Provenance. It’s a big word, but very important in any type of collectible antique. It’s the attribution that shows the origin and background of an artifact. Sure, you can claim Washington slept here, but can you prove it? As big-block Camaros, especially modified Supercar examples, have come to the forefront of the collector’s market, having hard proof that it was actually upgraded back in the day and not some clone chasing fast money has become very critical these days.
This blue Camaro, VIN 124379N580930, is very special. In January of 1969 it was shipped from GM to Bill Allen Chevrolet in Kansas City, MO. In February of the same year, it was subsequently transferred to the Dick Harrell Performance Center (DHPC). Dick and his guys performed one of their standard conversions on the car, which included upgrading the engine to a reworked 427 and also adding their unique variety of high performance options specifically suited to making this Camaro a force to be reckoned on the street, and the strip.
Unfortunately, most of the folks purchasing new muscle cars back in 1969 were not too keen on worrying about the paperwork. As those cars passed from one owner to the next, any existing papers and documents that may have been kept with the cars, suffered a very high casualty rate. Today it is very unusual to see a special car that is accompanied by real proof of its heritage. Given today’s scanning and printing technology, anyone with a little bit of Photoshop skills can produce accurate looking, age-enhanced documents. Needless to say, the source of documentation needs to be considered.
So, what makes this story interesting? There is solid documentation certifying this Camaro as a genuine Dick Harrell conversion and the entire owner history is known. Until recently, the Blue Car was rumored to be a Dick Harrell car. The case was a combination of decades-old memories of the original owner, John Penso, and the guys who worked on the cars in Dick’s shop back in the day: Dave Libby, Buddy Rice and James Zeleny. Recently, Valerie Harrell, Dick’s daughter and the driving force behind the present day DHPC, started going through stacks and boxes of papers that were salvaged from her dad’s shop on Hickman Drive back in 1971. As she began sorting and organizing the paperwork, she came across some documents regarding this particular car, including the original Chevrolet Motor Division invoice showing the car as being shipped to Bill Allen Chevrolet on 01/21/69 and the Bill Allen New Car Sales Invoice stating the car was transferred to Harrell’s shop on February 2, 1969. Now the rumors and remembrances can be put to rest−the Blue Car is indeed a Dick Harrell car!
Of course, there is a great story behind how the Blue Car came to be. While helping the crew of the Flying Dutchman funny car at the drag strip, John Penso had a chance to talk to Dick Harrell, who was pitted nearby. He told Dick he was looking for a fast street car and had yet to find one that he thought was fast enough. Dick replied that he could provide a car that would be fast enough. Dick then described some of his conversion options, including upgrading the short-block to increase displacement, or replacing the entire engine along with a variety of aftermarket performance options, including “Harrell’s special touches.” He also said he had a modified ZL1 Camaro ready to go at the shop in Kansas City. John took Dick’s business card and told him he would think about it.
A couple of weeks later, John called Harrell in Kansas City and ordered a Camaro conversion with a 427 engine. He told Dick that he wanted to drive the car back to his home in California with the intent of doing some street racing. So, he asked if Dick would put a set of 4.56 gears, Lakewood slapper bars, and a ZL1 camshaft in the trunk that he could install after he got the car home. He also asked for the special DH badges to be placed in the glove box because he wanted the car to look like a sleeper. Dick said he could use Dana Chevrolet in Southgate, California, as the official point of sale. When the car was ready for pickup at Dick’s shop, John purchased an airline ticket and flew to Kansas City.
However, when John arrived at the airport in Kansas City, Dick was not there to pick him up as planned. He called the shop and was told that Dick was on his way. When Dick arrived, he stated, “Sorry I’m late, I got a speeding ticket on the way over.”