With all Detroit automakers solidly back in the performance business by the mid-1980s, some of the most exciting racing in years was also happening on weekends in SCCA Showroom Stock, IMSA, and autocross events throughout North America. Ford’s Mustang GT and GM’s 3rd generation F-Body Camaro and Firebird were once again duking it out in a new era of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday,” and enthusiasts were back in dealer showrooms like never before. As always, in the heat of competition, many lessons were learned, and very soon it was becoming abundantly clear that the braking systems of many stock-based racing cars were overwhelmed by hard punishment on the track. This deficiency was especially pronounced in Canadian Players Challenge competition, where evenly matched F-Bodies were piloted by fast-rising drivers on legendary circuits, including Mosport and Mont-Tremblant, where Trans-Am, Can-Am, Formula 5000, and even Grand Prix events were held at various times over the years. Other Players Challenge races were run in support of CART Indy Car events on street circuits, where entries dictated that cars had to be in showroom stock condition, with the only exceptions being wheels, tires, and shocks, ensuring closely matched races with driver skill solely providing the winning edge.
Appeals were made to GM Canada for better brakes, and the head office in Detroit responded with the first RPO ‘1LE’ option for the Camaro and Firebird – basically a set of larger 12-inch disc brakes from the contemporary full-size Caprice. This change also helped the GM contingent cope more effectively with Ford’s lighter-weight Mustang in IMSA and SCCA-sanctioned autocross, road racing, and Pro Solo events. Intensive testing at a Michigan track soon yielded a special brake-proportioning valve and improved Corvette brake calipers, which now required a special spindle and other parts to make the conversion work for the Camaro/Firebird application. Race-testing now uncovered a tendency for fuel starvation under negative g-force braking, leading GM engineers to quickly develop redesigned fuel tank special baffles with a new fuel pickup, and until the early ‘90s, this competition fuel system was only available by checking off the arcane ‘1LE’ option box. A shorter 5th gear was also added to the manual transmission for quicker acceleration which completed this full-on racing package, and it was actively discouraged for street use by Chevrolet, with A/C and all power amenities unavailable on cars equipped with RPO 1LE. However, growing numbers of street-car buyers became hip to the performance advantages of a much lighter, faster, and consequently less-expensive Camaro Z28, with the 4 1LE street cars for 1988 soon followed by 111 for 1989, 62 for 1990, 478 for 1991, and another 705 for 1992. The 1LE option code has emerged from relative obscurity to hallowed status, going on to be applied in various forms to the 4th generation Camaro and the current 6th generation models.
Advertised with 16,051 original miles, this “1 of 478” 1991 Camaro Z28 1LE is stated by the seller to retain all original paint and comes with the original window sticker and purchase documentation. A former IMSA Firestone Firehawk Series Showroom Stock racing car, it’s currently powered by a 355ci V8 race engine mated to a World Class 5-speed manual transmission, while the original engine is thankfully included in the sale, which has a reported 5k miles of use, plus the original wheels with original Goodyear VR50 ‘Gatorback’ tires.
With their rarity and race-intended equipment, these cars are true successors to the original 1967-1969 Camaro Z28s built and sold for SCCA Trans-Am racing homologation purposes. They were also extremely successful and helped maintain the 3rd generation Camaro’s sales as the platform aged and the Fox-Body Mustang stole some of its thunder. These cars also kept the Camaro nameplate in the hearts and minds of fans after the popular IROC racing series switched to Dodge Daytona “silhouette” cars in the late-1980s/early-1990s. While the Z28 and IROC-Z Camaro variants are listed by Hagerty in the insurer’s current price guides, the rare 1LE is not mentioned. Not only are they particularly rare, many surviving cars have been modified to varying degrees, further complicating the matter. Thankfully, this 1LE includes the original, low-mile powerplant and original documents for a very nice package. While Bring a Trailer has offered 4 examples of the ILE of 1990-1992 vintage, three of them sold in 2020 for $13,801, $16k, and $23,500, and we’ve seen a handful of extremely low-mile ones sell at conventional auction in the $30k range – shockingly low, considering their showroom-like freshness, rarity, and special racing equipment, making these very competent and fast road cars a screaming bargain for smart collectors today. As sometimes happens, our subject car’s asking price may seem a bit generous, but we guarantee it’ll look light in our collective rearview mirrors as collectors begin to catch on to the special nature of the 1LE cars. For now, we’re calling this one totally fair market while nudging on well bought, and we urge you to try and find another one.