On March 21, 1969, Bill Hunter walked into Gates Chevrolet in South Bend, Indiana, and spotted the car of his dreams: a stunning Hugger Orange 1969 Camaro, a ride flaunting its bodacious curves, sleek styling, and muscular physique. Gates Chevrolet was a well-known proprietor of top-of-the-line Chevy performance vehicles, and this certain Camaro was no ordinary car, to say the least. It was a special breed, one of Don's toys. Don Yenko, that is. With a 450hp L72 big-block under the hood, this pony pummeled pretenders out on the street, and did it at will. And that's what Bill wanted.
Bill left the dealership with the hopped-up, 427-induced, Yenko-bred Camaro and immediately put it to good use. You see, his cousin was the guy to beat and consistently got the better of Bill in street matchups. But this time things were gonna be a different. Don Yenko himself now had Bill's back.
That night Bill took his new toy out on the highway to see just what 450 hp could do in the little ponycar. Out on the open expanse he dropped the hammer hard on the Camaro, and soon found the speedo needle buried past the 140 mark. Bill knew he was ready to take on his cousin, or anyone, for that matter.
He met up with his cousin later that night, and the two went at it right there on the street. It wasn't enough for Bill to beat him; he had to thrash him. So Bill pushed the Camaro hard, knowing that he would need all of this 427 to show his cousin his taillights. However, Bill's right foot proved too much for the fresh motor. The mighty big-block detonated, and Bill lost the race.
The next day Bill rope-towed the sickened Camaro into Gates Chevrolet. There the spent supercar was handed back to the dealership as trade-in/warranty on yet another Yenko. It just so happened the dealership had fresh one arriving on the truck that day, this one in Daytona Yellow. Once again Bill was taken at first sight. And that night Bill once again headed back to the street to race his cousin. This time, for the record, neither he nor the car failed.
Bill Hunter was extremely happy with his second 427 Yenko Camaro. In 1969, all Yenko Camaros started life using a Central Office Production Order (COPO). Don Yenko now worked with Chevrolet to factory install the L72 427 engines (code 9561), unlike the previous years (1967-1968), when Yenko did all the conversions in his shop. Having the 427 installed with the COPO program saved time and money, which allowed Yenko to expand the Sportscars Inc. program to more dealers.
Along with the L72 427, the Camaros came with mandatory factory options, including power front disc brakes; a heavy-duty, curved-neck four-core radiator; and a special BE-coded 4.10 Positraction rearend with a heavy-duty, heat-treated ring-and-pinion. You could get a heavy-duty, CX-coded Turbo 400 automatic with this purchase or choose like Bill and get the four-speed, close-ratio Muncie M21 trans with Hurst shifter, which is what most Yenko Camaro buyers did.
Yenko also worked with GM to put together COPO 9737, the Sports Car Conversion package, which consisted of a heavy-duty 13/16-inch front sway bar, a 140-mph speedometer (which Bill put to good use on his initial drive with his first Yenko), and YH-code 15x7 Rally wheels shod with E70 raised white letter GT tires. (Those Yenkos equipped with both COPO 9561 and 9737 are known as Double COPO Camaros.) As for the body, the mandatory RPO-ZL2 ducted hood was part of COPO 9561. Yenko then added some of his own speed shop bolt-ons, such as a Stewart-Warner transistorized tach and gauges below the ashtray.
The L72 427 installed in these rides is what legends are made of. This powerplant was initially rated at 450 hp by GM, then downgraded to 425 for insurance purposes. Adding headers and a good tune could push the power up the dyno charts with ease.
The L72 had a high-lift, solid-lifter camshaft; a 6223 forged steel crank; heavy-duty connecting rods; and high-compression forged pistons. The rectangular-port, cast-iron cylinder heads had the large 2.19 valves for maximum airflow. It came with a high-rise aluminum manifold topped with a Holley four-barrel carb. A ZL2 air cleaner lid with cowl seal was installed as well to suck cold air from the windshield at full throttle. All this tonal goodness flowed through a standard dual exhaust system.
Yenko did further modifications at the Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, dealership. Here the cars were striped and badged and the distinctive headrests and other appointments added. Then Yenko could really take advantage of "race on Sunday, sell on Monday." So many truckloads of 427 COPOs would show up at the Yenko Chevrolet dealership that they would have to be parked out back in the dirt lot before they were ready to put the Yenko kit on them.
Life With Bill
The Yenko didn't see a dull moment during the first years of life. Bill street-raced the car initially, but in the early 1970s he pulled the motor and installed a radical L88 aluminum-headed race motor that pumped out more than 500 ponies. With this combination Bill terrorized the local tracks, making a name for himself.
Bill's dad had always left the window stickers in all the cars he bought, so Bill stored the original window sticker for safekeeping and hung a copy in the window where it remains today. Lucky for him, his one-owner Yenko survived its racing days, as did its original L72, which was stored away just in case Bill wanted to bring the car back to its as-delivered state.
Bill and his Yenko were always favorites at the annual Supercar Reunion. He raced the car every year he showed up, and proved that he never babied it one bit. But remarkably, even after its hard life, the car still looked amazing. Credit Bill for the forethought to keep this beautiful ride well preserved. Also, a move to dry, salt-free Arizona helped preserve the sheetmetal and the original Daytona Yellow paint.
Muscle car collector and weekend race car driver Dave Beem spotted Bill's unrestored Yenko three years ago at a Yenko Supercar Reunion. Dave is particularly fond of unrestored, original-paint, solid-lifter cars. He just couldn't believe that the car was still a one-owner original with a file folder full of all the original sales docs, Protect-O-Plate, and window sticker. Add in the fact it just happened to be a car he dreamed of owning, and in his favorite color, and . . . well, you know: love at first sight. Bill and Dave became fast friends and stayed in contact over the next three years.
Last year Dave visited Bill while he was out in Scottsdale checking out the January car scene. The two talked of their love for fast cars and especially Yenkos, and whether the car would ever be for sale. After some thought, Bill said he was open to offers. Having recently sold a low-mileage, original-paint Hemi 'Cuda, Dave had space and possibly the cash for a purchase. Dave threw out a number to purchase the car. After a night to think about it, Bill accepted his offer. And just like that, after 47 years of ownership, the car was changing hands.
Dave has an amazing collection of some of the rarest Camaros in the country, but this particular Yenko will be the pinnacle of his solid-lifter Chevy ponycars and one he will probably never part with. Bill certainly passed it down to the right guy. Dave doesn't just talk the talk, he walks the walk. He has an eye for and the knowledge about these cars, and seems to have acquired Bill's lead right foot, too.
At a Glance
1969 Yenko 427 Camaro
Owned by: David Beem, Colorado Springs, CO
Restored by: Unrestored original
Engine: 427ci/450hp L72 V-8
Transmission: Muncie M21 close-ratio 4-speed
Rearend: Special heavy duty with 4.10 gears and Positraction
Interior: Black vinyl bucket seat
Wheels: YH Code 15x7 Rally
Tires: E70-15 Goodyear Wide Tread GT