The story of how the ZL1 COPO Camaro came into existence is quite an interesting yarn of performance-era history, and the histories of these two fine examples only serve to build upon the iconic car’s past. Each one of these ultra-rare cars has forged their own path into the history books and muscle car lore, and now, Mecum is featuring both cars as a package deal at their January auction, being held January 5-14th, in Kissimmee, Florida.
We all know the story of how the “COPO Camaro” entered the performance wars of the mid-’60s by ordering “special optioned” vehicles through the Central Office Production Order program. Originally designed to provide commercial fleet vehicles such as taxis and police cars, the COPO system was not hobbled by corporate bans on engine sizing.
This opened the door for Vince Piggins to partner with those in his network to bring about options not available on typical order sheets. Dealers like Fred Gibb, was one of Piggins’ performance dealers, and birthed the idea of the COPO-enabled ZL1 Camaro.
Built under the COPO 9560 option package, ZL1 Camaros were built as big-block-specification cars. They had F41 heavy-duty suspensions, power-assisted front disc brakes, a cowl-induction hood, a heavy-duty four-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission, and 12-bolt Positraction rearend with 4.10 gears. The ZL1 engine was tailored from Chevrolet’s aluminum-headed L88 427ci engine, but went one step further and utilized an aluminum block to drop weight even further. For the same weight as a cast small-block Chevrolet engine, buyers could have all the power the big-block 427 engine could muster.
While factory numbers limited engine output to 430 hp, actual numbers proved to be quite higher. Some speculate that 500-plus ponies was much more accurate. The lower number wasn’t so much a lie, as it was an accurate depiction of the engine’s potential at a much lower RPM than that of peak horsepower. When trying to keep a low profile, it’s not always in your best interest to clearly state how high the mountain actually is!
Number 18 of 69
This Dusk Blue ZL1 languished on Gibb’s showroom, and was eventually returned to GM. It was finally purchased on July 15, 1969 by Ronald Dix of South Boston, Virginia. After developing an engine noise that Chevrolet refused to fix under warranty, Mr. Dix decided to stop payment of his loan. The car was unceremoniously repossessed a few months after Dix took delivery. It was then sold to a drag racer who had the engine rebuilt. The car changed hands numerous times. In 1993, it wound up being the grand prize for the U.S. Camaro Club to celebrate Camaro’s 25th Anniversary.
Anyone who purchased a poster of the car for $50.00, was included in the drawing. Mike Ryan was the lucky winner after purchasing two posters for each one of his children. They got the posters, and when the drawing was done, he got the real thing! The car traded hands repeatedly throughout the following decades, and wound up in the hands of collectors and museums for the remainder of its life.
Number 30 of 69
This Hugger Orange example is one of the 13 cars that was actually sold by Gibb’s dealership when new. Many of the car’s early miles were put on the odometer one quarter-mile at a time. It set the Top-Stock B Class Record, running the quarter-mile in 11 seconds flat at 123 mph on 7-inch wide tires. After that, it was placed in long-term storage for many years. It was never registered or saw duty on the street.
The car endured a couple of restorations over the years, and as such, remains in excellent condition. Now showing only 361 miles on the odometer. Of the 15 Hugger Orange ZL1 Camaros produced, it is one of ten with a four-speed.
Be sure to check out the Mecum Kissimmee auction to find out what this duo of ¼-mile duelers brings when they cross the block this January!