Loco Dealer Creativity Gave Us the COPO Camaro

Chevy brought the COPO Camaro name for 2022, giving us a new drag-racing big-block racing machine. Not meant for the meek of heart or public roads, this new Chevy icon will hit the NHRA circuit as a car chosen by many teams. If it weren’t for a bit of dealer creativity in the 1960s, the COPO Camaro wouldn’t have ever existed.

Chevy was stingy and didn’t want big-block V8s in its Camaros

The hot times of the muscle car era come with visions of amateur racers running quarter-mile springs on deserted roads. Pictures of every driver under the hood for that last little tuning come to mind when we think of the heyday of muscle cars.

In the 1960s, most American automakers turned to high-powered, big-block machines to capture the hearts and imaginations of the generation, but not Chevy. Ford brought the Cobra Mustang to the mix, Plymouth added Hemi power, and AMC added a strong 6.5-liter V8 in the AMX.

GM might not have desired their cars to have racing engines, but some dealers wanted them and understood the potential sales success.

Before Fred Gibbs, Don Yenko paved the way

Dark Green Yenko COPO Camaro
Dark Green Yenko COPO Camaro | Wiki Commons

If you know the history of the COPO Camaro, you know that Fred Gibbs was the dealer that broke the code and got this car built. Before he could do this, another, better-known dealer had a similar idea.

Don Yenko was one of the top Chevy dealers in the country and sold these cars so well that Chevrolet pretty much let him do whatever he wanted. In 1967, he added the ZL1 7.0-liter V8 from the Corvette into the Camaro to create the first Yenko Camaro. He put this engine in the SS 396 models, giving them incredible power.

Although GM didn’t want the ZL1 engines added to the Camaros, they didn’t say anything to Don Yenko. The result was the Yenko Camaros and Yenko Novas that have become part of muscle car lore which also paved the path to the drag-racing COPO Camaro.

Fred Gibbs wanted to take a COPO Camaro to the drag strip

Classic Blue ZL1 COPO Camaro
ZL1 COPO Camaro | Wiki Commons

Gibbs was more than simply a Chevy dealer; he was also a drag racer. His goal was to enter his Camaro into NHRA races. The rules required 50 cars meeting the same specs were required for this to happen. Once Gibbs cracked the code and ordered the COPO 9560 Camaro, which didn’t sound alluring or powerful at the time, 50 of these cars were ordered to his dealership.

The COPO 9560 Camaro models came with the massive ZL1 engine from the Corvette. This is what Gibbs wanted all along. Although it wasn’t likely Fred would sell all of these cars, he was able to send 37 of them to other dealers and sold 13 of them before more were ordered. The final tally ended up being 69 versions of the original 9560 COPO Camaro that were ordered and sold.

Seeing Gibbs’s success, Yenko ordered his version

Yellow 1969 Yenko COPO Camaro
1969 Yenko COPO Camaro | Wiki Commons

Did you know there were different versions of the COPO Camaro sold in the 1960s? Once Fred Gibbs showed how this car could be ordered and sold, Don Yenko placed his own order. The Yenko order was for 201 versions, but this was COPO 9561.

The differences between the 9560 and 9561 models were:

  • A 427-cubic inch iron-block engine
  • Different ignition systems
  • Upgraded front springs

Yenko didn’t stop there and added some further tuning to sell these new models. This created another version of the Yenko Camaro. The name has become an iconic name in the history of this muscle car.

This Camaro came at the perfect time

Orange 1969 COPO Camaro
1969 COPO Camaro | Wiki Commons

Timing can be everything in the automotive world. The COPO Camaro caught on with many dealers, and eventually, 1,000 models of the 9561 version came into existence. The original 9560 stayed at 69 total, which made them extremely rare.

The timing was right because these two models came just before the 1969 NHRA season. These cars hit the hot rod circuit and won the hearts and imaginations of American racing fans everywhere. This gave the COPO name an iconic place in history.

Next, learn more about the new 2022 COPO Camaro or watch this iconic car in the video below: