There are many motivational forces that can be the root cause for a person to collect muscle cars. Those forces can range from a sense of personal nostalgia to a simple factor of gathering investments. True enthusiasts consider them to be a tribute to the automobile and the people who made a difference in the automotive world.
For George and Carol Edwards of Palm Beach, Florida, this classic example is one of a true entrepreneur’s vision. In the mid-1960s, Don Yenko began modifying Corvair coupes and rebranding them as Yenko Stingers. But in 1969, Chevrolet ended production of their rear-wheel-driven Nader agitator. Before that happened, when the Camaro entered the picture in 1967, Yenko created another legend by transplanting a Chevrolet tire shredder – the 427 cubic-inch engine with 425 horsepower under the hood of the ponycar. That one simple transplant ultimately created a now-legendary supercar, the Yenko Camaro.
The Dream Materializes
As the idea was materializing in Yenko’s fertile mind, he sought engineering help for creating the 427 Camaro from Chevrolet guru Bill Thomas. Yenko was certain that installing a big block in the small Camaro was possible, but still wanted the engineer’s help for confirmation. Thomas was in the process of working on his own on 427 conversions, and is actually credited with swapping the first big-block into a 1967 Camaro.
Don Yenko also had a personal relationship with someone at Chevrolet who could help him achieve his vision – Vince Piggins. Discussions between Yenko and Piggins resulted in Chevrolet’s Central Office creating the Central Office Production Order (COPO) 9737 Sports Car Conversion package for the 1968 Camaro. The COPO 9737 package saw the inclusion of a 140-mph speedometer, a heavy-duty suspension, and other upgrades to the 1968 L78-powered (396 cubic-inch) Camaros that were ultimately sent to Yenko to be upgraded to L72 power (427 cubic-inch).
Yenko upgraded the cars by pulling the factory 396 cubic-inch engine and taking components like the 396’s cylinder heads, carburetor, intake manifold, etc., and installing them onto the L72 short-block before placing the fully-assembled and larger cubed engine into the cars. According to Mark Gillespie’s book, The Yenko Era, “Dealer records show 64 cars were built that year (1968), and those records are in the safekeeping of a former employee.”
From The Beginning
My wife and I raced the car for another two years and continued to use it as our daily driver. – George Edwards
George continued, “A month after I bought the car, my new wife [Carol] and I drove it on our honeymoon to Niagara Falls. The trip took us through Canada, and on to Seaside Heights, New Jersey. We even ended up at Cecil County Drag Strip in Maryland during the trip and made a couple of passes on the strip.” George finished by saying, “My wife and I raced the car for another two years, while we continued to use it as our daily driver.”
For a car enthusiast, life sometimes gets in the way of automotive pursuits, and for George, building a family became a higher-ranking priority. That meant the Camaro was no longer suitable for everyday use. But George proved his passion for power, as he decided a new 1970 Chevelle with a 454 cubic-inch behemoth under the hood would become the new “family car.” George affirmed, “When the family came into being, Carol and I purchased a 454 ’70 Chevelle and only drag raced the Camaro.” Alas, as so often happens, it was eventually decided that the drag racing “toy” was not a priority for the young family, and in 1972, the once daily-driven Camaro was reluctantly sold.
George then devoted his time to raising his family and running his business, and all was well – almost. George is like many of us, in that we all have at least one car from our past that never seems to leave our memories, and carries an extra measure of fondness in our hearts. For George, the Camaro was that car. “I had always known where the car was and who owned it, and after many years of trying to convince the owner to let me buy it back, in 2005, he finally agreed to sell it back to me”, George told us with a smile on his face. But, the car was not quite in the same condition as when George sold it and needed a complete restoration.
During the 2-1/2 years it took to complete the reformation, the ’70s-style paint job covering the sheetmetal was erased, and the gawdy flared fenders adorning the sides of the car were replaced with NOS fenders and quarter panels. After Arone Auto Body in Homer, Pennsylvania, repaired the metal, they covered the body in a water-borne blended shade of Rallye Green. Once the body was in factory fresh condition, it was then taken to Supercar Workshop in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, for reassembly.
Throughout the years, this particular Yenko might have had its outward appearance modified, but the interior miraculously survived. George told us that his Camaro’s interior is unrestored and features all factory components. That being said, it does benefit from the addition of a couple of Stewart Warner gauges to monitor engine RPM and vitals.
A month after I bought the car, my new wife [Carol] and I drove the car on our honeymoon to Niagara Falls. George Edwards
Unfortunately, you will not find the Yenko-installed L72 engine still in use. When George was racing the car in the early ‘70s, the aluminum flywheel he had installed on the back of the crankshaft came apart – violently. During the explosive disassembly of the rotating clutch engager, a large portion of the block was sacrificed, and another engine was installed at that time.
When the car was being restored, a date-correct 427ci block was acquired and given to local engine builder, Dave Reid, to be given the once over. The block was in remarkable shape and only needed minor machining. After that was done, the parts from the original Yenko engine were installed. Even the 4054 Holley carburetor is still in service. As one could imagine, the 11.0:1 compression ratio does require a fuel that carries more than an 87-octane rating. As a side note, George kept the original engine block.
Now that the car is restored to better than new condition, George and Carol are content with taking it easy on the old girl and allowing newer modes of transportation to be their daily drivers. When we asked George if he would ever sell the car again, he quickly responded with, “It’s now where it belongs.” That sounds like a great answer to us.