The car was titled only once—to COPO guru Ed Cunneen. It was raced in NHRA Pro Stock in 1969-70 and was an NHRA record holder. It has also been in the collections of Floyd Garrett and Robert Lyle. Restored by Floyd Garrett at his famous museum, the car is correctly finished throughout, including a correct ZL-1 replacement block, Cowl Induction hood, heavy duty 4-core radiator with curved neck, transistorized ignition, 4.10 Positraction rear end and chambered exhaust. It runs and drives as new—and remains one of the most thrilling machines ever produced by Chevrolet.
• COPO 9560 ZL-1 Camaro
• #53 of 69 built, plus two prototypes
• Dover White with standard black interior
• M22 Rock Crusher close-ratio transmission
• COPO 9560 options, including functional cowl hood, HD 4-core radiator with curved neck, transistorized ignition and Hi Performance rear end
• Drag raced since 1969
• Correct replacement ZL-1 block
• Period photos
• ET time slips from drag strip
• Chambered exhaust system
• Runs and drives as well as any new ZL-1 Camaro
• Formerly from the Floyd Garret Muscle Car Museum
|1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL-1 COPO Coupe
|69 (plus 2 prototypes)
|Original List Price:
|$7,300 (prices varied based on options)
|Tune Up Cost:
|Chassis Number Location:
|Driver side dash visible under windshield
|Engine Number Location:
|Pad on passenger side of engine forward of cylinder head
This car, Lot S199, sold for $323,300, including buyer’s premium, at the Mecum Auction in Indianapolis, IN, on Saturday, May 21, 2011.
In 1969, Big Three corporate-assisted racing was reaching a fevered pitch, albeit clandestine in nature. The mantra of Win on Sunday and Sell on Monday was more than a catchy phrase—it was good for business. There were bragging rights at stake, and even if the top brass were not entirely on board due to pending insurance and emissions issues, there were plenty of dealers and performance managers dreaming up ways to spank the competition.
Don Yenko was a Canonsburg, PA, dealer with high octane running through his blood. With inspiration from drag racer Dick Harrell (aka Mr. Chevrolet), Yenko started assembling the so-called “Supercars.” He had already been wrenching on Corvairs and racing Corvettes, but his vision to build the 1967 Yenko Camaro would put him on the map with the very first out-of-the-box Camaro built specifically to hit the drag strip—even if that meant doing the 427-ci engine swap at his dealership.
By 1968, demand was so strong for the race-ready Camaro that Yenko called on Chevrolet to deliver Camaros with the 427-ci engine already installed. Yenko used a Central Office Production Order—aka COPO—to get around Chevrolet’s performance limits and deliver the compact, light Camaro with a fire-breathing 427 under the hood.
These special orders were normally reserved for fleet vehicles, such as taxi cabs, so they could be ordered with bare-bones equipment or a special-use chassis. These powerful COPO Camaros were nothing you’d ever find on the retail floor of your local Chevrolet dealer—or in any taxi cab. Yenko’s tactic was successful, and these special-order cars are now known in the muscle car world as the COPO 9561 and COPO 9737 Yenko Camaros.
Enter Fred Gibb—through the back door
Fred Gibb, a drag racer and Chevrolet Dealer based in La Harpe, IL, was well aware of Yenko’s success. So, Gibb was ready when Chevrolet perfected the new ZL-1 all-aluminum, 427-ci, 430-horsepower engine (properly modified, the actual horsepower rating was 500-plus) in 1968. With the assistance of GM Vice President Pete Estes (who was instrumental in developing the Camaro Z/28 along with Vince Piggens), Gibbs had the novel idea of ordering 50 of the ZL-1 beasts using the same back-door COPO delivery process that Yenko used so effectively. These cars would become known as the COPO 9560s.
A few other dealers also caught wind of the loophole tactic and ordered 19 additional 9560s, bringing the total number of ZL-1 COPOs to 69. It has also been reported that Chevrolet built two additional prototype regular production order (RPO) ZL-1 Camaros.
