Hemi Cuda. Superbird. Hellcat. GT500. Boss 429. Mach 1. Names that send Mopar and FoMoCo fans into states of elation and that represent some of the most legendary apex predators of the two brands.
Although Chevy fans have plenty of fabled monikers such as ZL1, ZR2, and Z06 to raise their spirits too, it could be said with some degree of assurance that none does so quite like the name Yenko. This somewhat uncommon surname belonged to Don Yenko, a race car driver and owner of Yenko Chevrolet, a dealership that was located in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania from 1949 to 1982.
While most Chevy dealers focused their efforts solely on the sales and service of the brand’s automobiles, Yenko devoted a good portion of his attention to making Chevy’s high-performance models significantly better, faster, and quite simply, more outrageous.
Throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, Yenko applied his sinister magic to Corvairs, Vegas, Chevelles, and Novas, but none of those cars captured the imagination of the Bowtie faithful quite like his treatment of the Chevy Camaro.
In this edition of Rare Rides, we’re gonna take a deep dive on Chevrolet and Yenko’s rarest and most potent beast – the 1967 Yenko Super Camaro – and see why they fetch major dollars today.
So away we go…
Along with its sister car, the Pontiac Firebird, the Camaro’s genesis stemmed from Ford’s meteoric success with the release of the 1964 ½ Mustang. General Motors realized that the Mustang had created an entirely new sector of the automotive market – the pony car – and sought to cash in on it with a model of their own.
News of GM’s plans to produce a competitor, originally code-named Panther, began to leak to the automotive press as early as the spring of 1965. Just over a year later, Chevy held a press conference in Detroit in which the launch date was revealed. The Chevrolet “Camaro” would begin prowling the streets and highways of America in the fall of 1966.
Many immediately wondered exactly what a “Camaro” was. The answer varied wildly depending on who you asked. Chevrolet General Manager, Pete Estes, claimed that the name referred to “the comradeship of good friends, as that is what a personal car should be to its owner. To us, the name means just what we think the car will do… go.” Others had more grounded answers. Some claimed it was French slang for “buddy,” while several in the automotive press were told that it was “a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs.”
The public introduction of the 1967 Camaro occurred on September 26th, 1966, and what a car it was. A sleek and compact-looking 2+2 that rode on the front-engine, rear-wheel-drive GM F-body chassis, the Camaro was available in two-door coupe and convertible styles. Sharing some mechanicals with the forthcoming 1968 Nova, the Camaro utilized a unibody structure combined with a subframe supporting the front end.
A masterpiece of design, the car had similar long hood/short deck proportions to the Mustang and featured a deeply recessed grille with headlights in the corners, sensuous hips above the rear wheel arches, and an elegant, no-frills silhouette.
Motivation consisted of a choice between 230 and 250 cubic-inch inline-sixes, or 302, 327, 350, and 396 cubic-inch V8 lumps. Available transmissions included a Saginaw three-speed manual, a Muncie four-speed manual, a two-speed Powerglide, and a three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic 350 available late in ’67.
Nearly 80 factory options were available, including three main packages. The RS group was an aesthetic package that included hidden headlights, revised taillights, unique rocker trim, and RS badging.
The SS package gave you the 350 cubic-inch V8, with the L35 396 available for an upcharge. Non-functional hood air intakes were also included, as was special striping and SS badging on the grille, gas cap, and horn button. The SS package could be combined with the RS to yield a Camaro RS/SS.
The third main package was the Z/28 option. Only available by ordering a base model Camaro, it brought a 302 cubic inch small-block with Corvette-sourced heads, a hot cam, solid lifters, a baffled oil pan, and a Holley four-barrel atop an aluminum manifold to the proceedings. Factory rated at 290 horsepower, the 302 was actually putting out between 360 to 400 ponies.
Other niceties in the Z/28 package included the F41 handling suspension, 15-inch tires on 6-inch Rally wheels, and quick-ratio manual steering. A Muncie four-speed was the only transmission available in the Z/28, and power front disc brakes were mandatory.
GM hit a sweet spot with the Camaro’s looks, performance, and available options, and as such, sales were brisk, if not nearly on par with the number of Mustangs rolling off the line. In total, 220,906 Camaros found new homes in the 1967 model year.
By the time of the Camaro’s release, Don Yenko had been running Yenko Chevrolet, the dealership his father had founded, for roughly ten years. In 1957, he had added a speed shop to modify the cars his customers purchased and provided a facility that could build race cars to satisfy his personal passion for competing. In the early part of the sixties, in fact, Yenko had won in several SCCA classes driving Chevrolet cars built in his own shop, including Corvettes and Corvairs.
By 1966 though, Yenko wanted to ascribe more to his legacy than just racing. He aspired to have the Yenko name represent the utmost in Chevrolet street performance.
