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1969 Chevy Yenko Camaro Protype - The First Shot Fired

This ’69 was the progenitor of all the SYC-badged ’69 Camaros to follow.

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Yenko. In all the golden age of muscle cars, that one word/name creates more excitement, intrigue, and interest. Out of his father's dealership in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, Don Yenko managed to start what is arguably the greatest, and best year in the muscle car era.

While Fred Gibb was putting together the deal with Vince Piggins and Pete Estes to bring the all aluminum 427 powered ZL-1 Camaro (known as COPO 9560), Yenko was working with Piggins to create COPO 9561, factory built L-72 powered Camaros. Yenko had been transplanting the L-72 into Camaros at the Canonsburg dealership since the car came out in '67. Yenko would order L78 powered cars, then swap in the L72 engine, add special Yenko badges, different wheels, and other items to make the cars into something special.

But the process was time consuming and expensive. If the factory handled the install of the engine and other necessary/related components, all Yenko would have to do is badge the car, add special accessories, and he'd have a new Yenko Super Camaro (SYC) ready for any eager buyer to purchase.

It didn't take much convincing to get the Chevrolet performance gurus on board, and using the Central Office Production Order system to bypass a lot of the GM internal red tape (remember, at the time, GM edict was no engine over 400 HP could be installed in a passenger car, the Corvette excluded) to get the 425 HP 427 (considered by many to be underrated by the factory) in between the fenders of Chevrolet's pony car.

And with that, COPO 9561 was born.

Aside from the L72, COPO 9561 also included the ZL2 special ducted hood, V01 heavy duty radiator, and heavy duty "BE" coded 12-bolt rear with 4.10 gears. Engine blocks were either coded MO (TH400) or MN (M-21/M-22) for which transmission they were built with. While the ZL-1 9560 option came in with a whopping $4160.50 option price, the iron block 9561 option was $489.75, a little over a tenth of the 9560 price.

Once the order code was created, Yenko negotiated to purchase the first 100 9560 option equipped cars produced (it was believed that all COPO Camaros were built in Norwood, but recently a body broadcast sheet has come to light for a 427 car built at Van Nuys). In addition to the 427 option, Yenko also ordered all of his Camaros with the COPO 9737 option. This consisted of the 140 mph speedometer, one-inch front sway bar, and 15-inch wheels/tires, either standard steel or rally design. All of Yenko's Camaros were ordered with the 15-inch rally wheels from the factory, with the five-spoke Atlas wheels being installed at the dealership if a customer wanted them, along with Doug Thorley headers.

After Yenko received the first 100 cars built, the doors were opened for other dealers like Berger, Baldwin, and Fred Gibb to order their own 9561 equipped Camaros. Final production numbers show 1,015 L72 Camaros being built, 193 TH400 equipped and 822 four-speed equipped cars.

Our feature car, owned by John Miller, was one of the first COPOs built. The date code shows the car being assembled during the fourth week of November when the first preproduction/pilot/prototype cars would have been rolling off the assembly line after being ordered by the Central Production Office in September/October of 1968.

The car's history becomes a little vague in this period, as no one is sure what happened with the car between the time it rolled off the Norwood assembly line and ended up with Yenko. What is known for sure is that there is no record of an MSO anywhere in the various tracking systems, which means it was never sold to a dealership. The first time the car shows up in any database as being titled was in 1993, when the previous owner registered it in Tennessee. The best anyone can figure, the car was "loaned" from sales or engineering (no doubt at Piggins' request or order) to Yenko so the special SYC stripes, badging, interior parts, and other accessories could be designed by Yenko.

After being used for design work, the car remained with Yenko apparently as a demonstrator for customers at the Canonsburg dealership, and Yenko's dealer network. During this period, Don himself is said to have taken the car to Tennessee, presumably to show off to his dealers in Memphis (Union Chevrolet) and Nashville (E.B. Smith Chevrolet). During this trip, with Yenko rumored to have been behind the wheel, the car was wrecked, taking a hard hit to the passenger side A-pillar and rear of the front fender. The impact also kinked the front subframe.

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