Chevrolet redesigned its mid-sized Chevelle for 1968 with one of the cleanest, sharpest body styles ever to come out of GM Styling _ or anywhere else for that matter _ but the factory regular production options continued to offer only variants on the 396 cubic inch big block.
Fortunately Chevrolet management had found a way around the corporate restriction on using the 7-liter 427 cubic inch big block in the Chevelle.
It was called a "Central Office Production Order", or COPO as it is now universally known. Set up by GM as a means of satisfying fleet orders for special specification cars, most COPOs were for fleets of police cars and dull, boring cars for taxicabs, meter readers and delivery services. A few enterprising dealers, in collusion with enthusiastic insiders at Chevrolet, realized they could use the COPO system to build fleets of 427-powered Chevelles and Camaros.
The most prolific of these dealers was Don Yenko. Yenko Chevrolet in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania had been selling Chevys since the marque was new. Don knew the ins and outs of Chevrolet management and had a long and successful history racing Chevrolets on both drag strips and road circuits. He knew there was a market for a 427 Chevelle, just as he had demonstrated there was a market for 427 Camaros. In 1969 he placed an order for 100 Chevelles powered by the 427 cubic inch big block using the COPO number 9562. Not all would be sold through Yenko Chevrolet, as Yenko found like-minded Chevy stores to take a few of them after they'd been modified in Canonsburg. But they were known as Yenko Chevelles, identification that both took advantage of the already established Yenko reputation and satisfied Chevrolet and GM Corporate management's requirement that they would be clearly differentiated from the Regular Production Option (RPO) Chevelles sold by most Chevy dealers.
COPO 9562 included the 425 horsepower 427 cubic inch big block engine, 4.1:1 Positraction 12-bolt rear axle, heavy duty suspension and radiator, power front disc brakes and 7%uFFFD15 Rally wheels. Yenko offered the choice of either a special Turbo 400 automatic or a close ratio M21 4-speed Muncie transmission. Configured as SS models, they were delivered without "SS" identification so Yenko Chevrolet could apply its unique graphics package of Yenko medallions and black side and hood trim. Mechanically the only change Yenko made was a switch to an open element air cleaner which marginally boosted the 427's power _ already underrated by the factory and factored by NHRA in its classification scheme at 450 horsepower.
Surviving records indicate that only 99 of the 100 COPO 9562 Chevelles ordered by Yenko Chevrolet were actually built and today only something like half of them survive. Their reputation is founded first upon performance and only later by their rarity. There are no compromises in a Yenko Chevelle: they were built to go very fast in drag competition and they fulfilled their purpose.
Reggie Jackson acquired this '69 Yenko Chevelle in the 1980's. "I gathered paperwork and drove it a while even though it was a show queen.
"At one time I had one or another of all the Yenkos. They drive nicely.
"The appeal of these cars is that they were done by the factory. The suspension was there, the heavy duty M20 transmission or beefed up Turbo 400, big springs, big sway bars, trailing arms and more tire. The factory did it and whenever the General got involved they spent lots of money on R&D to get it right, millions on development so they could sell it to us for $6,000."
It is still in show quality condition and equipped with the 450hp 427 big block, Turbo 400 automatic, bucket seats, console, rally wheels with Goodyear Polyglas F70-15 tires, rear mounted antenna, AM radio, power steering, power brakes and its original smog equipment.
Its most unusual feature (as if being one of 99 built isn't enough) is the cowl induction air intake. This isn't the usual flapper valve in the back of a raised hood but NASCAR style fixed ducting from the carburetor back to pick up high pressure, cool air out of the body's standard cowl vent openings. It's very trick and very rare.
This is an original engine and transmission Yenko, thoroughly documented including a certificate from Ed Cunneen's COPO Connection. It is finished in Ermine White with Yenko's distinctive matte black hood, exterior identification and seatback emblems.
Reggie calls it "A high school kid's dream."
The most famous, rare, desirable and fast cars of the last years of the Sixties are the few, famous, lightweight COPO Chevrolets delivered with the aluminum block ZL-1 engine. They are the subject of continuing search, restoration and probably more legends, tall tales and tributes than anything else in the history of American Muscle. The premier examples of these machines are the sixty-nine COPO 9560 ZL-1 powered Camaros built, appropriately enough, in 1969.
