We've received lots of mail from readers across the country on our recent column featuring Gary Keyes beautiful 427 Dana 1968 SS/RS Camaro clone. 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, CA. Soon after, Yenko Chevrolet in Canonsburg, PA, did the same and kicked off a glorious era of dealer initiated high performance vehicles. What followed is known today as the COPO 427 Chevys, which in translation means "Central Office Production Order." The COPO 427's 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 in addition to Dana, which was not a COPO when first introduced.
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, since Dana in California and Yenko in Pennsylvania were already dealer-installing 427s in the Camaro, the result was Chevrolet's turning to the COPO ordering process, usually set aside for large fleet orders like taxi cabs.
Chevy allowed two specific "COPO" allotments, numbered 9560 and 9561 for the 1969 model year. COPO 9561 included the L72 427-425 horsepower big block and was by far the most popular of the two. Yenko alone ordered 201 of them, and 30 came with a Turbo 400 transmission. The rest were M-21 4-speed with 4.10 gear ratios.
COPO 9560, on the other hand, was not too successful. It included the ZL-1 aluminum 427, and easily produced over 500 horses. This COPO was conceived by the late, great, drag racer Dickie Harrell and his dealer friend, Fred Gibb, from LaHarpe, IL. Only 69 ZL-1 1969 Camaros were ever built, as the ZL-1 option alone cost $4,000 and pushed the bottom line for the car to over $7,000---which was more than a 427 Corvette.
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. Baldwin Motion, out of Long Island, NY, guaranteed its Camaro and Nova would run 11's in the quarter-mile, and would do so with a full GM factory warranty.
Noteworthy is the fact that 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. Also surprising is the fact that Yenko started the dealer specialty car extravaganza with his 1966 Yenko Corvair Stinger, a 4-cylinder Monza he highly modified for SCCA road course racing.
Today, these specialty Camaros, be it a COPO or a "dealer swap" prior to the COPOs, find some appraised at up to $2-million. An extremely rare COPO is a Turbo 400 automatic, as only two of the 30 automatics sold in '69 are known to exist today.
In summary, it is the Dana Chevrolet dealership in Los Angeles that receives accolades for being the very first Chevy dealer to drop a 427 into a Camaro for customer purchase, 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.
And, an additional thanks to Gary Keyes from the Spokane area of Washington for sending us info on his 427 Dana Camaro and getting this all started.