The car would languish and rot away until discovered by Jimmy Owens, a racetrack owner in Hartsville, Tennessee, who recognized the markings and purchased the Camaro to restore. This was around 1992, before the muscle car craze and Barrett-Jackson auction mania would descend upon the hobby like a hurricane. The car's odometer showed 49,000 miles.
In 1993, Owens titled the car in Tennessee, which current owner John Miller has a copy of. On the title it says "Camaro SYC" pointing to its Yenko heritage. For those who've forgotten or might be unaware, there were no reproduction badges, stickers, nothing that someone could get to make a "fake" Yenko at this time.
In 2004, Owens needed money to make some improvements at his racetrack. Using the car as collateral, the bank gave him a loan for 200,000 dollars, since by this time the Yenko's value was much higher, with the potential restoration, than what Owens originally paid for it.
Fate decided to play an ugly part, with Owens passing away not too long after taking out the loan. In the end, the bank ended up repossessing the car, which was in pieces, along with other parts and things from Owens' garage.
At this point, John Miller enters the story. Miller had known about the car, and knew it was going to be auctioned off by the bank to cover the loan debt. Hot footing it to Hartsville, he discovered the car was in pieces, and those various pieces were in different lots of the auction.
Because other bidders also wanted the car, Miller played smart, and bought the key lots that had the most important/Yenko specific pieces of the car that made it valuable. Once the other bidders couldn't get the good stuff, purchasing the rest of the parts through the auction was easy.
Once he had everything together, John contacted Jim Barber at Classic Automotive Restoration Specialists (CARS) about restoring the wrecked Camaro, and verifying that it was indeed a Yenko. Initially Barber was able to verify the car was indeed an original COPO 9561 car, and the engine and trans matched the body's VIN tag. But the early build date on the car was throwing off the verification of whether it was a real Yenko, along with the lack of an "X code" on the car's body data plate.
After more exhaustive research by Barber that covered six months, VIN searches, title investigation, and discussions with Yenko enthusiasts and experts, it was finally confirmed that the Camaro in John Miller's possession was indeed the first '69 Yenko Camaro ever built, and one of the very first L72 Camaros assembled at Norwood.
From January 2009 to April 2010, the crew at CARS worked to restore what was probably the Holy Grail of Yenko Camaros. The original subframe, badly pinched in the accident, had to be pitched and a replacement found. Thanks to Classic Industries and Mark Vogt, obtaining replacement Yenko specific pieces for the car's restoration was a snap. The original Stewart Warner "green line" gauges were sent out for restoration (new reproductions are available, but CARS wanted to save the originals for extra value and authenticity), and the numbers matching 427 and M-21 trans were treated to full, factory spec rebuilds. The BE code 12-bolt also received its fair share of attention, along with the rest of the car's mechanicals.
Outside, the body was fully repaired/restored, and resprayed in Hugger Orange, and a new black vinyl top installed before fresh Yenko SYC white stripes were applied, and Yenko badges reinstalled.
Overall, Yenko ordered at least 201 cars for conversion into SYC Camaros. We say at least because of the photo in John Hooper's book "The Camaro Reference Book from A to Z" which shows Don Yenko himself in front of an SYC car at Colonial Chevrolet, with a sign behind him proclaiming "350th Yenko Built."
Adding to the conjecture about how many '69 Yenko Camaros built was the VIN list published a few years ago. The list, confirmed by Yenko experts, shows 179 different VIN numbers. This leaves 22 VINs/cars unknown, if the accepted total production number of Camaros is 201. Another wrinkle, Jack Douglass Chevrolet in Hinsdale, Illinois, started building Yenko Camaros with Yenko's permission. After some legal discussions, Douglass Chevy worked a deal with Yenko to be an official dealer. No one seems to know where the Jack Douglass' cars fit into the mix, how many were built, and if they're true Yenkos.
Known Yenko VIN Numbers
While some of this particular Yenko Camaro's history remains out in limbo, the important facts proving its authenticity have been verified that it was indeed the first, the progenitor, of what is probably the most popular and well know series of dealer super cars in Chevrolet history.