COPO stands for Central Office Production Order, a system developed within General Motors to accommodate short run production requests for vehicles with features not offered within the Regular Production Options available for retail sale. Most COPO vehicles were nothing special. In fact, they were usually less than ordinary vehicles like taxicabs, police cars, trucks and cars for utility fleets. Stuff that got used to death and then was discarded.
A few performance-oriented dealers got the idea that they could use the COPO system to order small quantities _ just enough to meet sanctioning bodies' qualifications as "production" _ of high performance cars outside the usual system. No taxicabs these, they'd run just quarter-mile routes and run them over and over again.
The ZL-1 engine was derived from the aluminum big block which GM developed to power the legendary unlimited mid-engined road racing cars of the Canadian-American Challenge Series, the Can-Am. Tremendously popular both with spectators and in the media, the Can-Am attracted high profile attention from manufacturers vying to keep their names prominently displayed on the results lists with McLaren, Lola and Chaparral. They poured engineering and development time and money into the pursuit of ever more power. One of the lasting developments to come from the Can-Am engine programs was the aluminum big block Chevrolet engine which powered the dominant McLaren team.
Chevrolet didn't have a Regular Production Option 427 cubic inch engine in the Camaro line but dealers could order COPO 9561, the iron 427. It could be had with either Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic and 4-speed manual transmissions. Production wasn't difficult _ the 396 that was an RPO with 325, 350 or 375 horsepower was the same size and approximately the same weight _ but it wasn't inexpensive, either.
It took commitment of a different order to initiate the order that kicked off COPO 9560, the aluminum block 427-powered Camaro. There had to be 50 produced to meet drag racing's standards for production classes and that was a serious hit on any dealer's floorplan line of credit. The one who stood up was Fred Gibb Chevrolet in LaHarpe, Illinois. Chevrolet posted a retail price of $4,160.50 just for COPO 9560. To put that in perspective the base Camaro Sport Coupe listed for $2,727 and the most expensive RPO Camaro engine, the 396/375hp aluminum cylinder head L89, was $710.95.
Gibb took delivery of fifty COPO 9560 Camaros including the one offered here by Reggie Jackson. 33 of them were unsold and eventually were returned to GM for redistribution to other dealers, including this one which eventually was delivered to its first owner through Dan Streakley Chevrolet in Temple Texas. In addition to the aluminum 427 cubic inch engine (rated publicly at 430hp, which is less than 3/4 of its real power) the ZL-1 package included a special ducted cold air induction hood, transistorized ignition, dual exhausts, large capacity cooling system, special suspension and 4.10 Positraction rear axle. This car came equipped with the Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic transmission and power front disc brakes. That's it. The heater was standard, but the radio wasn't. Its weight wasn't insignificant, either, so the ZL-1's driver had to endure waiting in the staging line without entertainment.
Painted Hugger Orange with the plainest (and lightest) of plain black vinyl interiors, its early history isn't known. It is the first of Reggie's COPO 9560 ZL-1 Camaros _ he would eventually own five. He acquired it from Pat McGroder in Arizona, like Reggie an early and eclectic collector of American muscle, in 1987. "It was just an old car, it needed everything," Reggie remembers. "I shipped it back to San Jose for restoration.
"Then, a few months later, I found a black ZL-1 in Ohio. It had originally been Fathom Green and had been owned by a relative of the owner of the Hugger Orange car I'd bought out of Texas. I shipped it back to California, too and started to restore it in its original color.
"Both engines needed to be rebuilt so they came out and went to Bruno Gianoli at Reggie Jackson High Performance. Bruno called me to get the cars' serial numbers, `So I won't get the engines confused,' he said. Then he read me the numbers off the engine blocks. He read the first number and I told him `Orange'. When he read the black car's number it ended in `0413'. I said, `Wait, read me that number again.' He gave it to me again and it still ended `0413'. I kept asking Bruno to repeat the number and asking `Are you sure? Are you sure?'
