2023-04-17 | New Roads Magazine
As the sixth-generation Chevy Camaro comes to a close, we look at what inspired its brilliance.
In 2012, as development began on the sixth generation of Chevrolet’s Camaro, the team did what any team would do: look to previous generations with an eye toward moving Camaro’s story forward.
The pony car’s fifth generation, which went into production in 2010, had done just that, kickstarting a new era for a storied nameplate that had been paused since production of the fourth gen ended in 2002. And now that the sixth generation is coming to an end, it’s a good time to tally up the accomplishments, and its place in history.
“I think we did a really good job on the sixth-generation Camaro, understanding that everything we touched harkened to the past generations as kind of a tribute,” says Al Oppenheiser, Camaro’s chief engineer for the fifth and sixth generations of the car. “We did something that appealed to every Camaro fan in some way or another, be it the special performance packages, a special color, a special trim level, the special editions.”
Six generations after the Chevy Camaro was introduced for the 1967 model year, the Camaro has maintained its DNA as a driver-centric sports car.
One last special edition — the Collector’s Edition, inspired by the first-gen Camaro and the program’s initial code name, Panther — is on the way, with details to be released early this summer. It will continue the commitment to performance that the sixth generation will be remembered for, a commitment highlighted by more than 60 NASCAR Cup wins since 2018.
Inspiration from the Past
To unlock those performance chops, the Camaro team didn’t go all the way back to the beginning. They began by pulling inspiration from the 1980s, when Chevy’s third-generation pony car was struggling in the Showroom Stock road racing series.
Engineers at the time began developing features that would boost Camaro’s track numbers. In 1989, Chevy introduced the 1LE package option for the Camaro, addressing the brake, fuel, and suspension systems and helping the Camaro find its way to the podium.
THE CAMARO 1LE SS. The Camaro SS is one of the Camaro models offered with the 1LE package. This performance package adds Brembo® brakes, summer tires, and dual-mode performance exhaust along with a front splitter and rear spoiler.
Since then, the 1LE package has appeared off and on in the lineup, but for the sixth generation, the package’s features were expanded based on how it first appeared in 1989. On top of that, it was offered with every engine option, including a new turbocharged four-cylinder.
With the turbocharged four-cylinder and the 1LE package option along with some track prep, you could drive your Camaro to the track, win races, and then drive it home at the end of the day. “Those are the kinds of things that we talked about on a daily basis,” says Oppenheiser, who has since moved on to work on GMC’s Hummer EV. “Everything had to have a functional or historical purpose, or we didn’t address it.”
The original 1967 Camaro wasn’t ignored in sixth-generation planning. The first Camaro became known for its long dash-to-axle ratio — which resulted in its long hood — and a driver-centric experience. There were back seats, but they weren’t the focus: The driver’s seat was the focus, just as it would be in the sixth generation.
The sixth generation also produced the most track-capable Camaro ever, the 2018 Camaro ZL1 1LE. In addition to the latest ZL1’s supercharged 6.2L V8 engine churning out 650 horsepower, the 1LE package included improved aerodynamics, adjustable suspension, lightweight wheels, increased grip, and a decrease in the Camaro’s weight.
With a final Collector’s Edition Camaro on the way, the team knows the heritage they have to uphold. That’s always been true. “Every time we came out with a different Camaro variant, there was this anticipatory time where people couldn’t wait to see it,” Oppenheiser says. “And then, of course, if we did a limited run, they would sell out right away.”