Over the last quarter century, many enthusiasts and experts alike have assumed (and rightly so) that the array of COPO (Central Office Production Order) and RPO (Regular Production Order) performance Chevrolets of the '60s are generally the rarest hot Chevrolets ever produced. The 1963 Impala 427 Z-11 aluminum front-end drag cars are rare, with only 50 produced and 13 remaining. The 1969 ZL-1 race-bred 427 Camaros are rare with only 69 produced. Less than half are said to remain. Also, the 1968 COPO L78/Turbo 400 Novas are even less common, with only 50 originally produced. Further, when you study how many of these certain COPO Chevys were painted a specific color, the numbers really get small. But this 1968 aluminum head 396 Camaro convertible is one of only two known to exist.
The pricey aluminum big-block heads were first offered on L71 435hp 427 Corvettes in 1967. Only 16 vehicles were so equipped. On 1968 L71 Corvettes, 624 sets were sold. In 1969, try 305 sets. That's it. Total sets equipped on RPO L71 Corvette engines: 945.
Wanna talk Chevelles? The 1969 and 1970 Super Sport Chevelle, with the solid lifter, rectangle port 396/402 saw a total of 400 and 18, respectively.
Lastly, the solid lifter, 396 Camaro big-block engines of 1968 and 1969 had the RPO L89 aluminum head option. Sales tallied just 272 and 311, respectively.
These heads offered no particular performance gain over iron counterparts, other than a distinct weight advantage and to allow a potentially cooler engine coolant temperature due to quicker heat extraction. The suggested retail price for these heads on most of the Chevys mentioned was just over $868. It is safe to say that for the most part, smart Stock and Super Stock class racers made up the majority of those who ordered them. Let us also mention for the record that even more aluminum heads were sold in over-the-counter pairs at dealerships than were ever equipped on RPO engines. Big-cubic-inch dragstrip machines, road racers, race boats and tractor-pullers went with aluminum heads for a weight reduction.
With all the above in mind, we will now focus on the 272 1968 L78 396 Camaros ordered with the L89 aluminum heads. Remember, there were 235,247 Camaros sold in 1968, including 16,927 V-8 convertibles. Based on my research and talking with Camaro experts, it is estimated that four to six L89 Camaro convertibles were probably produced. Today, I know of only two L89 Camaro SS convertibles. One is a Rally Green/ black interior/white-top car owned by Keith Laws of Ohio. This car has been in his family since 1971. The second is this Cordovan maroon gem. It was special ordered new by Mrs. Leland P. Hurley of Troy, North Carolina, for her 16-year-old son, James. Lore has it that he wanted something "different." His pals had Camaro and Chevelle big-block hardtops. So he ordered an L89 396 Camaro SS convertible-just to own something no one else had. (See sidebar for complete list of owners.)
Enter SCCA road racer Evan Collins. As a young man, he held true to family tradition and became its first seventh-generation Dartmouth College graduate. For the record, his grandfather was the varsity football coach there a century ago. Collins grew up a competitor like his grandfather, but in the world of motorcars. After he completed his higher education, he eventually chose a career in the investment field. Today, he's a senior vice-president, investment officer at Wachovia Securities in Santa Barbara, California.
Collins first spotted this Camaro many years ago in a small North Carolina town he was passing through. Something told him it was rare. The original driveline was intact and the car operated perfectly. So he bought it and had it shipped west. As things often happen, a short time later, a chance meeting with a new annuity client (this writer) led to him describing his newfound Camaro. Minutes later, this writer had his annuity and Collins had the data he was seeking. Yes, he had an extremely rare Camaro SS convertible.
From day one, it was probably rarer than a COPO. Armed with a new sense of vigor, his Johns Hopkins-graduate daughter did a "title search" on this Cordovan maroon-over-white, M-22 "Rock Crusher" four-speed gem. It would prove to be easy, as the car never left North Carolina until Collins came along. Further, all its previous "Tar Heel" owners were fairly easy to locate. Each readily stated when they owned it and what they did to it, if anything.
Wishing to restore this Camaro to all its former glory and beauty, Collins chose Bel Air Restorations to do the complete job. Located nearby in Buellton, California, the shop is owned and operated by Kris Ewing. We have made many 200-mile round-trips to Bel Air Restorations to photograph the Collins Camaro, beginning as a bare body in primer. This story is not about how to do a restoration nor is it about Ewing's processes. It is simply about Collins' super rare ragtop.
Ironically, as the completion day approached, we mentioned this amazing car to friends and mega-performance car collectors Roger and Carolynn Sortino. A deal with Collins was ultimately made and the title now bears Sortino's name.
We believe this L89 represents the rarest RPO performance Camaro convertible of all time. It's nicely appointed and could be deemed one of two. Lastly, it has almost all of its paperwork, plus a complete, documented history.
Past Owner's Timeline
7/18/68 Manufacturer's Statement of Origin (car's birth certificate).
7/27/68 Al Lincoln Buick-Chevrolet, Inc. applied for title. Original owner: Mrs. Leland P. Hurley, Troy, North Carolina.
8/30/68 Title granted to Mrs. Hurley on behalf of her 16-year-old son, James. He owns the Camaro for 2-1/2 years.
1/21/71 Hurley consigns the car to Essik's Body Shop in Asheboro, North Carolina.
2/17/71 Jimmy Essik decides to buy the Camaro himself. He is the second owner for 2-1/2 years.
8/14/73 Nineteen-year-old Richard Joe McCurry, of Randleman, North Carolina, buys the Camaro. He is the third legal owner for the next 16-1/2 years. Car insurance was expensive for a teenager, so the car was put in his father's name (Ellis McCurry) for the first four years then titled in his own name on 8/30/77.
2/19/90 Camaro is sold to Lloyd's of Highpoint, a dealership. They are the fourth owner.
3/21/90 Lloyd's sells the Camaro one month later on to Todd Whittman, of Charlotte, North Carolina. He is the fifth owner for the next 6-plus years. The car is seldom driven.
6/14/96 Camaro is sold to Ron Anthony, Greensboro, North Carolina. He is the sixth owner for two months.
8/12/96 Camaro is sold to Evan Collins, of Santa Barbara, California. He is the seventh owner for the next 10-1/2 years.
7/2006 Collins sells Camaro to Washington state's Roger and Carolynn Sortino.