When the dealership began receiving its first Camaros, Don Yenko was impressed by the car’s chassis and overall balance, but less so by the factory powerplants. At the time, all General Motors divisions were subject to an edict that no engine larger than 400 cubic inches could be installed in anything less than a full-size car, with the Corvette being the lone exception.
If Yenko wanted Camaros to be able to compete on the street and the strip with the latest large displacement offerings from Ford and Chrysler, he’d have to dump the factory powerplants and build them up himself.
And build them he did.
Enlisting the talents of famed Chevy stock car racer and mechanic, Dick Harrell, who had previously helped design race cars for the Nickey Chevrolet dealership in Chicago, and Bill Thomas, who had developed the Chevy Cheetah race car, the two showed Yenko all the engineering issues involved in shoehorning a massive, big-block into the Camaro.
Yenko ordered 1967 Camaro hardtops in SS trim (and at least three RS/SS cars) equipped with L78 396 cubic-inch engines and heavy-duty suspension packages, and immediately discarded the factory lumps.
In went Chevrolet’s fearsome 427 cubic-inch L72 V8 and associated components. Based on the famous Chevrolet racing L88 motor with an iron block and heads, the L72 featured a 4.251-inch bore and a 3.76-inch stroke, an 11.0:1 compression ratio, four-bolt main bearing caps, high-flow rectangular port heads, a forged steel crankshaft with hardened journals, a solid lifter cam, forged steel rods, and aluminum domed pistons. Atop the aluminum dual-plane intake manifold sat a 780 CFM four-barrel Holley carburetor.
As equipped, the L72s in Yenko’s Camaros were capable of producing 425hp at 5,600 rpm and 460 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. For an additional charge, buyers could benefit from Dick Harrell’s considerable tuning expertise, which would bump horsepower up to the 450 mark.
A Muncie M21 or M22 “Rock Crusher” heavy-duty, close-ratio four-speed transmission with a heavy-duty clutch and pressure plate backed the engine, though upon request, a three-speed automatic could be installed. A 12-bolt Posi-Traction rear end with 3.73:1 or 4.10:1 gears transmitted power to the ground.
Other mechanical upgrades included a reworking of the Camaro’s F41 heavy-duty suspension with Traction Master traction bars, metallic power front disc brakes, a set of tuned exhaust headers, a dual exhaust with optional, Corvette-style shielded side pipes, a larger-capacity radiator, special spark plug wires, an NHRA-approved scatter shield, and 15-inch Rally wheels with redline performance tires.
The cars’ exteriors were bequeathed with a variety of Yenko modifications, though most did little to clue the uninitiated to the fact that this wasn’t your grandmother’s Camaro. Most notable was a custom, lightweight fiberglass hood that featured a prominent fresh air intake, whose design closely interpreted that of the 1967 Corvette’s “stinger” hood found on big-block Stingrays. Chromed pins with stainless steel cables held the hood in place during fierce acceleration.
“427” badges were mounted to the sides of the intake, and “427 Turbo-Jet” ones occupied the fenders behind the front wheels just below a set of custom Yenko badges. Another Yenko badge adorned the panel between the taillights. Special “Yenko SC” stripe packages were an option, as were Yenko-designed front and rear spoilers.
Inside, Yenko Super Camaros were almost entirely stock fare. The lone Yenko additions consisted of a dash-mounted Stewart Warner tachometer, and a special, custom pod located under the dash that housed oil pressure, voltmeter, and water temperature gauges. Aside from these, there was no hint on the inside as to what the car was.
The standard Yenko Super Camaro upgrade cost $627.27 in 1967 dollars. Although today, folks would consider this the greatest bargain in the car world, at the time it was a considerable sum of money on top of the price of a 396-equipped SS or RS/SS Camaro.
For that money, though, you received one of the most legendary and brutal performance cars of the era. A period car magazine was able to run a Yenko Super Camaro to a 12.59-second quarter-mile at 108.2 mph, making it quicker than any new car on the road in 1967, including Hemi-powered Mopars and big-block Fords.
In total, Don Yenko produced only 54 1967 Super Camaros and sold them from his dealership and a network of others around the country. While he would go on to produce Super Camaros in ’68 and ’69 as well, the ‘67s remained the rarest.
Because of this, and the fact that they were the first Yenko models, the ’67 Super Camaros are considered the most desirable and purest of the breed by today’s collectors.
It is estimated that roughly only ten exist today, so naturally, they rarely come up for sale. When they do though, the muscle car world takes notice, and the cars fetch premium dollars. The highest price to date for a 1967 Yenko Super Camaro is $632,500 for an example that sold at the 2022 Barrett-Jackson Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona.
In the end, Don Yenko did indeed achieve his goal of making his name synonymous with the best in Chevy performance. Not only is his 1967 Super Camaro one of the fastest classic Chevys ever made, but it is considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest Rare Rides.