We've received lots of mail from readers on our recent column on Gary Keyes’ beautiful 427 Dana '68 SS/RS Camaro reproduction, and I thank all who have written. Most readers love the history of these "non-production" 427 Camaros, which were first introduced as a "dealer swap" in 1967 by Dana in Los Angeles and then followed by Yenko Chevrolet in Canonsburg, Pa. What followed is officially known today as a "COPO" 427, which translated means "Central Office Production Order." The COPO 427s had the full backing of GM's Chevrolet division, including a warranty.
A total of just over 1,000 COPO 427 Camaros are said to have been sold, and some 19 dealers in the U.S. and Canada took part in the special ordering process. However, Yenko (Pennsylvania), Fred Gibb (Illinois), Nickey (Illinois) and Baldwin Motion (New York) were the "big four" of the COPO sellers.
COPO came about because General Motors forbid Chevrolet from building non-Corvette or non-full size Chevys with larger than 400-cubic-inch engines. However, Dana out west and Yenko in Pennsylvania were already dealer-installing the 427 in the Camaro, and the result was Chevrolet's turning to the COPO ordering process. Chevy thus allowed two COPO numbers, specifically 9560 and 9561 for the 1969 model year.
The COPO 9561 was the L72 427-425 horse big block. Yenko ordered 201 of them, 30 with a Turbo 400 transmission the rest with an M-21 4-speed. COPO 9560 was the ZL-1 aluminum 427, which could do an easy 500 horses. This combo was conceived by the late, great drag racer Dickie Harrell and his dealer friend Fred Gibb, from LaHarpe, Ill. Only 69 ZL-1 '69 Camaros were built, as the ZL-1 option alone cost $4,000 and pushed the bottom line for the car to over $7,000.
These COPO 427 Camaros were then followed by Novas and Chevelles, and all were torrid street and race machines capable of traveling a quarter-mile in a guaranteed "11-second" range. As a matter of fact, Baldwin Motion, out of Long Island, guaranteed its Camaro and Nova would run 11s in the quarter-mile, whetting the appetite of the muscle car crowd beyond "frenzy" mode.
In 1969, GM produced a few COPOs right on the assembly line for Yenko, eliminating the need for Yenko's mechanics to make the engine change at his dealership. Notable is the fact that Yenko started the dealer specialty car extravaganza with his 1966 Yenko Corvair Stinger 6-cylinder, which he modified for SCCA racing prior to his 427 Camaros. Today, the Yenko Camaros are appraised at up to $2 million, and only two of the 30 automatics sold in '69 are known to exist.
Still, it is the Dana Chevrolet dealership in Los Angeles that receives accolades for being the first ever Chevy dealer to drop a 427 into a Camaro, with Yenko a close second. Our hats are off to these great dealerships, and also non-Chevy dealers like Mr. Norm's Grand Spaulding Dodge in Chicago and Tasca Ford in Rhode Island, both noted for doing similar things for MOPAR and Ford fans, respectively.
Page 2 of 2 - And an additional thanks to Gary Keyes for sending us info on his 427 Dana Camaro.
Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse Media, and welcomes reader comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840.