Race on Sunday, can’t sell it on Monday
The COPOs wouldn’t come cheap. As the story goes, Gibbs was under the expectation that the 50 ZL-1s would add about $2,000 to the base cost of each Camaro. Gibbs assumed it would be easy to pass the additional cost on to eager would-be racers who were thirsty for a Camaro that could run the quarter mile in 11.64 seconds at 122 mph—with open headers—right off the showroom floor. Unfortunately, a new Chevrolet pricing policy ratcheted up the radical performance option to $4,160, bringing the total cost to a staggering $7,300 for a bare-bones, drag-race-ready Camaro—which was about $1,100 more than a decked-out Corvette L88 Coupe.
Although the car was wildly successful on the track, it didn’t perform nearly so well on the showroom floor. Very few could afford the wallet-crushing price tag and Gibbs ended up sending many of the cars back to Chevrolet so they could be dispersed through other dealers. Most dealers quickly learned what Gibbs already knew—the car was sale-proof—so many of the 69 Camaros were dismantled, reconfigured or sold at steep discounts just to move them off the lot.
When we look at the performance-pounding muscle cars of the late 1960s era, much of the rarity that is so valuable today is a result of cars that were far too expensive when new, which simply doomed sales.
First-tier muscle, first-tier ownership
The low production number of 69 total COPO ZL-1s—coupled with the blistering performance and great styling of the first generation Camaro—equates to a glorious, investment-grade muscle car. The VIN numbers of all 69 COPO ZL-1 Camaros are well known, and there are plenty of experts with the ability to verify the real cars from the fakes, frauds and fowl.
Our subject car was titled only once—and by no other than the foremost authority on these cars, Ed Cunneen, who is the go-to guy for verifying and authenticating COPOs. Cunneen is to COPOs as Galen Govier is to Mopars. His seal of approval is indisputable, and the fact that he was the one and only titled owner of chassis #634918 adds to the bulletproof authenticity of our subject car.
COPO #53 also comes with a solid racing history, and was reported be a National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) record holder, which only adds to its mystique, provenance and credibility. COPO #53 is the real deal, not like most COPOs, which left the lot to be retuned with open headers, stripped of any extra weight (which was pretty tough to do) then straddled with a fat set of “Sticky Mickeys” mounted to the rear to hook all that monster rear-wheel horsepower to the track.
COPO #53 has also been noted to formerly reside in the collections of Floyd Garrett and Robert Lyle, two well-known collectors. Mr. Lyle was also the original selling Chevrolet dealer, which again, adds to the bulletproof ownership trail. Adding to that, #53 was also restored by Floyd Garrett for his Muscle Car Museum in Sevierville, TN. The car’s impeccable restoration included an incredibly hard-to-source ZL-1 replacement block. It was also the only Dover White COPO fitted with the M22 “Rock Crusher” transmission out of the three (only three, as the Mecum description of four is incorrect, according to my sources) Dover White Camaros originally built.
According to published records, our subject car was shipped new to Robert Lyle Chevrolet in Cuyahoga, OH, and noted as the 53rd COPO built out of the 69 produced, which means it was not part of the original Gibbs order, but rather one of the 19 additional cars sent to various dealerships throughout the U.S. It came equipped, as ordered, with the aforementioned M22 transmission, D80 Spoiler, U63 AM Radio, ZJ7 Rally Wheels, and finished in Dover White. This is exactly as the car sits today, which is very nice to see.
A powerful bargain
This terrific, living artifact of a bygone chapter in American automotive history appears to be stunning in its presentation. The restoration was thoughtful and professionally executed. The history and ownership are rock-solid and airtight. The original engine was replaced by a correct ZL-1 block, which is as good as it gets for a thrasher muscle car that was never designed to last much more than a few years after it was sold. It all adds up to a first-class, first-tier, gold-standard investment-grade collectible muscle car.
Drive this car
Considering a record price of $840,000 was achieved for another well-known, documented COPO (Gibbs #18), in October, 2005—and that another ZL-1 COPO from the Robson Collection sold for $418,000 in November of 2010 (SCM March 2011, p.74)—we can surely consider #53 as well bought, even with the knowledge that top-tier muscle has softened in recent years.
The new owner should relish in the history, performance and distinct rumble that only a big-block, throaty V8 can expel. He should enjoy the car, as carefully as he can, for its intended purpose—which means roaring down a local track for a trip down memory lane. I guarantee that a goofy, ear-to-ear grin will be impossible to subdue. Finally, as a side note to the new owner, if you do decide to fire her up for a test flight down the quarter mile, call me, I‘m calling shotgun right now.
(Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)