In the March '09 issue of Super Chevy, we showed you the first in a series of "continuation" cars built by the experts at Classic Automotive Restoration Specialists (CARS Inc.), a reproduction of the iconic Yenko Camaro. Based off a new '69 Camaro body, which is a faithful copy of the original '69 shell, it opens the door to infinite possibilities for building what is essentially a new Camaro. The blue Camaro in our feature is a great example of what CARS will build if you want a restomod, and the Garnet Red example shows what CARS will build if you want to pay homage to the original.
Early in 2008, CARS owner Jim Barber hatched a plan to build on his Yenko continuation series by reproducing the next iconic '69 Camaro, the ultra rare ZL1. Produced in small numbers by Chevrolet to invade the ranks of NHRA and AHRA drag racing (69 total), most of the cars never saw time on the street. Those cars that survived the strip demand a king's ransom. Just like the COPO 9561, iron block, 427-powered Camaros, the ZL1s started out as base/stripper Camaros with no options and as little add-on weight as possible. All cars had front disc brakes, 12-bolt rears, and could not be ordered with the SS or RS option (though two cars did manage to "sneak" through production with the RS option).
Power came from Chevrolet's all-aluminum version of the L88 427 race engine (though there were important differences). The blocks were cast aluminum with iron sleeves, and gave a significant weight savings over the iron blocks. Combined with a ported version of the aluminum heads from the L88, the engine weighed around the same as an all-iron small-block, and was rated at 430 hp (but at only 5,200 rpm). Peak power was at least 1,000 rpm higher than that.
Ok, we're done with the history lesson, back to our story.
In 2007, GM Performance Parts announced it had brought the original ZL1 tooling out of mothballs to do a special run of 427 aluminum engines, to commemorate the anniversary of the famous powerplant. Once the run is complete at 427, GM will retire the tooling permanently, making each of these engines very special.
When GM announced plans for this new crate engine, the light bulb went off in Jim Barber's head about his next continuation car. And to build the first car right, Jim wanted motor 001 for car 001. But GM Performance had already earmarked the first ZL1 assembly for auction at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction, so it would've seemed Jim would have to start with number 002. Not to be denied, Jim flew to Arizona for the auction, and came back with serial number 001.
With aluminum Rat in hand, Jim mobilized his crew and started construction on the first ZL1 '69 Camaro in 40 years. All parts used on the car were to be authentic and original as possible, right down to reproduction steel wheels and dog dish hubcaps. On the outside, you can't tell this car is a reproduction. Even the fender gaps have the right amount of "production variance" in them. Wanting the car to look as original as possible, Jim noted that frequently the cars had uneven and sometimes large gaps between the fenders and the doors. For a true recreation and authentic look, that's the way the car should be.
Inside, the ZL1 Continuation has a reproduction '69 interior. Seats, carpet, gauges, the whole thing looks just like it would on the dealer's lot in fall of 1968 and through all of 1969. (Remember, '69 Camaro production actually went into the 1970 model year because of a strike.) The car even has a push-button blue light FM stereo made by Antique Automobile Radio. It features all modern internals in a reproduction OE radio case, so you can listen to crystal clear music while cruising in the Camaro (albeit through one speaker).