Chevy Muscle Car - Top Ten

Big-Block Production Cars

Dakota Wentz Jul 1, 2006 0 Comment(s)
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'69 COPO Chevelle
The year of 1969 is a milestone in big-block production cars. Included in the muscle wars is the '69 Chevelles. That year not only brought the birth of the ZL1 and COPO Camaros, but the Chevy's mid-size muscle, the Chevelle, also saw action in the COPO lineup. When the '69 Chevelles came out several 396 big-block cars with various horsepower ratings were available, but GM also offered Chevelle enthusiasts something with a little more punch than the current RPO packages. They called it the Chevelle COPO 9562.

It was hooked up with an L72 iron block 427 that was rated at 425 hp . . . yeah, O-K-you know these underrated motors seem to a reoccurring theme throughout these cars! Along with the super-sized Rat came power front disc brakes, a heavy-duty suspension, a heavy-duty radiator, 4.10 Posi-traction 12-bolt rear, and a Muncie four-speed. It's estimated that 323 Chevelle COPO 427s were built. For the most part, the Chevelles looked like bone-stock sleepers without badges or any other identifications of what lay beneath the hood.

It was a racer's dream come true; 99 out of the estimated 323 COPO 9562s shared a different fate. Yenko Chevrolet ordered 99 Chevelles, which got the Yenko treatment. The '69 Chevelle is the only one to ever receive the Yenko touch, and touch it they did. Instead of leaving the cars sitting there plain Jane, Yenko built the cars to be seen. Just like their Camaros, the Chevelles received emblems, graphics, a Stewart Warner tachometer, Atlas mag wheels, and whatever else the customer specified. Not a bad deal.

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'68 COPO Novas
The rural Chevy dealership in La Harpe, Illinois, Fred Gibb Chevrolet, also left their mark on the Nova/Chevy II world. In 1967, an employee had a '67 Z/28 that was murdering at the track. It was then and there that Fred, "was bitten by the racing bug," says Fred's wife, Helen Gibbs. From that day on, Fred was constantly at the races studying the cars and drivers. Within the year Fred realized that Chevrolet was at a distinct disadvantage in the automatic classes. Fred decided that the problem laid in the fact that the '68 Nova's weren't available with the top-dog L78 396/375 motor and automatic trans.

Just like the ZL1 Camaros, Fred got in touch with Vince Piggins and arranged to order a big-block Camaro with the heavy-duty Turbo 400 trans which had a torque capacity of more than 400 lb-ft. It really was the only feasible option to back the 396/375. In order for the car to be legit, Gibb ordered 50 COPO 9738 Novas. Along with that came a heavy-duty radiator, 4.10-geared Posi-traction rearend, and a floor-mounted shifter with center console. Because the cars were intended for the strip, they were ordered with steel wheels, drum brakes, no radio, and bucket seats. The cars were only ordered in four colors: fathom blue, grecian green, matador red, and tripoli turquoise, with interior colors of either blue or black.

The COPO 9738s were a simple package with one thing in mind, to go fast. The cars retailed for $3,592.12, and were sold to people in the local area as well as out-of-towners who were "in the know." Some Novas were sold just like they were when they rolled off the transporters, however some were sent to Gibb's associate, Dick Harrell, in Kansas City. Harrell's shop prepped several Novas for racing, and some were equipped with a 427 engine. It's still a mystery as to how many cars Dick Harrell prepped, but under watchful eyes the total is somewhere around 20.

Unlike the Gibb sleeper COPOs, the Harrell cars were outfitted with a Sun tachometer and Corvette-like "Stinger hood." The following year Yenko came out with their COPO Novas. They built 37 L72 427 big-block Novas. The cars were capable of 0-60 times in four seconds and could pull quarter-mile times in the high 10s. Don Yenko was quoted as saying that the Nova crossbreeds were just plain, "lethal." Once thing's for sure-the deuce was loose.

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'67 Camaro L78
In 1964, Ford introduced the Mustang. It was more successful than anyone had ever imagined, even GM. In order to counterattack the popularity of the Mustang, Chevy devised a plan to put its own pony car into production. What they came up with was the streamlined '67 Camaro. Just like the Mustang's debut in '64, the Camaro shared the same respect and demand. When the Camaro was introduced to the public on September 26, 1966 (even though it technically was 1966, the Camaros were labeled as a '67 production vehicle) it came with more options than most people could fathom.

It had everything style, class, charisma. But there was still one thing missing-an RPO code for a big-block. A 295hp 350 was the best of the best. Even the destroked 327, better known as the DZ 302, designed to compete in the Sports Car Club of America wasn't available until January 1967. (On a side note, in case you're wondering why a 302, the SCCA didn't allow anything over 305 ci of displacement). In November, nearly two months after the Camaro's debut, big-block power was available. A Super Sport Camaro with the L35 396/325hp was one way to go, but for those who were ready to rock they went with the L78 396/375hp engine. The same engine that had been rated at 425 hp in the '65 Corvette! 1,138 buyers went with the roughly $500 L78 option. Which meant 1,138 Camaro owners were guaranteed to run 13s straight off the dealership lot.

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'69 Camaro 396/375 hp
For those in the know, and in the money, they aimed high and went with the COPO or ZL1 Camaro. But for the average Joe who walked into the dealership, he ordered off the RPO (Regular Production Order) menu. In 1969, there were four different big-block 396 options you could choose from: 396hp ratings started at 325, and ended at 375, which again was the L78 396/375-horse motor.

Just like the years before with the '67s and '68s, if you wanted the baddest Camaro off the lot, you ordered the L78 pacakge. The simplest way to put it would be that on any given day, you could get yourself in trouble with one of these. Besides the L78 option, '69 owners could also order an L89 396. It was essentially the same motor as the L78, except the L89 had aluminum heads on it. According to GM, the motors rating was the same as the L78, but we know what's really goin' on. . .wink, wink.


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