Before there was a COPO ZL1 Camaro and later an RPO ZL1 Corvette in 1969, Duntov’s aluminum Mark IV program had already generated engines for Can-Am racing.

COPO CAMARO: HERITAGE & HORSEPOWER!The third ZL1 Camaro built was yellow and ordered by Berger Chevrolet.

COPO CAMARO: HERITAGE & HORSEPOWER! Although Duntov championed aluminum heads and lightweight engines for the Corvette, the first “production” use of the ZL1 was in the 1969 COPO (9560) Camaro, not the Corvette. Credit for the ZL1 Camaro goes to Vince Piggins, working with dealer Fred Gibb and drag racer Dick Harrell. They were looking to build a Camaro for NHRA Super/Stock to beat Mopar Hemis. Gibb agreed to order 50, paving the way for COPO (Central Office Production Order) status. The COPO category was designed so that lots of 50, 100 or more cars could be special built.

COPO CAMARO: HERITAGE & HORSEPOWER!The 65th ZL1 Camaro built cost $7,356.15 and was sold by Lavery Chevrolet.

Gibb ordered 50, and other dealers chimed in with 19 additional orders that brought the total to 69. At the time, dealers thought that Chevrolet was absorbing much of the development costs associated with the ZL1 Camaro. They assumed the option price was under $500. That didn’t happen. A total of 69 ZL1s, with four-speed and automatic transmissions, were built. Chevrolet also built 1,015 COPO (9561) Camaros, below, with “steel” 427 single-four-barrel engines, engineered for road applications. A high-percentage of those COPOs was shipped to Yenko Chevrolet where they were re-badged as Yenko/SC variants.

COPO CAMARO: HERITAGE & HORSEPOWER!COPO 427 (9561) Camaro at John Greenwood’s Corvette race shop, 1969.

Because of price, ZL1 Camaros did not fly off the lot. Gibb tried, to no avail, to get Chevrolet to reduce the invoice price. The 65th ZL1 Camaro, Vin# 643779, had an MSRP of $7,356.15. It was outrageously expensive, since a base Camaro started at $2,727.00! For street and occasional racing use, a much-less expensive COPO 427 (9561) or a production 396/375 Camaro made more sense. The actual performance of ZL1 Camaros ran the gamut from mid-14s to low-13s, with trap speeds ranging from 100-110 mph to over 130 mph. Magazine road tests were of tuned stock ZL1s and prepared cars with big slicks. Production stock ZL1s were not particularly great street performers because they had restrictive single exhaust systems, smog tuning and tires that easily went up in smoke at the slightest provocation.

COPO CAMARO: HERITAGE & HORSEPOWER! One of two prototype 427 ZL1 Street Camaros at GM Milford Proving Ground.

However, plans had been laid out and approved for Vince Piggin’s detuned and streetable 427 ZL1 Camaro. above, and two prototypes were built and tested. This program did not survive based on the costs associated with using an all-aluminum ZL1 engine.


COPO’s second coming builds on a legacy established in 1969, when the first purpose-built Camaro drag-racing specialty car was designed to compete in the NHRA Stock Eliminator. As the legendary COPO Camaro turns 50, Jim Resnick looks back a quarter-mile at a time, and ahead to an electrifying future.


In the late 1960s, several well-informed Chevrolet dealers were able to use the company’s vehicle ordering system to create cars that otherwise would never have existed. Specifically, a Camaro with a combination of performance equipment that resulted in an NHRA Stock Eliminator class special and a 50-year legacy of greatness. Their tool was the Central Office Production Order (COPO) system, put in place by Chevrolet so dealers with fleet customers like municipalities and service operations could order batches of cars or trucks with unique equipment or colors to meet their needs. Typically, trucks and police cars were the system’s bread and butter. Pretty straightforward. Until a few drag racing enthusiasts got involved.

Continue reading Jim Resnick’s COPO: Past, Present, Future. story in CHEVY NEW ROADS,

For the complete COPO CAMARO: HERITAGE & HORSEPOWER! story, plus ZL1 engine details, check out