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1969 Yenko Camaro - Marching On

Jim Barber And Classic Automotive Restoration Specialists Resurrect A Muscle Car Icon-And We Test It.

Jim Campisano Mar 1, 2009
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Sitting in a Hugger Orange big-block Camaro is the kind of experience that causes people to do crazy things. The cackle of the chambered exhaust, the cowl induction hood, the black shift ball-it all works on your emotions. Your brain is telling you its 2008, but the sounds, sights and smells are all screaming "1969."

Overwhelmed by confusion, your right foot decides that not only is it 1969, but since you are 1,000 miles from home traffic laws do not apply. It smashes the accelerator pedal to the firewall and the 427 under the hood melts the tires as you scream away from the intersection.

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As the revs climb and you powershift second, you're pinned to the flat bucket seat. Sure, it's a relic of the old days, but vintage vinyl never felt so good. The Hurst shifter works like magic and the sounds emanating from the barely-muffled exhaust announce for all the world that this is not a Prius coming down the street.

Third gear comes up quickly and reality rears its ugly head in the form of modern-day Florida traffic. You're off the throttle and on the brakes and scanning the rearview mirror for flashing lights. Your pulse is strumming to the beat of a Rat-powered Camaro. You have no choice but to the repeat the process over and over and over again.

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When Don Yenko devised a way to slip a 427 cubic-inch big-block engine between the fenders of a '67 F-body, the venerable Yenko Camaro was born. While the '67 helped start the craze, the one car most everyone thinks about when the words "Yenko Camaro" are uttered is the '69. Yenko worked with Chevrolet to have the L72 installed on the assembly line via a Central Office Production Order (COPO). While the list of modifications is long and distinguished, only 201 are believed to have been built, with 171 coming with the M-21 four-speed, and 30 with the Turbo Hydramatic 400 automatic.

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With there being such a small number produced, and an even smaller number that have survived 40 years of abuse by both the environment, racers, and enthusiasts alike, Jim Barber thought why not resurrect the legendary icon known as the Yenko Camaro? Enter the first product of the Yenko Camaro Continuation Series, this Hugger Orange '69 Yenko Camaro, badged car 202.

According to Barber, what you see here is not a Yenko clone, but an honest-to-goodness brand new Yenko Camaro. "I have to admit, it gets to me seeing a modified Camaro with stripes being called a Yenko clone," Jim comments. "With this car and this series, we wanted to do something brand new. What you get is a brand new Yenko Camaro just like what you would have gotten from Don back in '69."

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While it took only eight weeks to build the car, it took two and a half years of planning to get the ball on this project rolling. "To do this car, we had to have something happen," Jim explains. "First, we needed GM to produce the 427. We didn't want to go someplace like World or Dart and build one, because we wanted to stay true to the original car and honor Don the right way.

"Once we got the new 427 engine from GM, things started falling into place. Auto Gear Equipment is building the brand new four-speed gearboxes, Moser the 12-bolt rear, and Stewart-Warner the gauges. We wanted everything to be brand new, so at times we had to have parts made. We wanted no shortcuts with this car."

Sucp_0903_06_z 1969_yenko_camaro Rear_fender 7/22

Having previously done a project with Dynacorn, it was only common sense that Barber, who is the proprietor of Classic Automotive Restoration Specialists (CARS), would tab Dynacorn to supply one of its '69 Camaro bodies to the cause. With this Camaro being the prototype for future customer builds in what Barber coins the 1969 Yenko Camaro Continuation Series, he limited color choice to those that could be had in '69-Daytona Yellow, Hugger Orange, Lemans Blue, Rallye Green, Fathom Green, and Olympic Gold.

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Keith Overby handled putting the body together with all of the needed components, before rolling the shell over to Michael Craig, who handled flanking the sheetmetal with color. Jim went with Hugger Orange, which Craig promptly procured from Dupont's Chroma Premier line. After the brightly colored hue was sprayed on, it was covered with Dupont's Hot Hues clearcoat. Aldine Shelton then came in to apply the Yenko-specific white side and hood stripes (courtesy of Phoenix Graphics), as well as all of the Yenko-only badging. Shelton also installed the chrome trim, as well as the OER hood and grille.

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"We themed the car for a build and delivery date of May '69," Jim says. "Don started out modifying X66 big-block cars, and during that time was playing around with the placement of the badges, the wheel choice, and the headers that were available. The ultimate goal was to build a car that performed as a '69 Yenko Camaro did in '69, or even better. The car even comes with a window sticker and an owner's manual."

When the bodywork was finished, it was time to install the interior components. The car kept the black RS interior trim the Yenko Camaros were known for. CARS employees installed the black-colored interior components, which consist of OER seats, door panels, glass, and steering wheel. Staying true to the Yenko theme, Barber had Stewart-Warner Greenline gauges installed, including the tach as well as the water temp, oil pressure, and volt gauges. Throw in the "sYc" headrest decals, and you will take a ride back to yesteryear each time you slip behind the wheel.

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The original Yenko's claim to fame revolved around the L72 427 that Yenko slung under the hood in his Canonsburg, Pennsylvania dealership. Jim didn't stray from the original specifications, as he threw in a GM 427 crate motor. The 450hp big-block centers around an iron cylinder case, and was built to meet the exact specs of the original powerplant. The Rat features a flat tappet cam with .598-inch lift on both sides, intake duration checking in at 290, and exhaust duration at 298.

The thundering fat-block is topped with a period-correct Holley H4780 800 cfm carburetor, and exhales through ceramic-coated 2-inch headers courtesy of Doug Thorley Headers. A PerTronix ignition lights things off, and an Allen Manufacturing aluminized exhaust system funnels the spent fumes out through the rear-exit tailpipes. All told, the engine is good for 530 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque at the flywheel.

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Nothing other than the M-21 would back this beast. Auto Gear Equipment kicked over the four-speed, which was mated to a Keisler bellhousing that houses a Zoom clutch and pressure plate. Each gear change is made via a Hurst shifter. A Spicer driveshaft runs the power to the Moser-built 12-bolt rear stuffed with 33-spline axles, a C-clip eliminator kit, Eaton Posi, and a set of 4.11 gears.

The suspension remains as Chevrolet designed it back in '69, as all new parts and pieces were installed. The Yenko rides on retooled American Racing Rocket rims shod in Firestone Wide Oval rubber. The Camaro is hauled down thanks to Master Power 11-inch disc brakes up front. "The biggest hurdle was the rear brakes, as we had to make the rear drum backing plates," Jim says.

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So with the car being what Jim bills as a brand-new Yenko Camaro, how does it stack up against an original? "I had three gentlemen, Larry Christiansen, Jerry MacNeish, and Tom Clary of review the car, and there were only three things wrong," Jim says. "One, the car is equipped with a comfort-grip steering wheel, which I liked more than the black steering wheel the original run of cars came with-that difference I knew about. The others were the brake master cylinder not having the correct bleeder ports, and the fact that the X44 cars didn't come with the vertical chrome taillights, both of which were unknown to me. When I built this car, neither of the correct parts were available, but they are now. Also, according to Jerry, the wheels are a little early for the time I was aiming this car towards. I had to call Chris Coddington of Coddington Wheels, who brought back the T-70 casting."

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At Bradenton Motorsports Park, we ripped through some mid-13-second passes, but the car didn't feel quite up to par. It didn't feel like we were getting full throttle. The best we could muster was a pair of 13.63s, one at 101.55, the other at 102.27 mph (on Mickey Thompson ET Streets). Barber says that since our test, the car was fixed and has gone 11.90s at 120 mph on the same tires. The cure? Fixing the throttle pedal alignment inside the car so there was no interference. This allowed us to achieve WOT. Jim's crew also did some tuning and added jet extensions to the Holley.

To get a brand-new '69 Yenko Camaro, all it takes is a phone call and $139,500. "As of now, we have sold several, and have a Daytona Yellow car with black stripes, another Hugger Orange car with white stripes, and a Fathom Green car with white stripes in the build stages."

Who says you can't go back in time?



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