The new potent ‘12 Camaro ZL1 can trace its lineage back to 69 great predecessors created in the midst of the muscle car wars, but for one unique ‘69 ZL1 heading to Mecum’s Spring Classic Auction, the famous performance history starts with it. This very Camaro is in fact VIN #001 of the original all-aluminum 427-equipped muscle cars. Although this is substantial in its own right, the first ZL1’s notoriety doesn’t stop there, and was actually the first ZL1 to take racetracks by storm.
In 1969, just 69 Camaro ZL1s were produced, featuring the ever-famous, all-aluminum Central Office Production Order (COPO) 427cui engine.
But the creation of these cars wasn’t just as simple as setting GM to produce them. The cars actually had quite a rocky start and may not have ever existed if it weren’t for Fred Gibb Chevrolet.
The idea of creating a potent National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Super Stock track-thrashing Camaro equipped with Chevrolet’s new all-aluminum Can-Am 427cui engine came from discussions between Fred Gibb of Fred Gibb Chevrolet and Chevrolet’s Product Promotions Manager, Vince Piggins.
With NHRA rules stating that at least 50 examples of a car must be produced in order for it to run in the Super Stock class, Gibb committed to taking all 50 production ZL1s for his dealership. Although each car would cost $4,900, Gibb was convinced that the numbers would work out and there would be no issue.
Once a place for the 50 cars was established, Piggins activated the COPO ordering process for the cars. Each Camaro was to get the all-aluminum 427cui COPO engine, as well as cold-air induction, transistorized ignition, Harrison 4-core radiator, multi-leaf rear springs, and a hefty 12-bolt rear end complete with 4.10 gears.
Months went by without any word about the cars. Apparently a stop-order had been put on the cars by someone.
Production of the model didn’t start until GM Vice President Pete Estes discovered it and ordered that two cars be produced immediately for Fred Gibb Chevrolet. The order came over the Christmas holiday and work began immediately despite the timing.
Covered in snow, the two cars arrived at Fred Gibb Chevrolet on New Year’s Eve 1968. Due to the cold, the cars wouldn’t start but that didn’t stop the first of the two cars from being immediately sent to Dick Harrell’s shop in Kansas City, Missouri to be readied for the 1969 Winternationals scheduled for just three weeks later in Phoenix, Arizona.
Piloted by Herb Fox of Fred Gibb Chevrolet, the Camaro ZL1 took the Winternationals field by storm, eliminating two of the top race qualifiers before losing to Arlen Vanke and his Barracuda in the semi-finals. Mopar especially took notice when the Camaro took out “Mr. Four-Speed” Ronnie Sox in his HEMI Barracuda.
Fred Gibb and Jim Hayter after winning the AHRA Points Finals Events in 1971
In February 1969, the car was featured in Super Stock magazine, demonstrating a 10.41-second quarter mile at 128.10mph on the “stock” setup and a 10.29-second quarter mile with a Weiand tunnel-ram and dual 660 Holley carburetors.
The car then took the country by storm, achieving victories at NHRA and American Hot Rod Association (AHRA) events.
The Camaro was converted to ARHA Pro Stock racing standards in 1971 and went on to set the Pro Stock quarter mile record of 9.63 seconds at 143mph.
It also won both the Super Stock and Pro Stock AHRA Championships that year, with Jim Hayter behind the wheel. Just like many notable race cars, however, the buzz about the Camaro eventually died down and the car became obsolete.
Everything was restored to Gibb-Harrell ARHA SSE as-raced condition on the ZL1, including the intricate lace paint scheme that took Porterfield's lace search through five states
Current owner, ZL1 fan and retired Oldsmobile engineer Bill Porterfield acquired the car after seeing it in an advertisement in 1983. After tracking down the car through two owners and for five years, the Camaro became his in 1988. He then started the tedious task of restoring the ZL1 to its original Gibb-Harrell state.
To do this, a correct Winters foundry “ME” all-aluminum 427cui engine was created from authentic 1969 casting and built to run by Chuck Wright of Batten Engineering.
Porterfield also attended to every square inch of the car, making sure it was properly restored after stripping the car down to its bare shell. The desire was so great to recreate the original Gibb-Harrell condition of the car that Porterfield even tracked down the proper lace pattern for the paint through five states.
After a full restoration, the car made its come-back debut at the 1989 Super Chevy Sunday in Indianapolis, Indiana, but only after the car was reunited with Fred Gibb at his home with 150 friends to celebrate.
The Gibb-Harrell Camaro ZL1 is truly a one-of-a-kind car and would make an amazing addition to any collection. The car will cross the auction block at Mecum’s 25th Original Spring Classic Auction on Friday, May 18th at 7:15p.m.