7 Questions With the Camaro Chief Engineer On The 2017 1LE
At the Chicago Auto Show last week, Chevrolet introduced the 1LE package for the sixth-generation Camaro. This is the third 1LE package in the company’s history and this time it is offered for the V-6 as well as the V-8. We were fans of the fifth-gen Camaro 1LE package, and we loved the 2016 Camaro SS so much that we named it the Motor Authority 2016 Best Car To Buy. Combine a great car with a great track package, and we’re hoping the 2017 Camaro 1LE will be a winner.
Camaro chief engineer Al Oppenheiser was on hand to celebrate the launch. We sat down with him to talk about the new 1LE package.
The development of the previous 1LE was part of a program that was meant to fix a car that was fundamentally flawed, correct?
When we did the fifth-gen, you gotta remember it was out of the market for eight years. So, when it came back and we showed it at the auto show, it was such an overwhelming hit that no one had ever seen so much attendance and press coverage of a concept car. So Bob Lutz said don’t mess with the concept, just release it that way. Well, it’s gotta be a performance car, and we had a terminal understeer problem. We got called out by a lot of media that we had understeer. We faced up to it, and we committed that we’d improve it. On the way to developing the ZL1, we came up with the Yellow Jacket, or the 1LE. We hoped to get it approved as the 1LE because it harkened back to the third-gen 1LE that was a brake kit, then a fuel pump improvement, and then a fifth-gear improvement, and then a stab bar, a prop shaft, and a weight reduction. So, we came up with the 1LE kind of on the way to the ZL1.
What are the differences this time around and why do a 1LE for the V-6?
The difference with the sixth-gen is, we had the trademark now or the DNA to do a sixth-gen [1LE] from day one. We also heard a lot of customers saying, “Man I love the 1LE, but I’ve got a V-6.” So we knew from day one that we wanted to do a V-6 1LE. Our strategy was to design top-of-the-heap suspension parts and brakes for the V-8 1LE, and then take the parts from the SS and throw them on the V-6. So, having that knowledge of what the 1LE was going to be in the sixth-gen made it that much easier to plan ahead with parts sharing amongst the six and the eight. There’s a difference when you come up with a 1LE in the middle of a life cycle and when you plan for one from day one.
The sixth-gen Camaro is a fantastic handling car. What challenges did you face making a good car even better?
The suspension had to be gone through thoroughly. Every part had to be assessed, and if it was going to help the car go faster we changed it. The sixth-gen gets the benefit of having technology as well, so the Driver Mode Control and the interaction with the Performance Traction Management is an improvement over the fifth-gen. The fact that we are 230 pounds lighter and have 30 more horsepower all help as well. The conscious decision to go after technologies that we’ve perfected on Corvette like the electronic LSD, that’s an awesome feature to add to a Camaro. Bringing the Magnetic Ride Control from the previous ZL1 to the SS and 1LE is also great. All of that enabled the car to perform better on the track.
We’ve met that challenge. The delta between the fifth-gen SS and 1LE is similar to the sixth-gen SS and 1LE. On a two-minute track it’s three seconds faster than the fifth-gen 1LE, which is a lifetime.
Where did you test the 1LE during development?
We use our Milford Road Course, or MRC, as our benchmark. We do go to Nurburgring. We do go to VIR [Virginia International Raceway]. We went to Willow Springs. They have different straightaways, different braking performance, different needs for downforce. We go to several tracks around the world. It helps us create the best balance for the car. Most of our times are generated off of our two-minute track at MRC.
What are the differences in handling characteristics versus non 1LE models?
Well, the lateral capability is much better. They are outfitted with an engine cooler, oil cooler, transmission cooler, rear dif cooler, front outboard coolers. So the motor compartment and all of the moving bits have a lot lower running temperature on the track. We improved the oiling system on the V-6 and the V-8 to prevent oil pullover on the track. The grip is 0.97 on the V-6 and it’s a 1 g car on the V-8. The tire setup. Goodyear has a really keen understanding of what the Camaro needs for the combination of cold-wet handling versus dry-track handling. The fact that we’ve upped the size of the tires–305s give you a huge tire patch. And you combine that with the eLSD, which also works well with the Performance Traction Management and the setup with the steering, so the eLSD provides the maximum tire patch.
The fifth-gen 1LE is probably a little more raw. It isn’t for anybody. It kinda harkened back to a ’60s muscle car. It was a stiff ride. The difference here is you feel like you’re in a track car because you’ve got this great Recaro performance seat.
Will some of these parts be available for other Camaros?
We have the benefit of having the Chevy Performance Parts group now. Our intent is that if you bought a car before this came out, we’re going to be offering a lot of these parts as performance accessories. We’re seeing if we can do performance parts kits that we can actually sell as 1LE kits for your non 1LE car.
What would you say to the performance enthusiast who might say this is the Cadillac ATS-V that I want?
It’s a completely different customer. Cadillac customers don’t really cross-shop the Camaro. We do hear that a lot, though. Some of the media outlets have said that is the car that the Cadillac could have been. This car here is purely geared for the weekend track enthusiast, the person who likes to go out in the country and really rip it up, or anyone who seriously gets into racing. The ATS-V is more for the luxury car buyer who really wants that performance that we can get out of the engine. We actually share the brakes. Having the same underpinnings of the car, the Alpha architecture, allows us to share parts.
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