1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS L89
VIN: 124379N593096; sold by Barrett-Jackson
• Undocumented L89 aluminum heads
• This rare Super Sport Camaro is an X66-code, non-trim big block finished in original color combo of Code 71 LeMans Blue exterior with Parchment interior and vinyl top
• Meticulous rebuild of the entire drivetrain; over 500 hours spent on the show-quality body and paint
• All components are date-code-correct
1969 Chevrolet Camaro RS/SS L89
VIN: 124379L501175; sold by Gooding & Company
• One of only 311 L89 Camaros built in 1969
• Delivered new to Ventura, CA
• Vivid Rallye Green and white color combination
• Equipped with rare factory options
• Exacting high-point restoration
• Offered with GM Protect-O-Plate
|1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS L89 / 1969 Chevrolet Camaro RS/SS L89
|Original List Price:
|Tune Up Cost:
|$25 (NOS originals can be up to $200)
|Chassis Number Location:
|On plate at base of windshield
|Engine Number Location:
|Stamped on passenger’s side front of block, below cylinder head
|American Camaro Association
|1969 Ford Mustang 428 SCJ, 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440/6, 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge Ram Air III
Here’s something you don’t see every day: This past August, two rare L89 Camaros came up for auction — one at Barrett-Jackson’s inaugural Reno sale, and one at Gooding’s long-standing Pebble Beach auction. Each sold for $110,000, including buyer’s premiums, and both cars sold at no reserve — a near perfect side-by-side comparison opportunity. Editor Pickering knows I can’t avoid this sort of thing, so let’s get to it. Which L89 was the better buy?
Big blocks on a diet
First, a little background. There were two versions of the big-block 396-ci 375-hp engines offered for the 1969 Camaro: the L78 and the L89. The L78 used standard cast-iron cylinder heads, while the L89 featured aluminum units. Just 311 of the lighter L89s were made, compared with 4,889 L78s.
While the L89s aluminum heads didn’t increase horsepower above the L78, those heads did shave about 50 pounds of curb weight off the car’s nose, and that was an important factor for hardcore racers. The option was expensive in 1969 — $710.95 — more than double the price of the L78 option.
But given that there was no change in horsepower, very few buyers checked the box for the aluminum heads, and that makes the package rare today.
Line ’em up
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Both of these cars were in great condition. Both were reported to have had recent nut-and-bolt restorations to concours levels, and the auction photos supported those claims. If we’re just looking at condition, it’s anyone’s game.
The most notable difference between the two cars? The LeMans Blue Camaro sold by Barrett-Jackson is an SS model, while the Rallye Green L89 sold by Gooding & Company is an RS/SS. This is an important distinction, since the RS option brings the rarity factor on the green car up a few notches.
The blue SS
This car, Lot 699.2, sold for $110,000, including buyer’s premium, at Barrett-Jackson’s Reno Tahoe sale on August 10, 2013.
This car was nicely optioned, but not overly so, which is what you would expect given the weapons-grade package. Options included the 396/375 L89, M21 transmission, 4.10 Positraction axle, power disc brakes, A.I.R. smog equipment, AM push-button radio, steel wheels wrapped in period Polyglas tires, and T3 headlights.
This car was finished in popular LeMans Blue over an equally impressive Parchment interior. The car was reported to have been restored to the original colors as delineated on the cowl tag. The restoration also included tracking down several new old stock (NOS) parts to keep the car as pure as possible. These included a correct engine block, ultra-rare aluminum heads, alternator, distributor, cooling fan and the dual-feed Holley carburetor. The car also included the usually missing-in-action A.I.R smog equipment, which was typically tossed by original owners on day two.
The car certainly looks to be a turn-key trailer queen and ready for the national stage.
The green RS/SS
This car, Lot 23, sold for $110,000, including buyer’s premium, at Gooding & Company’s Pebble Beach sale on August 17, 2013.
L89s are rare enough already. Couple that with the additional Rally Sport option, and you get an infinitely rare L89.
Why? Because most SS 396/375 Camaros were sparse in regards to creature comforts. Buyers who wanted L89 aluminum heads didn’t care about niceties such as a center console or power-robbing accessories. Makes sense, as most buyers opting for a street terror or track-ready machine didn’t want any commuter-car trinkets.
But this car was topped off with options. Tons of them — including items such as a Rosewood steering wheel, houndstooth interior, console, power steering (ultra rare and typically not allowed on an SS L89 build), power brakes, Endura bumper, and the marriage of the Rally Sport and Super Sport (RS/SS) packages.
It’s probably safe to assume that the original buyer of this car in 1969 was a well-heeled gentleman who wanted a Camaro that not only presented in high style, but that would shred the skinny Polyglas tires to bits. Mission accomplished.
Cowl tags, X-codes and Protect-O-Plates
When it comes to muscle-car values, it always boils down to one thing: documentation. And while these cars both looked great, when it came to history, they were on different levels.
The Barrett-Jackson blue SS didn’t have documentation supporting the originality of its L89 package, and Barrett-Jackson and the consignor were both very up-front about that. It was even included in the very first line of the descriptive text. The consignor made it clear that the only supporting item was an X66 code on the trim tag, which delineates the factory build as an original SS 396.
The Gooding & Company green RS/SS was a California-built car, which utilized a slightly different cowl tag configuration that does not include an X66 code. As such, documentation was even more vital to verify this car’s original build. And it had it.
Docs on the green car included information as to where it sold originally, with regards to the gentleman who first purchased it in December of 1968. This came in the form of the original General Motors Protect-O-Plate. GM, as part of the factory warranty on new cars, provided these small metal plates to owners. Each featured the car owner’s name and address, affixed to the plate using a Dymo-type stamped plastic adhesive strip.
These plates can be decoded to specify the original build with information about components such as the engine, carburetor, transmission, and rear axle. Better yet, P.O.Ps also contained factory-installed options and the month of manufacture. These vital and often missing plates are highly desirable, especially for a car as rare as an original RS/SS L89 Camaro.
And the winner is…
I don’t think either buyer got hurt here, and I think both sellers should be pleased as well.
I would have preferred to see more documentation for the LeMans Blue Camaro — I’m sure that was a deal-breaker for some buyers, as the X-code doesn’t really tell the whole story.
But given the total of the information, presentation and selling price, it’s safe to assume that the buyer of the blue car felt that its condition and overall appeal ranked high. Given the cost of the restoration and abundance of NOS parts used in the build, he may not be all that far off.
From our comps in the ACC database, other L89s (with and without documentation) have sold in the same price range, so the blue car’s buyer, being fully aware of the lack of documentation, put his big-boy pants on and wrote the check. Not a bad deal, all things considered.
The Gooding & Company Camaro had an estimate ($160,000 to $180,000) well north of the final selling price and although that seemed over the top, it may not have been out of line given how rare the car likely is. Then again, from a presentation point of view, you could drag on the green car a bit, as greens are not as desirable today as reds, blues or black.
But for a car like this green one, originality is paramount over doing a color change to help boost current market interest, so kudos to the previous owner for restoring the car as built in 1969, even if he was tempted to go with another color.
Time to call it. While I believe the buyer of the LeMans Blue L89 Camaro purchased a very well-done machine — done right by all regards — its documentation can’t hold a candle to the green RS/SS’s Protect-O-Plate. That’s way better than an X-code in my book, and for the same money, the Gooding & Company car is the clear winner.
(Introductory descriptions courtesy of Barrett-Jackson and Gooding & Company.