"These guys who were related had swapped engines and the engine from the Hugger Orange car ended up surviving in the black one. I had just gotten incredibly lucky. I hadn't paid any attention to the engine numbers when I bought the cars but here I'd bought two ZL-1s and one of them had the engine in it from the other car."
Reggie has kept this car ever since, an incredibly rare and completely serendipitous instance which put the rare, original aluminum block ZL-1 engine back into the chassis where Chevy had installed it in the Norwood, Ohio plant years before. It is still in excellent condition, restored like new and fitted with rally wheels, Goodyear Polyglas F-70-14 tires, chin and decklid spoilers and bucket seats without a console. Like all Reggie's cars it has been used occasionally and carefully kept in excellent running, driving condition, one of just 5 or 6 COPO 9560 ZL-1 Camaros that have survived with their original engines.
Reggie Jackson says, "The engine has never been hurt."
The lifeblood of any COPO is documentation, and this ZL-1 Camaro has it including attestations from Fred Gibb, Jr. at Fred Gibb Chevrolet, copies of its original shipping papers and receipts and a certification from Ed Cunneen's COPO Registry.
The combination of aluminum 550hp big block power and the first generation Camaro body and chassis make this one of the most coveted of all high performance cars of the Muscle Car era. For its engine to have survived years of competition (whether formal or informal) is nearly unprecedented. Its restoration and preservation by Reggie Jackson lends additional history and important provenance.
It is nothing short of a miracle that this COPO 9560 ZL-1 Camaro didn't get used to death and discarded, just like the taxicabs and police cars that also owed their existence to the COPO system.
At first it seemed like the big changes for Corvette in 1961 were the body look, particularly the rear with a sharp beltline cutoff and near Kamm-style tail with exhaust tips dropped below the body. With it Corvette introduced the four-taillight arrangement which established an identifying feature which is still seen on Corvettes nearly five decades later.
Up front the bulky teeth which Corvettes had employed for years disappeared, replaced with a subtle rectangular mesh set deep in the oval opening.
Inside, however, the Corvette engineering team was hard at work making their car better, faster and more comfortable. The transmission tunnel was narrowed for more interior room but more importantly continued development of the 283 cubic inch Chevy V-8 raised output, including a 25hp increase in the solid lifter fuel injected engine from 290 to 315 horsepower. The 4-speed transmission case (favored by 70% of 1961 Corvette buyers) migrated to lightweight aluminum and the radiator was revised to a crossflow configuration which provided better cooling.
The ultimate options of 1961 Corvettes were the solid lifter 315 horsepower fuel injection engine with the Big Brake package (RPO 687) with stiff shocks, big brakes with front and rear cooling air scoops, finned drums, wide steel wheels and quick steering adapter. Chevy didn't mess around: the Big Brake option could be ordered only with solid lifter engines (either fuel injection or dual 4-barrel carbs) and also required the Positraction rear axle for a complete performance package which left no doubt about the buyer's serious intent.
Finished in Honduras Maroon with White coves and Fawn Beige vinyl interior, Reggie Jackson's 1961 Corvette Fuelie is one of very few 1961 Corvettes ordered with the rare combination of the 283/315hp cold air box fuel injection engine and RPO 687. Restored some time ago, it also has hard and soft tops, but nothing else. No radio. No heater. The production numbers tell part of the story. Although there were only 1,462 315hp fuel injection cars out of 1961 production of 10,939, the number of RPO 687 cars is even less, just 233. Considering that it cost $333.60 plus the $43.05 for required RPO 675 Positraction the paucity of RPO 687 cars is easily understood. Buyers had to be dedicated to performance to pay the price.
Reggie Jackson's 1961 Big Brake Corvette's distinction depends upon nothing irrelevant. It is one of very few Corvettes built in this, the ultimate configuration available to a few well-informed and performance oriented buyers in 1961 and an example of the steady progression of Corvette into a competitive production racing sports car with factory developed performance equipment. It was recommended to Reggie Jackson by some of the most informed, experienced Corvette authorities.
It is a prize of the highest order, a Corvette that will be appreciated and accepted by the best informed Corvette collectors and experts.