There's no denying that Chevrolet Performance Vehicles' purpose built Gen 5 COPO Camaro (20129562) has breathed new life into the aging NHRA Stock and Super Stock classes, especially with its 7.0L, LS427 normally-aspirated version. A good example of that would of course be Todd Patterson and his Husky Bed Liner-sponsored SS/CA 427 COPO Camaro, who bombed the NHRA class record down to an incredible 9.25 at 143.00 while competing at the NHRA Sunflower National Open last April. Remember now folks, we're talking about a genuine, bonafide factory-built 8-second-legal racecar that you can simply get in and—without any sophisticated pre-race preparation—drive.
Unfortunately, Chevrolet's COPO Build Center only produces 69 of these annually "for off road use only," so the likelihood of John Q. Public just strolling in off the street and buying one is quite remote.
Now for the good news; thanks to Chevrolet's Factory Engineered Gen 5 Camaro Performance Parts Program and more specifically, "COPO Parts Direct," you can actually build one of these awesome machines. And the Bow Tie brigade will even walk you through the build process with a highly informative and expertly photographed publication called the "COPO Build Book," an illustrated insider's guide to the factory COPO build processes, parts and specifications for potential builders.
Over the years, Erie, Pennsylvania GM dealer and muscle car collector George Lyons has owned a number of prime examples of original 1969 COPO Camaros. "Very early on, the concept of General Motors building a 2012 Gen 5 427 COPO Camaro really peaked my interest, and I was fortunate enough to have gotten serial no. 53, which I have been actively running on the amateur level."
To date, Lyons Victory Red LS427 has run 9.67-138.90, which is not bad for a weekend warrior, and George freely admits that he's barely into the learning curve. Nonetheless, the absolute thrill of driving one of these incredible machines left Lyons wanting for more. In January of 2012, George was at the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, where Chevrolet was going to auction off an Inferno Orange Metallic 2012 COPO convertible drag car with 100 percent of the proceeds ($400,000) being donated to the American Heart Association. This particular car was serial number 69, and it was the final car of the 2012 production run.
"While standing in line waiting for the COPO to go up on the block, someone made the casual comment that wouldn't it be cool to be able to build a street-legal, COPO-type LS 427 Camaro that you could actually drive at events like the Hot Rod Power Tour and the like? I thought that was a tremendous idea!"
In the coming weeks, a number of telephone conversations were traded back and forth between Erie and the powers that be at GM. Since the COPO Camaro is built for track use only, has no VIN, and cannot be titled or registered for the street, the official answer to building a car of this nature online at the COPO Build Center was no. However, using key vendors to bring parts to the table as well as buying components through Chevrolet Performance Parts and COPO Parts Direct proved a viable and acceptable alternative. Ultimately Oxford, Michigan's Turnkey Research & Development was chosen by Lyons to do the job.
"Rather than starting with a body-in-white, I decided to purchase a brand new, ready built 2013 Inferno Orange Metallic Camaro SS convertible, which already had a VIN, and Turnkey would build it into an LS 427 COPO-type Camaro street car. Very early in the discussions I made it perfectly clear, and Turnkey was completely onboard with the fact that I wanted the car to be cosmetically and technically engineered to be identical to the 427 COPO drag cars, with minor exceptions being made for the sake of legality—and I mean right down to the finest detail."
Theoretically, had Lyons started out with a six-cylinder car he would have accomplished the same objective, as the builders ended up using only the bare tub or superstructure of the SS, but the sale of the car's LS3 drivetrain did afford Lyons the opportunity to recoup some of the substantial investment he had in the overall project.
John Lombardi of JLP Products would build the LS427 engine for George's Camaro to be virtually identical to the factory COPO 427 racecars, albeit with two notable exceptions. First, the compression ratio would be reduced from 13.5:1 to 10.5:1 in order to enable the car to run on 93 octane pump gas while still producing in the neighborhood of 600 horsepower. And two, a camshaft change from the original .595/.595 race hydraulic roller cam—PN 19300535—to one of Chevrolet Performance Parts "ASA" hydraulic roller camshafts—PN 88958770—featuring .525/.525 max valve lift was also necessary to insure driveability.
