There is not a lot that can be said about Grumpy Jenkins that hasn’t already been said many times over. He started working on engines at a young age, and he began drag racing a 1955 Chevrolet just before going off to college at Cornell University. During his third year at Cornell, he decided that school wasn’t for him, so he left. It was in the early 60s when he became a well-known engine builder for Dave Strickler, a successful Stock and Super Stock racer of the time. Jenkins teamed with Strickler to win the 1963 Little Eliminator Nationals with a 427 cubic-inch-powered, A/FX-class Chevy Impala.
In 1966, Jenkins’ decided to independently run a Chevrolet of his own, and developed an engine package that made him a stand out in racing circles. Without the help of factory support, Jenkins developed his first Grumpy’s Toy: a Chevy II with a 327 cubic-inch engine. His efforts caught the eye of Chevrolet corporate, and this led to him being added to Chevrolet’s “sponsored” team in 1967. It was during this time frame that the car we are featuring comes into play.
This particular Camaro was built on December 29, 1966. This is by all accounts, one of the first Z28s to be built. When this car reached the Penske shop during the first week of January, 1967 the car was to be prepared for SCCA racing.
A rollcage was installed in the car, and the trunk floor was cut out to make room for a fuel cell. With the body structure supported by the cage, it was then chemically milled (acid-dipped) to lighten it. Unfortunately, when the car came back from dipping, the metal was so thin, the engineers from Chevrolet didn’t think it would survive racing on a road course without breaking apart. For that reason, this car was pushed into a corner of the Penske shop and almost forgotten.
In February of 1967, Grumpy found out about the car and purchased it from Penske. It was taken back to Jenkins Competition, and the construction of a Super Stock race car began. Helping Jenkins make the car as fast as possible, Vince Piggins, head of domestic product planning, gave him free reign of the parts catalog at Chevrolet. Although he had parts support from Chevrolet, the rest of the build was all Jenkins.
Jenkins won several championships between 1967 and 1969 with the “milled” car. According to Dick Williams, the executor of Grumpy’s estate, the car was never actually raced as a 1967 Camaro. Jenkins removed the vent windows and put 1968 Camaro door glass in the 1967 body, added the trim to the doors, and also added hidden-headlights to the front end. He then glued side marker-light trim and lenses to the quarter panels, and cut holes in the front fenders to add actual side marker lights. Once complete, the 1967 car looked like a 1968 Camaro, and he raced the car in this trim until 1970.
In 1968, Jenkins cloned this once 1967 Camaro into a 1968 Camaro Super Sport. In this livery, the car won the very first sanctioned Pro Stock race with a 9.99 ¼-mile e.t., and broke the 10-second barrier. After winning the second Pro Stock race in Gainesville, Florida, the NHRA forced the car into retirement because, in their words, it was too old. There is some speculation that they found out that the car was too light to be legal for competition, but this has never been verified. The car was then sold to another racer, Brooklyn Heavy, and it ended up in upstate New York.
After Brooklyn, the car passed through a couple of owners, and in the early to mid-’80s, the car was parked next to a building that eventually caught fire. Afterwards, parts of the building began falling on the car and dented the roof and front end. At some point after the fire, someone didn’t realize the front sheetmetal had been lightened, and thought the heat from the fire made the metal feel “funny.” This is when the front sheetmetal from the car was discarded. The car was then sold several more times, and eventually, in 2002, it landed in the possession of current owners, who would like be referred to simply as Vicki and Dale.
The car was found while Vicki was online looking for a project car. Dale and Vicki were hoping to find a 1969 Camaro Pace Car, but when she stumbled upon an ad that read “Grumpy Jenkins’-built 1967 Camaro—best offer”, she asked Dale who Grumpy Jenkins was. His reply was “Only the guy that got me interested in Camaros in the first place, and the reason I bought my 1968 Camaro when I was 15 years old.”
“Two people can basically carry the empty shell, that’s how light and thin the metal is.” – Vicki, car owner
It was in mid-April when Dale and Vicki were able to pick up the car and bring it back to their home in Pittsburgh, where they could begin to trace the car’s history. Dale started his research by calling Jenkins himself, but as Dale puts it, “He hung up on me so fast it could’ve make your head spin.” Over a period of six months, Dale continually tried to talk to Grumpy with no luck. While this was happening, Dale and Vicki continued to do their own research, and found a book written by Wayne Guinn of Guinn Engineering (Camaro Untold Secrets).
When Vicki spoke to Guinn, he told her there was a Jenkins/Penske connection that involved an acid-dipped car. At this point, he asked if the car had thin sheet metal, and Vicki confirmed that it does. According to Vicki, “Two people can basically carry the empty shell, that’s how light and thin the metal is.”
Guinn actually knows a lot about the car because his father was on Penske’s race team, and he was there when the car came back from acid-dipping. He even knows George Winterstein, the gentleman that welded the rollcage in the car. Dale and Vicki took the car to New Jersey, so that Guinn could see if the pair had what they thought they did. As soon as the untouched car rolled out of the trailer, he recognized it immediately.
Guinn conceded that he believed Dale and Vicki do have “The Toy,” so they documented everything as they started cleaning the car to begin the restoration. Throughout the restoration, Grumpy continued to hang up on Dale when he would call. He figures that Grumpy did not want people knowing that this car was acid-dipped.
Dale and Vicki had always believed that the car was once one of Jenkins’ Camaros, but after stripping some of the layers of paint and primer, they were able to find hints of the car’s past. They found Penske’s name, the words Grumpy’s Toy, and the numbers 777 etched into the metal.
During the restoration, the original front subframe was not removed, as the rollcage is welded to it and they did not want to damage the integrity of the car. The original front suspension and quick-ratio steering is still on the car, as well as the original leaf springs. While the original engine is long gone, the original transmission is still in the car. Currently, Dale and Vicki have a 427 cubic-inch big-block engine built for the car. The original headers, distributor, transistorized ignition, wiring harness, and original steering column and components are still in use. There is also a pair of original Jenkins-prepped Dominators on the engine, and an original Jones/Motrola tachometer inside the car.
So, we can officially say that this is the legendary Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins 396-powered Camaro that tore through NHRA’s Super Stock class for the 1967 championship.
Dale and Vicki were hoping to have the car completed by the end of 2015, and it looks like they have a made it. We can’t wait to see the car for ourselves at an event, hopefully making trip down the drag strip, albeit at a never before seen slower speed.