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- 1969 Camaro ZL-1 * Image Courtesy: Mecum Auctions & GM Corp. Chevrolet Division.

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26w ago

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With a heart born amidst the thunder of Can-Am competition, Chevrolet agreed to produce under strict limits one of the rawest American automobiles in history. The year 1969 brought performance minded crowds into another year of all hanging out effort among Ford, GM, and Chrysler. Fuel was cheap and speed was simple albeit in a straight line. This was the second model year of Mustang's top competitor which in reality isn't that long of an establishment to warrant such flippant swings iron and will. Here's the Camaro made for dominance in sanctioned (or not) drag racing.

Anybody who knows any sliver of information about original muscle cars could argue that a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro is the easiest shape to recognize. Fender and door creases got sharper and the face got meaner compared to soft, more sensual lines on '67 & '68 models. Vehicles equipped without the Rally Sport package featured this simple singular headlight arrangement as secondary lighting moved downward. It's an aggressive face perfect for the escalating aggression pumped into American muscle cars to sell every teenager before they even obtained a driver's license.

The average buyer's radar blipped a ratty (Get it?), 396 cubic inch big block producing 375 horsepower. With all of the Super Sport package glitter, this is the choice Camaro of the masses. Granted 375 horsepower comes under a gross output system without accessory drive pull, but this is also an era of conservative rating so in saving argument we'll say that number's about right. However, some enthusiasts of the era were thirstier, willing to finagle 500 horsepower engines from corporate.

Under GM's COPO (Central Office Production Order) forms, interested parties like Don Yenko obtained intermediate Camaros and Chevelles with screaming 427 big blocks. The 427 was reserved for full-size models and Corvette due to some favoritism toward "America's Sports car", and perhaps knowledge of this engine's lethality in too many hands. COPO cars were mostly bare bones with dog dish hubcaps, bench seats, and no special badging. These were after all, cars being built next to taxi cabs and other fleet service vehicles. Also, the 427 wasn't publicly advertised or discussed making this 307 dog disguise effective at keeping demand limited to only those with a foot in GM's back door.

These 427 Camaros are impressive, but even they fall at the flame of a ZL-1. Hell, L88 Corvettes, basically road-going racers quaked. The rival code L72 427 used an iron block and head lending to some extra nose weight so what better than introducing Chevy's first production all aluminum engine. Perfect for racing in Can-Am, this big block almost balanced the scale perfectly with Chevrolet's 327 small block. Look at it like this: the ZL-1 threw around a solid anvil as if it were a tic-tac. Thank Mr. Vincent Piggins, supporter of factory performance at Chevrolet for approving the ZL-1 for NHRA Super-Stock purpose. If Don Yenko thought his little Nova Deuce was, "lethal", he might as well be calling Piggins a seething maniac.

Mania Motivator

On the production line a 375 horse 396 cubic inch Super Sport Camaro awaited a heart transplant guaranteeing immortality. Code F-41 suspension, cowl induction hood, front disc brakes (You take what you can get), heavy duty four speed manual or Turbo Hydra-Matic auto, and posi-traction differential with 4:10 gearing. This car came with all the goods and had the cost to assert so. A Camaro with the ZL1 option necessitated deep pockets as the engine alone added in excess of $4100 alone. Total vehicle cost approached $7200 like your uncle's Cadillac. You were covered though because even this instrument of Hemi hunting maintained Chevrolet's 5 year/ 50,000 mile warranty. A line like that sure draws a parallel to the Demon of today doesn't it?

Historical parallels aside, the ZL-1 sure burned physical ones some 1320 feet in length consistently. COPO cars are rare enough and always retaining value if not gaining, but an original ZL-1 ran with a pack of 69 examples. It may be difficult to see this car existing half a century ago when automobiles were built using certain tentative philosophies. Companies like Fiat/Chrysler are churning out Hellcats in confident mass. The ZL-1 was born in an era of, "We have to see if the public even wants to go this fast."

This Camaro is a pioneering model of freedom across every stretch. Had you breath during muscle's golden age and cars so powerful were untouchable in price do not quake beneath Ferrari-esque auction tags. I would be too lopsided if not honestly critical of the sixties build quality. Quite regular screws hold raw panels together and the engine simply exceeded its shell. The new one is cool, comfortable, and composed. The old one is blatantly that one's evil side.

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