Every Goliath has its David. The Corvette took the wind out of many a Ferrari's sails. Ponycars were devised to trump exotic European touring cars and did so frequently in SCCA and FIA competition. Both instances proved that gumption and a whole lot of spirit could take down giants. But just because the Camaro was the average Joe's giant killer didn't exempt it from class hierarchy. The factory offered option packages that were beyond the budgets of most buyers. Dealers with good relationships to the central office configured cars beyond just about everybody else.
Exclusivity didn't keep people from going fast though. Just as John Henry beat the steam hammer, innumerable shade-tree tuners went head-to-head with the baddest factory hot cars. In that sense, Butch Merrill is the latest in a long, proud line; his RS is a latter-day version of those dragon slayers. So too is the other car a dragon slayer, albeit by different means. A few numbers and letters can add another figure to a car's value, proving that people don't just want pedigreed cars-they want them more than ever. Unfortunately, those cars are worth more as well. But just as exclusivity didn't keep people from going fast, it doesn't keep them from having a pedigreed car ... or at least a car that looks, feels, and acts just like one.
That car looks, feels, and acts just like COPO 9561, one of the 822 four-speed, iron-block 427 Camaros Chevrolet made in 1969. That's right, it's a clone-and a pretty damn good one, too.
"I wanted a base model car with very little options but with a big-block and four-speed," Butch explained. What he found in Chehalis, Washington, was actually pretty close to his objective: GM delivered the car as a four-speed, Hugger Orange car with a white interior ... minus the 427 and the code that would've made it precious, of course. "It was all torn apart but still rolled on all four. It needed pretty much everything, but was very solid." What unfolded over a 16-month period was more akin to a full restoration than a hot rod, with Butch digging through bins at swap meets rather than fingering through catalogs.
Upon reassembly he adorned the stock leafs with a correct 12-bolt. Being a BU-code axle like the ones that COPO 9561 got, it features 3.73:1 gears on a Positraction. Working his way up the driveline, Butch found and rebuilt a close-ratio Muncie M21 and its Hurst shifter. Like the real 9561s, Butch's car sports disc brakes and a heavy-duty antiroll bar. It also wears 15x6 disc wheels with NOS-not reproduction-Goodyear Polyglas F70-15 tires.
Butch did break with convention when he got to the engine. Instead of finding and rebuilding a 427, he bought a GM Performance Parts HO454. He topped its aluminum manifold with an 850-cfm Holley and flanked it with a set of exhaust manifolds correct for 396 and 427 Chevy Camaros.
Though the engine isn't absolutely faithful to the era, everything around it is, including the belts, hoses, fuel lines, rocker covers, stickers, stamps, and the dual-circuit master cylinder and its attendant Delco booster. He even restored a stock distributor, giving it a faster curve and a points-eliminator kit. Reliable Muffler in Longview, Washington, fabricated the exhaust from larger 21/2-inch aluminized pipes and slightly louder Flowmaster mufflers.
Rust repairs meant Butch replaced a bit of tin on the car but the car's new personality required that he replace the hood with a GM cowl-induction piece. He prepped the car and shot the trunk, interior, undercarriage, and underhood area before turning it over to Larry Barnett. He then sprayed it Hugger Orange in PPG's concept base/clear system.