during the Toronto Molson Indy, the cars were running out of brakes quite early. I think it was John Powell (who i think was a GM Canada Exec) that got Brembo (then owned by GM) to make a front brake upgrade for the series cars alone. that was a success, and so the GM engineers went to Holden (another GM company) to source the brakes for the production cars as a part of the now famous 1LE option for 1988. Powell was also instrumental in C4 Corvette racing up here and well respected in general. There are still a few of the original 86-87 series cars with the Brembo front brakes, if im not mistaken, these parts were supposed to be returned when the series was completed... (photo cred to kempmotorsports)


David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
1/10/19 5:42 p.m.

Very cool to hear from some owners, too. Thanks for sharing. 

Yeah, there's just something cool about the original 1LE, between the car itself and the steps required to order one. One day. One day. 

Sort of related, but does anyone else remember when Chevrolet would sell you a third-gen Camaro SS along with second set of wheels mounted with BFG R1 race tires? 

1/12/19 4:38 p.m.

Interesting article, I own a non-raced 1989 1LE with traceable background(Mecum Racing spare for owner Ed Mecum Sr.)  Fun car to drive, more fun with the different Proms I have.  Now it relaxes in the garage a lot.

Stealthtercel Dork
1/12/19 5:25 p.m.

Just for clarification, Brembo is an Italian company that has never been owned by GM that I know of.  John Powell is a veteran & successful racer who transitioned into race track management, performance development, driver training, and a bunch of other related ventures.  He was/is very well connected at GM, particularly GM Canada, but AFAIK never actually worked there.

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