It’s hard for anyone to imagine now, but some of the rarest COPO Chevrolets in the world were unwanted orphans back in the day when they were new. Such was the case for this 1969 ZL1 Camaro that’s headed to the Mecum auction in Kissimmee, Florida on January 22, 2016. That’s a Friday night and the high end of the estimate for it to cross the block is $1,000,000.
Designated by the factory as Central Office Production Order (COPO) 9560, the ZL1’s were the rarest of all 1969 Camaros. Chevrolet built a total of 69 equipped with the COPO 9560 option package, which was conceived by Fred Gibb of Gibb Chevrolet in La Harpe, Illinois and authorized by Chevrolet’s product manager Vince Piggins. The ZL1 engine had its origins in the L88 427 CI big-block racing engine. Developed for the Can Am racing series by Bruce McLaren and Jim Hall’s inventive Chaparral team, the ZL1 made extensive use of a Winters’ foundry cast aluminum block, heads, intake and external parts, using special steel only for the forged crank, con rods, pushrods and camshaft.
This well-known ZL1 is number 18 of the 69 cars produced, and one of only ten cars painted in Code-51 Dusk Blue. When Gibb Chevrolet failed to find a buyer for the new car, Gibb returned it to General Motors, who then shipped it to Tamson Chevrolet in Danville, Virginia.
Tamson sold the ZL1 July 15, 1969 to Ronald Dix of South Boston, Virginia. Dix traded in his 1969 Corvette and financed the remainder of the $7,324.35 price tag through General Motors Acceptance Corporation. Soon thereafter the car developed an engine knock, but when Chevrolet refused to honor the warranty, Dix answered, “fine, I won’t pay for the car, either” and GMAC repossessed the car from Dix. A Chevrolet Warranty rep then offered it to drag racer Edward Sanderson of Lynchburg, Virginia, who bought the car on December 18, 1969.
Sanderson raced the ZL1 for a couple of years before selling the car to family friend Patricia Preston. In 1982 Sanderson bought the car back from Ms. Preston and kept the car until 1987, when he sold it to Bob Porter Chevrolet in Ligonier, Indiana. Porter restored the Camaro to its original configuration in 1988 and cared for it until 1993, when the U.S. Camaro Club announced that it would be the grand prize in a raffle to celebrate the Camaro’s 25th anniversary.
Mike Ryan bought two tickets and won the ZL1 then sold it to Charlie Lillard in the mid-1990s then sold it to Larry Bowman of Redwood City, California. Bowman had the ZL1 restored for its second time by Dave Tinnell of Edmonton, Kentucky. Tinnell, who has restored many COPO and Yenko Camaros, plus other ZL1s, completed the car, and that is how it appears today.