David Newhardt, courtesy of Mecum Auctions
  • Documented with the Certificate of Authenticity by Nickey Chicago and Don Swiatek as an L88 conversion
  • Documented by NICB as delivered new to Nickey Chevrolet on 11/17/73
  • Notarized affidavit from the second owner detailing the history of the car
  • The last known car converted by Nickey Chevrolet before closing at the end of 1973
  • The car scored 999 points at the 2013 Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals, receiving a Concours Gold Certification and the award for the Best Chevrolet-Modified at the show
  • Showing 33,000 believed-original miles
  • Rotisserie restoration retaining the original interior, except for the carpet
  • Featured on the cover of Muscle Car Review
  • L88 427-ci engine with Holley 4-barrel
  • Iron open-chamber heads, 12.5:1 pistons
  • Turbo Hydra-Matic 350 automatic
  • GM 10-bolt Positraction 4.56 rear end
  • Power steering and brakes, LT trim
  • Gabriel HiJacker air shocks with Lakewood traction bars and chrome Cragar wheels
  • First owner from 1974 to 1980, second owner from 1980 to 2010, with 28 years in storage and part of the Mike Guarise Collection since 2011

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1974 Chevrolet Camaro Nickey Stage III
Years Produced:1974
Number Produced:Two
Original List Price:$5,141
SCM Valuation:$80,000–$100,000
Tune Up Cost:$250
Distributor Caps:$30.95
Chassis Number Location:Driver’s side dashboard, under windshield
Engine Number Location:Stamped on block pad in front of passenger’s cylinder head
Club Info:http://www.nickeyperformance.com
Website:aldwin-Motion Phase III Camaro, Yenko Camaro, Yenko Trans Am

This car, Lot S103, sold for $93,960, including buyer’s premium, at Mecum’s auction in Indianapolis, IN, on May 16, 2015.

More power

Back in the 1960s, some buyers weren’t happy with “just” 375 horsepower 396 Camaros. Those buyers wanted more, and there was a simple solution to the problem for dealers interested in catering to it: More Camaro power could come in the form of a heart transplant from an L72 427 big block either sourced over the counter or yanked from an Impala sitting on the same lot.

Jack Stephani owned a Chevrolet dealership in Chicago called Nickey. Jack and his brother Ed got into selling high-performance parts in 1957, and as the muscle car era heated up, they did one of the first 427 engine swaps using a brand-new 1967 Camaro. That prototype got plenty of press coverage, with out-of-sight ETs in the low 11s and a top end of over 124 miles per hour. It was street/strip legal and looked stock.

The car propelled Nickey Chevrolet into the supercar business. An explosion of dealership conversions peppered America with variations on the Camaro, Firebird and several intermediate big-block swaps. At Nickey, everything was done professionally, with ingenious solutions from the racing sphere including Dick Harrell-inspired traction arms to prevent leaf-spring wind-up, heavy-duty motor mounts, and uprated radiator and fan systems. In other words, this was a proper conversion that was both reliable and fast. Customers didn’t have to put up with compromises.

A last L88 hurrah

By 1973, the muscle car era was shutting down. Nickey Chevrolet was about to close its doors at the old location, while Nickey Vice President Al Seelig and Parts Manager Don Swiatek opted to set up shop at another location in Chicago to run as Nickey Chicago. That enterprise existed until 1977.

The last conversion job the dealer did before closing its doors in December 1973 was a special request from a Northbrook, IL, resident. The man read a Hot Rod Magazine article on the Nickey Stage III Nova L88 car. He loved the idea but wanted to use a new 1974 Camaro instead.

At the time, Nickey offered a Stage III LS6 454 Camaro package. GM no longer carried L88 long blocks, so using that engine was out of the equation. But L88 short blocks were still available over the counter, so they assembled one using cast-iron ZLX open-chamber heads, as the customer planned to do long runs with the car instead of drag race blasts.

For the same reason, the rear end got a 3.23-ratio Positraction unit and the engine a low-rise LS6 intake manifold. Thanks to the intake and stock factory hood, the car looked like an LS6 Stage III car instead of an L88 monster. The Corvette L88 hood scoop and mag wheels were among several options a customer could specify for his car, but the original owner went with plain rally wheels and hood, making this Camaro a real sleeper.

One of one

After this car was built, the Irving Park Road dealership closed and Nickey Chicago opened its doors. According to the Nickey NICB files, this is the only second-generation Camaro built with an L88 engine, but there was one other Camaro built using an LS6 engine.

It seems fitting that the last conversion car went out like a lion, similar to the first one from 1967. This car was offered for sale in 1980 by its original owner. Rocco Lucente purchased it.

Lucente drove the L88 Camaro a short period before pulling it off the road to deal with drivability problems. He believed the car was a Stage III LS6 454 conversion due to the low-rise intake manifold and plain hood as shown in the Nickey flyer. Lucente also had a Nickey order form showing the car was ordered with a high-performance 454 LS6 engine, but it’s gone missing, loaned to a co-worker who never returned it.

Lucente pulled the rough-running engine but went no farther before changing his focus. The car sat that way until 2009, when he sold it to Stefano Bimbi, who then sold it to Mike Guarise. While the car was being restored at Wegner Motorsports, the engine was torn down and discovered to be an L88 long block with cast-iron heads sporting 12.5:1 pistons. No wonder Lucente had drivability problems!

While this car was restored, a few additions made their way on the body, such as the L88 hood scoop, bumper guards front and back, and a set of beautiful chrome mag wheels with Nickey center caps. One strange detail was left unaltered: The 1975 grille and header panel was left on the car instead of sourcing the correct 1974 pieces, which had the emblem on the grille and a blank header panel. Presumably during one of the original owner’s long high-speed drives, something blitzed the original grille and nose, requiring a replacement.

The right money

The Nickey Stage III ’74 Camaro is a special car any way you look at it. Dealer-authorized big-block conversions were all done by 1974. Everything afterwards used small blocks, and the alterations were minor in nature. Further, the list of big-block dealer supercar alternatives is short and expensive.

Only one other second-gen F-body got an L88 engine from one of these builders, and that was a 1975 Yenko Trans Am. That car went through the Mecum Indy auction in 2011 (ACC# 179363). A documented Yenko car with complete owner history and only 13,000 miles from new, it was bid to $73,000 but didn’t meet reserve. Having a Chevrolet engine within the Trans Am fender wells may have limited its selling price. But while Pontiac purists revere factory engines, the truth is these supercars are aimed at a different buyer; someone who wants eyeball-flattening performance and doesn’t care which engine makes it happen.

Phase III Motion Chevelle SS and Camaros have recently crossed the block as well, with bids between $200,000 and $250,000 — not enough to seal the deal. That makes this Nickey Camaro Stage III a pretty good buy at $94k, even with a missing order form and later-model front end. Call it well bought and fairly sold.

(Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.

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