Chevrolet announced earlier this week that the Camaro ZL1 1LE was getting a 10-speed auto to go with the six-speed stick option. Unless you're an enthusiast, though, it's all just an alphabet soup name that doesn't mean much of anything. That's because originally, those codes didn't really mean much of anything. But they had to start somewhere.
Our Find of the Week this week is one of the first cars to wear that 1LE badge to indicate performance. It's also a piece of Canadian motorsports history. It's a 1992 Chevrolet Camaro R7U 1LE, better known as a Player's Challenge car.
In the late 1980s, showroom stock racing was still a big deal. So was tobacco sponsorship of, well, just about everything. Red Bull hadn't taken over that job yet. A Canadian series was conceived, between Imperial Tobacco, Canadian Automobile Sports Clubs, and GM Motorsports. The Player's Series started in 1986 giving GM a platform to showcase the Camaro and Firebird and Canadian drivers a place to showcase themselves.
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It used actual showroom-stock cars. Sort of. They weren't exactly the Z/28 you'd go down to the dealer and buy. And there were some safety additions, of course.
The first few years, the series used the IROC-Z/28. They had some problems, though. They needed more brakes. And while the engineers were in there, how about some gearing and suspension changes. Oh, and maybe drop the A/C too. But how do you make that package available to everyone, meeting the showroom-stock rules, while making sure that nobody not in the know actually ordered their cars that way by accident?
Special option codes. GM uses RPO, regular production order, codes to identify different option groups during the build process. Lots of them have become brand names all on their own. If you've seen a Silverado or Sierra, you've seen one with a big Z71 sticker on the rear fender. That's just the RPO code for the off-road suspension group. Not all of them are glamorous, like the ND3 "Label Emission, Control," but they aren't supposed to be.
So they packaged a host of performance updates like larger brake rotors, an aluminum driveshaft, baffled fuel tank (keeps the engine fuelled in long corners), special shocks, stiffer bushings, and a few other goodies under the 1LE option group. But you couldn't just order a 1LE car. Somebody might figure that out. To keep this one for racers, you had to use a cheat code. Pick the G92 performance rear axle ratio, and then C41 for no AC, and now you could pick 1LE.
GM built just 10 in 1988, around 100 the next year, and less than 1,500 by the end of production in 1992.
The Canadian cars were even more special. To compete in the Player's Cup series, GM wanted the cars to be nearly identical. So they added an extra layer of option code: R7U, which ran from 1989 to 1992. It took the 1LE car and added some more race-spec goodies. The cars originally came with sealed versions of the 5.0L V8. They were supposedly hand built for improved consistency. They also got a different ECU, with changes to let them run better with the open exhaust they were expected to use on track. So while stock they were claimed to make 230 hp, these probably made a bit more.
Big names in Canadian motorsports competed in the series over the years. Ron Fellows, Richard Spenard, David Empringham, and more. They had a lot of TV exposure for this level of racing, so if you were watching race cars on TV in that era, you've probably seen the wheel to wheel racing. Even more impressive, drivers were originally expected to drive their race cars to the track.
Since the Camaro had a twin, the Pontiac Firebird, the option pack was available on both, and they competed as the only two cars in the series. Since they were street legal, and GM made sure to have enough for all the racers, there were some extras. Cars were sold to anyone who wanted one straight out of the showroom. There were also some used for promotional purposes.
Like this one, for sale in Grafton, ON. It's one of just 32 Camaro 1LE R7U cars: the Player's Camaro option codes. The seller says it was used as a promotional vehicle, not a racer, at the Halifax Grand Prix, where in 1992 the Indycar series was the headliner for a street circuit built around Citadel Hill.
While this one has 150,800 km on the odometer, the seller says it still has the numbers-matching drivetrain, which makes it even more appealing. These were race cars, so many of them no longer have their original engine.
If you're interested in buying some Canadian racing history, or just really nostalgic for 1990s motorsports, then this car could be just what you're looking for.