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.