Back in July, we made our way to Columbus for the 22nd Goodguys Rod & Custom PPG Nationals. We had a chance to check out a very unique display while we were there. The display, cleverly named Summer Of ’69, was dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Camaro.
It’s almost become a running joke in the auto industry that if you go to any car show featuring muscle from yesteryear, you’re undoubtedly going to be inundated with a barrage of ’69 Camaros. There are those that make jokes because they’ve become jaded from seeing the same platform time and time again. But, there’s a reason hot rodders and non-car-people alike to clamor toward one of the greatest Bow Tie offerings of all time.
We’ll get into what makes the model so great in just a moment, but first, let’s talk a bit about the famed F-body’s history.
As many of you know, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the ’69 Camaro. In today’s fast-paced, “give me my information in a 15-second video” world, it’s difficult to hold most people’s attention. For a 50-year-old car to be talked about as heavily as the ’69 Camaro is today, it’s got to boast some impressive qualifications. So, what makes it great? That would be an extremely long list, but we will do our best to give you the cliff-notes. We’d say the short answer is: its heritage and mystique…Oh, and gratuitous horsepower helps, too.
GM’s Camaro first hit showroom floors on September 29, 1966, for the ’67 model year. The svelte coupe came about as part of the “pony-car wars.” General Motors had to answer the call of what became a huge market segment. Ford’s Mustang was outselling Chevelles and Corvairs, so GM started a new project.
During development, the Camaro’s codename was Panther, but Chevy eventually landed on the Camaro monicker. When asked what a Camaro was, the sharp-witted marketers at Chevrolet stated, “The Camaro is a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs.”
When the car was released, it was offered as both a coupe and convertible – each with a multitude of engine options. There were eight engines offered for the Camaro in 1967. GM upped that number to ten in 1968, and 12 in 1969. The engine options ranged in size from the economic 230ci inline-six, all the way up to the venerable 396ci big-block mill. The 396-inch limit was because GM placed an engine size limit of 400ci on all of their mid-size and compact models.
Of course, there were ways around the limitation, and several dealerships figured it out. Those workarounds inadvertently created some of the most sought after Camaros of all time. All that was require was a little knowledge on the front-end when placing the order. By-and-large though, most consumers opted for one of the options put together by the factory.
The RS package was offered on any model Camaro, and included hideaway headlights, different taillights, and reverse lights mounted under the rear bumper. It also included RS badges and extra brightwork.
The SS package was for the performance-oriented consumer. SS-equipped Camaros could be had with either the 350ci small block, or 396ci big block. They also sported performance chassis and handling upgrades, as well as SS badging, stripes, and non-functional air inlets on the hood.
The Z28 package was developed specifically for racing in the SCCA Trans Am Series. The Z28 Camaro was the brainchild of Vince Piggins, GM’s lead engineer. He wanted to build a “factory race car” for the masses. Adhering to SCCA rules, Z28 cars came with a modified 302ci 4.9L small block, four-speed Muncie transmission, power disc brakes, and a Positraction rearend was optional.
The amount of customization available from the factory was so extensive, it’s difficult to list every possible combination for the Camaro. With so many options, the possibilities are seemingly endless. There were special offerings that have become famous and sought after. Below are some of the rare and coveted ’69 Camaros on display at the Summer Of ’69.
- Pace Cars
There were two examples of pace car Camaros on display. Of the two in attendance, one was used to pace the Indianapolis 500 (left) and the other used for the World 600 (right).
When the Camaro was selected for the Indianapolis 500, GM wanted it to stand out. To do that, it painted the RS/SS in Dover White with Hugger Orange stripes, and added a houndstooth material to the interior. Interestingly enough, Chevrolet provided several vehicles to the speedway, which included a fleet of courtesy and support vehicles – 130 pace car replicas (for parade use), 16 Impala station wagons, 18 C10 pickups, two suburbans, and a van.
The pace Camaro pictured to the left is one of only seven Produced for the eight major races NASCAR held in 1969 – this one is from NASCARs World 600 that was held at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Yenko Camaros are one of the most sought after and rare muscle cars out there. Don Yenko owned a Chevy dealership in Pennsylvania – Yenko Chevrolet, maybe you’ve heard of it. Don was an avid racer, so naturally, he was upset with the limited engine displacement options offered in Chevrolet’s pony car. So, he decided to do something about it.
Don began installing L72 427ci engines in Camaros at his dealership when they came out in ’67. They were met with such success that by the time the ’69 restyle came out, he began using Chevrolet’s Central Office Production Order (COPO) system to order “Super Camaros.” The Yenko dealership was handling the engine swaps in ’67 and ’68, but in 1969, the cars arrived from the factory with 427 engine already installed.
Besides the monster engine, the cars came equipped with either an M21 or TH400 transmission, bigger front sway bar, four-core radiator, 4.10 Positraction rearend, disc brakes, chin and spoiler, and a cowl-induction hood. They’re also recognizable because of the Yenko “Super Camaro” stripes, and headrest – hence the “SYC”.
- COPO 427
COPO Camaros originated because of the engine size limitations mentioned earlier. Auto manufacturers were shying away from the large-displacement engines that put the muscle in muscle cars. This was largely in part due to several factors – namely, rising gas prices and insurance premiums that were looming over the American populous. Luckily, there were savvy Chevy dealerships out there like Yenko, Dana, and Nickey that knew how to curtail the rulebook and build some badass race cars.
Chevrolet created two COPO order numbers for the 1969 Camaro – 9561 and 9560. The 9561 COPO came with an iron-blocked L72 big block, underrated at 425hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. Don Yenko got 201 of them, and around 800 went to other dealerships.
The COPO Camaro pictured above is a supreme example. Sporting just 750 original miles (a quarter-mile at a time) it’s got to be one of the coolest ’69 Camaros from the display. Keep an eye out for the full feature coming soon.
If COPO and Yenko Camaros are rare and coveted, then the Camaro ZL-1 is the Holy Grail of Camaros. The 9561 COPO order number denoted the solid-lifter 427ci L72, while the 9560 order number denoted a much more rare and expensive version of the 427ci. The 9560 came with an all-aluminum 427ci big-block designed specifically for drag racing. They called it the ZL-1, and it was rated at 430hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. Although, it has been reported that with minor modifications to exhaust and intake, that number quickly shot up to 500hp.
The ZL-1 was first thought up by drag racer Dick Harrell and ordered from Fred Gibb Chevrolet in La Harpe, Il. The idea behind the ZL-1 was to create a Camaro to race in the NHRA Super Stock class. Only 69 ZL-1 Camaros were made though, which isn’t hard to fathom considering the engine option alone cost more than $4,000. Still, the gains in power-per-dollar and prestige of ownership are hard to argue with.
There were famous cars like the Big Red Camaro, the Detroit Speed Inc.-built TUX, and many more. There were million-dollar Pro Touring builds, mild customs, and even some rare day-2 customs in attendance. The Burnished Brown COPO pictured above was dressed in all the period-correct parts, and was among our favorites. It sported a Lakewood rollbar, American Racing wheels, and even some real J.C. Penney-brand slicks.
You can check out more photos of that Camaro, and every other ’69 Camaro that was on display in the gallery below. Until next time…