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Psychotic Reaction

Yenko L72 Nova: On the Lunatic Fringe

Geoff Stunkard Dec 11, 2003
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If there were ever a car that went just a little too far, this Yenko green mamba is it. Back then, the 427 was king of the Rats, but it was almost diabolical to sell one packaged in Chevrolet's lightweight economy car. Even fringe-dweller Don Yenko termed these crossbreeds "lethal." They were capable of 0-60 shots in about four seconds; when outfitted with headers and slicks, they'd rage the quarter-mile in the high 10s. The following year, he built only the Yenko Deuce, a Nova that used the new 350ci LT1 small-block for motivation in an attempt to skirt what had become an insurance nightmare with any big-block car associated with his name.

The 7.0L Mk IV engine was first introduced for 1966 in fullsized Chevy models and as a Shelby Cobra-fighting additive in the Corvette. With the L71's Tri-power intake and performance visibility, it was a status symbol beyond measure, but most Vette owners were image-conscious poseurs rather than street fighters. More often then not, they were open-shirted gold-chainers looking for girlie action rather than a street race.

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Of course, when the Camaro was introduced in 1967, Bill Jenkins hit the ground running with a 396/375-horse L78 mill under the hood of the first-year F-body, which was fine since that was the best plant Chevrolet offered in the car, and it fit well into NHRA's new-for-'67 Super Stock Eliminator. By the end of that year, a few dealers were swapping the stock engines out in favor of the bigger breather, but the 427 was still associated more with the Corvette. An L72- or L88-powered 427 Camaro on NHRA property quickly went into the Modified Production or Gasser ranks in those days. The 430-horse L88, which was optioned only in the Corvette, was the most radical of the engine designs, one that Chevrolet (officially out of racing since 1963) designated for off-road use only. Yeah, right.

Regardless of whether they were sanctioned, the dealers who offered such combinations became legendary. The teaming up of Joel Rosen's Motion Performance and Baldwin Chevrolet on Long Island; race car-builder Bill Thomas; the Nickey operation out of Chicago; Fred Gibb's business down in LaHarpe, Illinois (in conjunction with nitro-racer Dick Harrell); Berger Chevrolet in Grand Rapids near the Motor City; and the Dana dealership in Southern California all played a role, but none was more visible than the Yenko's family-run business in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Throughout 1968, the notoriety of the Hemi-hunting monsters from these lairs grew, and Yenko Chevrolet became so well-known that it created a group of additional participating dealers to sell the special cars.

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The healthy dose of Rat-power easily thwarted any would-be competition.

By 1969, things got even more radical. The backdoor access to the COPO (central office production order) codes had now resulted in dozens of 427 Camaros (as well as some special Chevelles and Biscaynes) powered by either an L72 iron-head/iron-block (code 9560) or a ZL1 all-aluminum block (code 9561) right off the assembly line. That same year, Ford came out swinging with the 428 Cobra Jet and Boss 429 Mustangs, but those packages never seemed to take the best advantage of their performance potential. Chrysler offered up a run of nasty 440-powered Darts, whose styling left a bit to be desired. However, in as-bought, street-legal trim, the Camaro was the real deal for street racers who wanted to play it fast and hard.

The Nova, sport model of the Chevy II, was not unknown in the performance world, but the advent of the Camaro had pushed it out of the spotlight. The stylish F-body was the car to be seen in. If you didn't want to be seen, the pedestrian Nova made a magnificent street sweeper when mixed with the right ingredients.

Sometime in 1969, one of only 37 twisted individuals came into Louisville, Kentucky's V.V. Cooke Chevrolet, which was part of Yenko's network, to fill out the order form for the L72 Nova. He wasn't going for black, or red, or even deep blue; no, he selected a Rallye Green (code 79) that was right off of Ken Kesey's magic bus. Today, the color is still outrageous, though the black vinyl top (also optioned) tones down its looks. In addition to the 427-inch weapon under the hood, the outfit included an M21 close-ratio four-speed and a Posi-traction 4.10:1 gearset in the 12-bolt axle.

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The spartan business office of the little Chevy featured no-frills trim and a four on the floor shifter.

The Yenko Super Cars (YSC) program included wheel and tire upgrades, so right off the lot the car had Torq-Thrust rims and Goodyear wide-tread rubber. The interior was standard and Spartan, featuring two black vinyl bench seats augmented by Yenko-installed Stewart-Warner gauges, some headrest decals, and little else. It was an all-business combination that wouldn't have necessarily picked up the most popular girls at school, but it might've attracted the fast ones.

Kevin Hand works as a regional manager for the Crown Automotive dealerships in Greensboro, North Carolina, and has owned his share of serious Chevy supercars. He bought the Nova in October 2001. Originally, fellow collector Mitch Moore found it in 1991. It was still in Kentucky and had been moldering for years behind a body shop. After entering the supercar conduit, another collector in North Carolina took the project on, restoring it to the best standards of that time before Kevin captured it. Today, the odometer shows just over 11,250 miles. Of these special '69 Novas that the Yenko franchise had released, only seven are known to still exist. Nobody bought one for posterity or to haunt the garage. The guys who had these cars beat them hard.

Ricky Smith Restorations in Ararat, Virginia, did a total rebuild. Smith worked from the frame-off using the original parts that could be refurbished and supplementing them with high-quality materials from Terry Newman's Chevy Connection (Collinsville, Virginia). Kevin says the most difficult part of the restoration was finding the correct '69 grille for the Yenko package. He ended up finding it on eBay as an N.O.S. item. Smith remembers one of the biggest challenges was obtaining an original Stewart-Warner tach that actually worked, then wiring it the same way Yenko's shop crew had. The car made its first public appearance at the invitation-only The Forge Musclecar Day II Supercar show in Pigeon Forge last October, and Kevin allowed us to take these images. We didn't ask to drive.

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Owner Hand's nutso compact cost less than $4,000 new. It's been returned to museum-quality operation and has only 11,261 miles on the clock.

As a collectible, the Nova is in a league of its own. These cars only circulate inside the inner circle of serious collectors of very limited '60s-era supercars. The last time a Yenko Nova changed hands (another that Kevin once owned), the price was $285,000, and that was for an older restoration. Whatever this latest car cost to finish, the result is priceless. With his garage full of possibilities, Kevin admits that this Nova, which took a year plus a couple of suitcases of money to restore, is his favorite. "These cars are so rare, so few of them were built, and only seven are known to exist. If I could only keep one car, this would be it."

Remember the grin and the gleam in the eye of that guy who always went just a little too far? Kevin has it. Frankly, you can't honestly own a 427 Yenko Nova without it.

Spec Sheet

Car: '69 Yenko 427 Nova
Owner: Kevin Hand, Greensboro, North Carolina
Original Seller: Yenko Super Cars, Canonsburg, Pennsylvania
Original Price: Less then $4,000
Production: 37
Known Existing Examples: 7
Engine: 427ci L72
Installed by: Yenko Super Cars
Rated Horsepower: 425
True Horsepower: Above 500
Modifications: None
Transmission: M21 four-speed w/Muncie shifter
Rearend: 12-bolt Chevrolet with 4.10 Posi-traction
Color: Rallye Green (code 79)
Exterior Options: Black vinyl top, Yenko graphics
Wheels: American Torq-Thrust
Tires: Goodyear wide-tread bias-ply
Interior: Black vinyl
Original Mileage: 11,261
Restored by: Ricky Smith, Ararat, Virginia
Restoration Level: Museum-quality operational



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