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Even though our COPO shootout didn't go as expected, we still had a blast

Patrick Hill Aug 15, 2006
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The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Every car guy is more than familiar with this proverb, especially when it proves itself true time and again. The premise was simple: Bring together three '69 COPO cars and use the Raceway Park (Englishtown, New Jersey) quarter-mile to see how badass these cars really are.

The cars came together, the track at Englishtown was prepped, and we were ready to burn some rubber. But when the board at top end showed a 17.016 at 69 mph for our first run, we knew there was trouble brewing. The second run gave us a 16.758, and trouble was thus brewed and served to us in a big steaming mug. Unfortunately, one of the dangers of trying to drag test old cars is they seldom are running as well as they look. While not regularly driving a car is good for the body and structural pieces, it can wreak havoc with the drivetrain. From fouled plugs to out-of-tune carbs to dried-out gaskets, not driving a car can be worse than driving it.

Our test cars were examples of the best that Chevy had to offer in 1969. We had one Camaro, one straight COPO Chevelle, and one Yenko S/C Chevelle going head to head for dragstrip supremacy. For readers not familiar with "COPO," this was an acronym for "Central Office Production Order," the secret code that could be used to order the tire-shredding 427 big-block in Camaros, Novas, and Chevelles in 1969. Unlike its Chevelle brothers, the Camaro had two COPO options: COPO 9561 got you an iron block 427, while COPO 9560 would get you an all-aluminum 427. To get a COPO car, you either had to supply the code to the salesman at the dealership, or find a Chevy dealer familiar with the "backdoor" options who had such cars on the lot. At one time in 1969, Indian River Chevrolet in Cocoa Beach, Florida, had a ZL1 and two COPO Camaros on its lot, along with an assortment of L78-powered cars.

For those not familiar, the L72 427 big-block was the heart of the COPO cars. This engine was a fire-breathing, cherry-popping brute. High revving and built like a tank, the 427 could take just about anything thrown at it. Essentially, the 427 was a 396 with an extra 0.125-inch bored out of the cylinders. Featuring the same high-performance rectangular port (referring to the intake port shape) heads that first debuted on the L78 in 1965, this engine could suck more air than a jet engine.

Here are the specs on the L72:

Displacement: 427 cid

Bore/Stroke: 4.25 bore x 3.76 stroke

Short Block: four-bolt mains, forged crank, forged steel rods with 3/8-inch rod bolts, forged aluminum pistons 11:1 compression ratio

Heads: High Performance Rectangular-Port design, 2.19 Intake valves / 1.78 Exhaust, semi-hemispherical design, stud-mount stamp steel rocker arms 1:7 ratio, 3/8 dia. heavy-wall pushrods, dual valvesprings

Camshaft: Mechanical (solid) flat-tappet camshaft, 0.520 lift int./exh. with 1:7 ratio rocker arm, 114-degree lobe separation, 242 duration @ 0.050"

Ignition: Delco Single-Points type ignition

Intake: High-rise aluminum single plane manifold

Carb: Single 4bbl vacuum secondary Holley, 780-cfm, PN#R-4346

Rating: 425 hp @ 5,600 rpm ; 460 lb-ft torque @ 4,000 rpm

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The weather at the track was fairly hot, about 88 degrees and muggy, so we were figuring on losing some time due to street tires on a slick surface, and there was a decent headwind. We gave each driver a few "practice" runs down the strip to get a feel for the track and how their car was acting. After a cooldown, we started running the cars again. Round two saw most times go down and speeds come up, but we were still disappointed with the results. This left the questions begging: Were these cars really that spectacular and fast? Could they take a modern musclecar?

In 1969, both types of COPO cars were drag tested in street trim in magazines. The Chevelle posted a quarter-mile time of 14.10 e.t. at 101 mph, while the COPO Camaro posted a 13.16 with a 110.21 mph. Because our tests didn't exactly follow the scientific method, we're just going to go ahead and throw the past/future comparison in the river. But it's good for our readers to know what these cars were capable of back in the day.