Furthermore, a complete stainless-steel exhaust system equipped with electrically operated street & strip cutouts and stainless-steel mufflers was also installed to satisfy the State of Pennsylvania DMV requirements.
In the process, the decision was also made to go to an Art Reid-prepared Coan TH400 manual shift, reverse pattern three-speed automatic transmission with 3400-stall speed, 10-inch converter activated by a Hurst Quarter Stick shifter with Line-Loc as a much better choice for a street transmission than the two-speed Powerglide that's used in the early COPO drag cars.
Lyon's Camaro also features the same Strange Engineering strut and disc brake front suspension and 4.29:1 geared Strange Engineering aluminum carrier-equipped 9-inch live rear axle, utilizing COPO four-link suspension, and Strange Engineering coilover rear shocks. Wheels are also the same Bogart lightweight aluminum alloys on the factory racecars, measuring 3.5x15-inch front and 10x15-inch rear. However, George's ragtop uses 28x7.5-inch Mickey Thompson Sportsman front and 315/60x15-inch Mickey Thompson ET Street radial tires on the rear in lieu of slicks.
The Mike Pustelny Race Cars-built NHRA 8.5 certified rollcage in Lyons' convertible is also identical to a genuine COPO drag piece, however, there is a swing out bar to make street entry easier. Of course, like the factory built COPO racecars, Lyons Camaro has been converted to two-seat configuration and features the same lightweight racing bucket seats. The gauges and switch kit in the dash are again from COPO Parts Direct. However, this car has air conditioning, something which the COPO racecars definitely don't have.
There are also a number of features that are wired in to be fully operational on the street that are not wired into the factory drag cars, such as a single windshield wiper, running lights, A/C controls, and its fully functional convertible top.
George's ragtop got a trunk-mounted Aeromotive fuel cell, but the capacity has been upgraded from 8.5 gallons (COPO) to 19.4-gallons to give George's Camaro more range.
The convertible's exterior was outfitted with the COPO domed hood (PN 22950678) to clear the intake. The paint graphics on the hood scoop proclaim "STREET COPO," which is not an official GM product designation, but rather a clever play on words by the owner.
During the early days of the build, a car collector friend of George's named Charles, "Chuck" Hora became very intrigued that Lyons was having this car built and expressed some dismay that he couldn't get in on the deal too. Now Chuck, a multiple U.S. patent holder in the chemical process industry, co-inventor of the Bausch & Lomb-licensed flexible contact lens, as well as the engineer behind the creation of GM Goodwrench Vehicle Assembly Epoxy, and Magneto-Rheological fluid (which is used on the suspension systems of new Cadillacs, Corvettes and Camaros and Ferraris), is no stranger to exotic cars, and ordered an identical Flame Orange Metallic LS427 Street COPO Coupe to be built right alongside Lyons convertible.
The weight on George's ragtop comes in at 3780-lbs compared to an original factory advertised GVW of 4116. Chuck's coupe weighs in at 3475-lbs versus the factory advertised GVW of 3849.
Performance–wise, the cars are closely matched. George's convertible clocked a 60-ft. time of 1.39-seconds, with a quarter-mile number of 10.57 at 136.00. Hora's car was just slightly quicker, with a 1.34 60-ft., and 10.40-136.00 in the quarter. These times were recorded using drag radials, not slicks.
"These Street COPO's are pretty much punch listed and were built to show quality from top to bottom, says Hora. "They have been lightheartedly referred to as being ‘two of none' as it is unlikely that Turnkey R&D will be building anymore due to the high level of architecture and expense. We are very indebted to Chevrolet Performance Parts/COPO Parts Direct for making these components available through their COPO Build Book program. In the future, I think that these two cars will be looked back upon as being something very, very special."