Many enthusiasts regard the 1960s as the heyday of the muscle car era. After the original 1964 Ford Mustang became a smash hit, almost every automaker in Detroit wanted to have a model in the pony car segment. Chevy introduced its fighter, the Camaro, in 1967. By 1968, the Chevy Camaro Z/28 was already circling the 289 and 390 Mustangs in the SCCA’s Trans-Am racing series. But on the drag strip, Ford’s special high-performance versions, including the 1968 Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet (335 hp) and the 1967 Shelby GT500 Mustang with a 390 cubic inch (7.0 liter) engine ( 335 hp), had the upper hand.
As the muscle car wars were in full swing, hardcore gearheads, road racers and especially drag racers wanted Chevrolet to respond. Unfortunately, he couldn’t have his hands tied by GM’s infamous 1963 racing ban. Some major Chevrolet dealerships devised a plan to get around GM’s limitations using the COPO system. The system allowed them to secretly order more powerful, road-legal Camaros from Chevrolet that were already equipped with big-block V8s and GM didn’t mind. These drag racing muscle cars are known as the Camaro 427 COPO. Here are ten things only true gearheads know about the Chevrolet Camaro 427 COPO.
10/10 Originally there were two 427 COPO Camaro models
Two visionary Chevrolet dealers, Don Yenko and Fred Gibbs, orchestrated the creation of the 1969 427 COPO Camaros. While Yenko had personally swapped stock engines in the Camaro for big blocks before, he struggled to keep up with demand. in 1969. His customers also wanted him to offer the standard GM 5-year/50,000-mile warranty.
Initially, only these two dealers managed to order the base model Chevrolet Camaro with a factory-equipped 427 cubic inch engine. The Yenko Camaros had a 427 cu in L72 V8 engine, while Gibbs’ Camaros featured a lightweight 427 cu in all-aluminum engine in the ZL1 engine.
9/10 Specially designed for drag racing
Chevrolet’s high-performance Camaros of the late 1960s were among the most powerful muscle cars of their time. Despite this, race customers still wanted faster, more powerful versions of Chevy’s muscle car that they could take to the drag strip without further modifications.
Many of the orders for 1969 427 COPO Camaros were primarily for customers who wanted to use them for drag racing.
8/10 The 427 engines were ordered through the COPO system
The COPO (Central Production Order
(COPOlisten)) was a mail-order system that allowed dealers to order cars and trucks with non-standard colors or features. Dealerships often used it for fleets of special purpose vehicles like taxis, school buses, company trucks, and police cars.
For 1969, production Chevrolet Camaros were not permitted to come with engines larger than 400 cubic inches. Fred Gibbs and Don Yenko exploited the COPO system to circumvent this. Plus, through the COPO system, they could add high-performance extras not available through the standard Camaro order sheet.
7/10 The high performance goodies COPO 9560, 9561 and COPO 9737
To secretly get these unique Camaros with 427 cu in V8, these Chevrolet dealerships used different special COPO codes. Camaros ordered by Gibb Chevrolet used COPO code 9560. Along with the ZL1 engine, their high-performance package included a custom-ducted hood, dual exhaust systems, J52 disc brakes, and heavy-duty F-41 suspension.
The 201 units made to Yenko’s order used the COPO 9561. Along with the L72 V8 iron block, they got the same extras as the ZL1s and some custom badging and striping. Many Yenko Camaros and three ZL1s also got another COPO 9737 sports car conversion. It added a 140 mph speedometer, Rally 15 x 7 wheels with E70 raised white letter tires, and also had the gloss exterior trim option.
6/10 Outrageous power, underestimated on paper
The 1969 COPO Camaros had exteriors so understated that few could guess they had the massive 427s crammed under their hoods. The 427 cubic inch iron-block L72 V8 engine powering the Yenko Camaro produced an impressive 425 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. Yenko would install a new set of headers and a smoother exhaust system to increase power to 450 hp and 460 lb-ft.
Fred Gibbs controls had an all-aluminum 427 cubic-inch V8 developed for Can-Am Racing. Codenamed the ZL1, it was the first aluminum big-block engine Chevy had ever used in the Camaro. Chevrolet advertised the ZL1 as producing 430 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque. However, he had understated the numbers to avoid GM’s attention – real dyno testing showed the ZL1 to be capable of 550 horsepower!
5/10 Incredible performance in drag racing
Due to their outstanding performance, the 1969 COPO Camaros were immediately recognized as a formidable force on the drag strip. With approximately 20 of 69 ZL1s used in organized drag racing, the model has become an American drag racing icon.
The 1969 COPO Camaro ZL1 could hit 100 km/h in 5.1 seconds at lightning speed while on its way to 160 km/h in 12.4 seconds. It also took just 13 seconds to complete a quarter-mile sprint. On the other hand, the Don Yenko L72 Camaros had a blazing 5.4 seconds from 0 to 60 mph and could do a quarter-mile circuit in 13.5 seconds, hitting 105 mph.
4/10 Among the rarest muscle cars
The two model 427 Big-block COPO Camaros manufactured in 1969 are rare. Yenko COPO Camaro production consisted of only 201 units. As for the 1969 427 Camaro ZL1, Fred Gibbs ordered
for 50 units – the least required to qualify the model for the NHRA Super Stock class. But later, other Chevrolet dealers like Nickey and Berger ordered 19 more Camaro ZL1s, bringing the total to 69 units.
When other dealers heard of the unique COPO 9561 code, they also placed orders for their own 427 COPO Camaros. Chevrolet eventually produced around 1,000; however, many are not as
3/10 Chevrolet has been building COPO Camaro Revival models since 2012
With Chevrolet’s 2011 Chevrolet COPO Camaro concept attracting great interest from racing enthusiasts, Chevy revived the COPO name in 2012. Chevy has only manufactured 69 units since, paying homage to the original 1969 COPO Camaro ZL1s. While getting one for most years required luck in the lottery
, Chevy began selling them on a first-come, first-buy basis in 2020.
Chevrolet releases limited-edition options like colors every year. It also manufactures unique pieces like the 2020 Chevrolet COPO Camaro John Force Edition, which is only sold at auction and whose profits are donated to charity. The automaker added additional engine options in addition to a 427 cubic inch V8. Today, the COPO Camaro can be equipped with a gigantic 572-cubic-inch (9.4-liter) big-block V8. It’s the biggest American V8 of all time.
2/10 Among the most collectible Camaros today
For devotees and collectors of the classic Camaro, few models top the big-block 1969 COPO models. Chevy no longer manufacturing from 1970 to 2012, they are among the most sought after vintage Camaros. A 1969 Yenko Camaro in excellent condition, as determined by Hagerty, is worth $335,000.
The 1969 Camaro ZL1 is even more sought after by collectors. Hagerty estimates the value of Condition #1 at $1,050,000. In 2020, a 1969 COPO Camaro ZL1 (car #59) fetched $1,094,500 at auction, setting a new record for the highest price ever paid for a Camaro.
1/10 Revival COPO Camaros Are Not Street Legal
Unlike the original 1969 Chevrolet Camaro 427 COPO, revitalized versions of the COPO Camaro are not street legal. They cannot be licensed, registered or drive on public roads. The original versions were street legal as they received designated vehicle identification numbers (VIN) as opposed to later versions, indicated by a serial number.
These Camaros are purely drag racing and qualify to compete in NHRA Stock and Super Stock competitions. As such, they feature a roll cage and racing bucket seats, among many other features required for the acceleration strip.