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Just seeing these three cars making passes unleashed a flood of nostalgic dreams. Imagining a day when you could go to any local AHRA/IHRA/ NHRA track and see these cars duking it out with the best iron from Ford and Chrysler, the hot dragstrip girls in tight shirts, guys driving their racecars to the track, pulling slicks from the trunk to go racing with, the smell of track food on the breeze intermixed with burnt rubber and burning leaded high-test--it ranks up there with the first time you kissed a girl or when your dad threw you the keys for the first time and told you not to wreck the car.

Even though it's an era we'll probably never see again, when neck-snapping, high-horsepower cars were for sale on dealer lots for cheap, and gas was pennies a gallon, we can still get a taste of musclecar heritage when cars like these gather at a quarter-mile piece of asphalt.

Even though things didn't go as we would have liked this time, let us know if you are interested in participating in a future Super Chevy shootout. E-mail us at We'd love to have you.

The Players

First Place: Caleb Arone 1969 COPO Camaro, Daytona Yellow*

*Car ran with drag slicks during testing, other two cars ran Goodyear Polyglasstyle tires.

Caleb Arone let his father, Frank, handle the driving chores on this day. He didn't really have a choice, as Caleb is only 14 years old. As you can see, the Arone COPO isn't stock. According to the owner, it was restored to its vintage glory when it was campaigned by the Bryne Brothers of White Plains, New York.

How vintage is it? It's got an ancient bolt-in Lakewood roll bar, a prehistoric Weiand tunnel ram intake with dual quads, and when entered in shows, you can see it sitting on an April, 1969, date-coded, right-side slick. Raced on a modern slicks, Frank Arone notched the low e.t. of the day.

Engine: Stock L72 with 0.060-inch overbore, 12.5:1 compression

Intake: Vintage Weiand tunnel-ram style manifold with two Holley 660 carbs

Trans: Muncie M-22 four-speed

Rear: GM 12-bolt

Suspension: Front - Stock; Rear - Stock, with sub-frame connectors

Best: 12.920 e.t. / 110.78 mph

Worst: 15.494 e.t. / 85.10 mph

Second Place: Christopher Short '69 Yenko Chevelle, Butternut Yellow w/black Yenko Graphics

It's not every day that you come across an unrestored '69 Yenko Chevelle, but this is one. You can see on the headrests where the sYc decals have faded away after 37 years. Even the race lettering hasn't been touched. The shoe polish on the windshield has been there for 20 years. The lettering on the side windows is the name of the previous owner. Virtually gone, too, is the TK Chevrolet sticker on the trunklid.

Still, it ran pretty well. After a spinning 15.49 on the first run, he was able to whittle it down to 14.616 at 98.75 mph.

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Engine: Stock L72

Intake: Stock

Trans: Muncie four-speed

Rear: GM 12-bolt

Suspension: Front - Stock ; Rear - Stock

Best Time: 14.616 e.t. / 98.75 mph

Worst Time: 15.49 e.t. / 97.29 mph

Third Place: Albert Galdi'69 COPO Chevelle, Fathom Green

When Galdi showed up for our confrontation, he informed us his freshly restored Chevelle sported about 4 miles on it. He did most of the work himself and the end result was an absolute work of art--quite an accomplishment considering what the "before" photos showed us. Essentially, the car was a catastrophe.

Not anymore. The Fathom Green paint was flawless, as was the bodywork. The interior was a time warp (nothing beats that new car smell, circa 1969). The optional SS wheels gave the otherwise plain exterior a little flash.

Alas, with so few miles on the engine, he didn't risk injuring it with high-rpm antics and powershifts.He never actually made a complete pass, shutting down before the finish line on every run and short-shifting the high-winding Rat.

Engine: 431 cid, 11:25:1 compression, Lunati roller cam, stock rocker arms, dual valvesprings, stock ignition.

Intake: Stock

Trans: Muncie M-22 four-speed

Rear: Stock GM 12-bolt, 4.10 gears

Suspension: Front - Stock ; Rear - Stock

Best Time: 15.217 e.t. / 92.99 mph

Worst Time: 16.858 e.t. / 62.85 mph



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