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'67 Corvair Yenko Stinger - Blue Cheer

By Geoff Stunkard, Photography by Geoff Stunkard, John Stunkard

Stinger. That vehicle name has special meaning to most supercar performance historians. It was the moniker selected by Don Yenko to create a batch of SCCA-legal road racing Corvairs in late 1965 for the 1966 season. With Kasey Vandenberg's rare '67 example of COPO/Stinger technology now restored to its prime, the time has come to shed some light on a very rare Chevrolet package.

Yenko, who had established himself as one of the best semi-pro sports car drivers of the early '60s in Corvettes, used his connections with Detroit to get his special batch of the little compact Corsas built for delivery to his family dealership in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania; he needed to build 100 of them to be legal for competition.

While some of the conversion work to make the Stingers into legal Sports Production class entries was done on-site, Yenko's friends at GM used the Central Office Production Order (COPO) system to get some unique items put on these cars that did not go on any other assembly-line Corvairs. This included COPO 9513A, the 3.89:1-gear differential, which was otherwise only an over-the-counter option, and COPO 9861E, a dual-reservoir master cylinder that is now believed to have come out of the Cadillac parts book. This was the first dual master cylinder in any Chevrolet ever.

All the '66 cars were delivered in Ermine White paint-this and an optional blue stripe were mandated as the U.S. manufacturer color combination by the SCCA sanctioning body (which is why R-code Shelbys came the same way), and the stripes were added after delivery. Also, since the rules said any four-seat car would be classified as a sedan, all '66 Stingers were delivered to their owners with a carpeted board in place of the backseat so they would be ruled as true Sports Production models.

Other custom mods to the '66s included fiberglass rear landau window inserts, fiberglass rear decklid over the engine with fresh air scoops, Stinger logos and trim, and engine upgrades including headers and internal pieces. Other standard parts from the factory included the 140-horse flat-six engine, four-speed transmission, fast-ratio steering, and suspension upgrades. In its mildest form, the Stinger offered 160 hp at the flywheel in an approximately 2,200-pound package.

Delivered in December 1965, Yenko had but a month to get the 100 cars prepared, but his dealership did it. Yenko also established a network of associated dealers that April to help with nationwide distribution. Though up against the dominant Triumphs in the D class, seasoned drivers in the hot Vairs were good enough to take home several big season-long Regional titles. One of them, Jerry Thompson, would go on to win the 1967 SP championship in the Stinger brand's final year of production.

And that brings us to the car seen here. With the new Camaro and Trans-Am racing in the spotlight, the Stinger Sports Production program was scaled back in 1967 by Yenko. After all, the Z/28 was a race-ready package (though availability was an issue that first year), and he was laying the groundwork for 427-inch L72-engined Camaros. One of the dealerships that Yenko was associated with was Dana Chevrolet in South Gate, California, as Don occasionally drove as a substitute for manager Dick Guldstrand, another noted Corvette pilot.

The sands of time get a little misty here. No one has been able to verify for certain by whom and how those first 427 Camaros for resale were formulated; what can be stated for certain is that Dana was involved in that process at least as early as the Yenko and Nickey franchises. But we are focused on the Stinger; here is what happened to that.

The Corvair option list was being reworked for 1967, and in July of 1966, Yenko sent a letter to GM president Ed Cole. The 140-inch engine was being dropped altogether; Don asked if it would be possible to keep the mill available for Yenko as a COPO package since it was the basis for everything in the Stinger engine lineup. Don went on to tell Cole that he was still trying to sell 50 of the original white Corsas and was looking for a west coast outlet, and that shipping them west at $250 per car in lots of six had proven prohibitive. Cole agreed to sell the engines as COPOs, cut the cost to $125 per car, and dropped it to a minimum of three.

According to a news story in Competition Press & Autoweek from November 1966, it was then announced Dana would be handling Stingers for the West Coast in exchange for Yenko selling Dana's new 427 Camaro conversions back East. This business combination was advertised in the December 2, 1966 issue of National Dragster on a full-page ad. No one is really certain how far that agreement went; it is now thought that Dick Harrell did almost all of the '67 Yenko 427 cars himself after leaving Nickey in early '67. What is known is that three COPO-coded '67 Corvair Stingers ended up being sold through the Dana dealership, and that this is the only one known to still exist.

With specific vehicle ordering details set up by Yenko's office manager Donna Mae Mims, this trio did not go through Yenko's regular Stinger program for refitting but were delivered right to the West Coast for the upgrades. With the changes to the Corvair, the car Vandenberg owns had four COPO packages on it-the performance 160-horse 140-cid engine was COPO 9551-A for Yenko but is 9551-B for the Dana models, the 3.89 PosiTraction rear was still 9513-A, and although the dual master cylinder was now on the option list, the third COPO 9981-A was for deleting the wheel covers since aftermarket rims would be part of the final sales conversion. A fourth COPO was the K-19 air injection layout, COPO 9570-A, which no Yenko got but may have been required as part of emissions control efforts in California; as a result, the Dana 9551-B engines were stamped QF.

Dana got the three cars, and three additional 'QF' crate motors with 9570-A package on them; with just six units built, this may truly be the rarest COPO package of the era. Since the Corsa was dropped, the body was the upscale Monza design, and the Stinger fiberglass rear window inserts were not used, nor was the back seat removed in this car.

Yenko himself ordered 25 similar '67 cars that February for Stinger conversion; due to changes in the SCCA rules, the white-with-blue-stripe USA colors were no longer required and Yenko selected red and blue for this final batch. This Dana car was code FF Marine Blue with American Racing 14-inch rims and was sold new to a buyer in Hollywood. Kasey bought it restored from noted collector Kevin Suydam, complete with a lot of documentation telling the story, an original license plate frame, aftermarket '60s-era Stewart-Warner gauges like Yenko used, and more. That connection was made by Tim Lopata, who has also had the rare car come to his Forge Invitational Musclecar Show over the past two years.

Today, Kasey is actually enjoying his piece of one-of-possibly-one history, doing some autocrossing, road racing on occasion, and showing it during the warm months; we shot it as he enjoyed a weekend of fun at the Year One Experience in Braselton, Georgia.

It is not often that a car with real history and rarity becomes this visible on the collector scene, so it's good to see it being used as was intended when it came from the fertile minds of the Yenko and Dana franchises all those years ago

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By Geoff Stunkard
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