First. Most powerful. Quickest. Only one Chevy combines it all: the 1969 Chevrolet ZL1 Camaro. It went a step beyond the 427 Yenko and even the mighty L88 Corvette, to where few production muscle cars tread. Drawing a bead on NHRA Super Stock drag classes, Chevy performance guru Vince Piggins authorized the factory to fit a batch of '69 Camaros with a version of the 427-cid V-8 used by the all-conquering Can-Am Chaparral. This actually was another of Piggins' Central Office Production Order projects, and like the COPO Chevelles and Camaros being built for '69, the ZL1 was technically a Camaro option package. Fred Gibb owned Gibb Chevrolet and was one of the dealers who were well versed in using COPO to produce rare muscle cars. Gibb Chevrolet was well known as a high performance Chevrolet dealership before Fred Gibb even conceived the Camaro ZL1. Dick Harrell, a longtime Chevrolet drag racer, had already been tuning COPO cars that Gibbs ordered for several years. The drag racer, who was already familiar with the ZL1 engine, had a hand in encouraging Fred Gibb to pitch manufacturing ZL1 Camaros to Chevrolet. Both men believed the ZL1 engine in a Camaro would prove dominant on the street and more importantly on the track for the 1969 NHRA season. With this in mind Fred Gibb contacted Vince Piggins, who was the head of product performance for Chevrolet engineering, in the late summer of 1968. Piggins was the man with final approval over what could be ordered through the COPO system. ZL1 Camaro production would be approved, Piggins told Gibb, as long as the dealer placed an order for at least 50. Gibb said yes, Piggins approved the COPO 9560 package, and the stage was set for the production of one of the most serious Camaros Chevrolet ever built. The cars began as 396-cid/375-bhp Super Sport Engine and SS trim were deleted, and the cars were equipped essentially as other 427 COPO Camaros, with cowl-induction hood, front disc brakes, a choice of heavy-duty four-speeds or Turbo Hydra-matic, and a 4:10.1 Posi in the strongest axle Chevy could muster. But instead of the iron-block and head L72 427, these Camaros got a 427 called the ZL1. It was similar in design to the most-potent iteration of the aluminum-head L88, but it was the first production Chevy engine to also have an aluminum block. It shared the L88's 430-bhp factory rating, but actually had well over 500 bhp -- making it likely the most powerful engine Chevy ever offered to the public. And it weighed just 500 pounds -- about the same as Chevy's 327-cid V-8. The entire car carried the full 5-year/50,000-mile warranty and was fully street-legal. With the factory's stock dual exhausts and tires, it turned low 13s; headers, slicks, and tuning got it into the 11.6s at 122 mph. Chevy never built a quicker production car. All this came at a price: $4,160 for the ZL1 engine alone, pushing the car's sticker to a stratospheric $7,200. Chevy needed to build 50 to satisfy the NHRA, and actually built 69. About 20 ZL1s went into organized drag racing, turning low 10s to set several Super Stock records. Well-heeled individuals bought others, but the high price took a toll: At least 12 engines were removed and sold separately, and about 30 unsold cars were returned to Chevy. It took until the early '70s to sell them off. When the first two Dusk Blue 1969 ZL1 Camaros arrived at Gibb Chevrolet in La Harpe, Illinois neither of the cars would start due to the cold weather. That wasn't close to the worst of it for Gibb though. The sticker price on both cars, which has been previously unknown to the dealer, was over $7200. The price was significantly more than what a comparable iron blocked 427 COPO car cost. Not surprisingly, selling the expensive ZL1 turned out to be fairly sizable task. Although 50 of the first 52 ZL1 Camaros made were shipped to Gibb Chevrolet, the dealer was ultimately only able to sell 13, with the rest being returned to Chevrolet or exchanged w
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