It won’t be long before the fifth-generation Camaro will be introduced with the 422hp LS3 engine. It’s been forty years since Chevrolet built a Camaro with that kind of power. Back in 1969, a small number of racers and street freaks got their mitts on what were dubbed COPO Camaros, and these 427ci-powered Bow Tie bruisers sucked the headlamps off anything that challenged them on the strip or the street.
The COPO series of special-order Camaros were born in the go-go era of the late ‘60s before the Federal Government came crashing down on Detroit’s freedom to build ragged-edge, extremely powerful muscle cars with little regard to sanity (or GM policy). Since Central Office Production Orders were not production cars in the literal sense of the word, they weren’t subject to corporate restrictions for displacement, power to weight ratios, or other boundaries. COPO allowed production options to be combined into packages that weren’t offered together on the factory order forms and usually applied to fleet orders for taxis or school buses, however, in this case it was for a series of pavement-shredding Camaro supercars.
The idea of building COPO muscle cars started with Fred Gibb, who ordered fifty 1968 L78 Novas fitted with M40 Turbo Hydra-Matics—the minimum number to qualify for NHRA drag racing. Only manual transmissions were offered with solid lifter L78s in Novas, so the COPO order was issued to mate the 375hp big-block to the automatic. This order opened the floodgates for a series of COPO orders in 1969 for Camaros and Chevelles to be fitted with either the L72 iron Mark IV engine, or the all-aluminum ZL1 in Camaros and Corvettes.
Only 69 of the exotic (and prohibitively expensive) ZL1s were built, however production of the L72 Camaros (designated COPO 9561 AA for four-speed cars and BA for M40s) was far higher since it cost only $489.75. Exactly 822 9561 AA and 193 BA COPOs were built. Of this 1,015 total, orders for 201 were made by Yenko Chevrolet (who initiated the package with Chevrolet), 50 by Berger Chevrolet, and smaller amounts dispersed to other Chevrolet performance dealers.
COPO 9561 started with RPO L72, a 427ci four-bolt main iron block with 11.0:1 squish, forged aluminum pistons pinned to forged steel rods (the same ones used in the ZL1), and a forged steel crank. The mechanical valvetrain’s geometry started with a 302/316-degree solid bumpstick with .520 lift. The closed combustion chambers housed 2.19” intake and 1.71” exhaust special steel alloy valves with aluminized face and heads. A 780 cfm Holley four-barrel carburetor with 1.686-inch primaries and vacuum secondaries was mounted on an aluminum intake manifold with a divided plenum. All L72 Camaros received single point aluminum distributors (ZL1s used transistorized ignitions). For adequate cooling, the heavy service Harrison four-core radiator was installed. The result was 425-horsepower @ 5,600 rpm and 460 lb.-ft. of twist @ 4,000 rpm.
Cast iron exhaust manifolds dumped to 2.25” branch pipes, then to a four-chambered exhaust, using two forward and two rear chambers, then funneling out to 2-inch main and tail pipes. The F41 suspension was comprised of heavy-duty shocks and chrome carbon steel rear springs with five leaves. The stronger springs measured 56.0x2.25” with a deflection rate of 135 pounds per inch. Up front, the coil springs had a deflection rate of 320 pounds per inch, with heavy-duty one-inch diameter shocks and a .6875-inch steel stabilizer bar and harder durometer link bushings. The mandatory power front disc brakes used 11.0x1.0-inch iron rotors and single piston calipers; the rear drum brakes measured 9.5-inches with 2.0-inch wide linings. The 14x7” steel wheels were fitted with Goodyear F70x14 two-ply bias belt tires.
Either the three-speed M40 Turbo Hydra-Matic or four-speed M20 wide ratio or M21 close ratio transmission was offered. With manual transmissions, the L88 11-inch clutch was installed. All transmissions were fitted with 12-bolt rears housing 4.10:1 rear cogs (4.56:1 was optional). This was a special service 4-series Eaton positraction case including heavy duty springs, spider gears and plates. The 8.875-inch ring and pinion was heat treated and immersed in high quality oil.
COPO 9561 Camaros were some of the wildest sleepers to ever cruise the stoplight drags. Unless dressed in Yenko or Berger trim, these Camaros were rabid wolves posing as innocent sheep, with no exterior badges to give warning they were about to bludgeon with a 425 horsepower, gut-busting big-block. COPO Camaros looked like vanilla, six-banger econo ponycars with no stripes or decals. The only concession to style was an Argent Silver grille with a large blue bow tie in the center and another blue bow tie in the tail lamp panel. The only tip-off was the presence of the steel ZL2 hood that scavenged cold air from the cowl area and ducted it to the thristy Holley carburetor.
According to Chevrolet Engineering records, the base curb weight for the Camaro two-door V8 coupe was 3,135 pounds. Add the L72 engine (311 pounds), M21 transmission (16 pounds), power front disc brakes (26 pounds) and radio (eight pounds) and the curb weight was now 3,496. Factor in the L72’s 425 horsepower and the COPO 9561 had a power to weight ratio of one horsepower for every 8.2 pounds, far below GM’s unwritten “one horsepower per ten pounds” rule.
The COPO 9561 package was available to any Chevrolet dealer, and that included dealers in Canada. Chevrolet records reveal that 75 were shipped for sale north of the border, including this Hugger Orange coupe that is part of Rick Treworgy’s collection in Punta Gorda, Florida. The theme of Rick’s collection is “hottest factory option” cars, so there are no Yenkos under his roof. Instead, the collection abounds in COPOs, and engine codes like L71, L72, L78, L88, L89 and other exotic hardware that was available through any Chevrolet dealer.
Rick purchased this COPO 9561AA several years ago from Mecum Auctions. What attracted him to the COPO was that it was originally sold in Canada which means GM of Canada was able to provide documentation for the car. Knowing it was a legitimate COPO Camaro, and not a well-done clone, sealed the deal for Rick.
The GM of Canada paperwork revealed that the COPO was shipped from the Norwood assembly plant in Ohio on May 19, 1969 to Central Chevrolet/Oldsmobile Ltd., in London, Ontario. It was ordered with the D80 front and rear spoiler package (RPO D80), front power disc brakes (J52), close ratio four-speed transmission (M21), F70x14 white lettered tires (PL5), heavy duty coolant (V48), special wheel hubcap and trim ring (ZJ7), front and rear spring option (ZN1) and Freedom battery delete (ZV7).
Interestingly, the car was ordered with no radio, and instead of the ZJ7 Rally wheels, the Camaro is today equipped with stock hubcaps, which seem more in keeping with the COPO’s Q-Ship image. It was restored to concours condition, and scored 996 out of 1,000 points at the Chevy VetteFest, and was also chosen as Editor’s Choice at a regional Super Chevy show. It’s now one of the crown jewels in the Camaro wing of the Treworgy collection, a thundering example of how Chevrolet chose to build some of the most powerful, limited-edition big-block Camaros to ever smackdown a 426 Hemi.n