Written by independent automotive journalist Steve Magnante
Aluminum is all around us in our daily lives. From cookware in the kitchen to the intricate framework of the jetliners that take many of us on weekly business trips, aluminum’s combination of low mass and high strength makes it an ideal raw material for a multitude of purposes.
In the case of the superbly restored 1969 ZL1 Camaro (Lot #1409) to be offered at the 2018 Barrett-Jackson collector car event in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Saturday, January 20, aluminum plays a huge role in setting it apart from the 243,000-plus other Camaros built that year. This is the 59th of a mere 69 cars built with COPO (Central Office Production Order) 9560, the aluminum ZL1 427 big-block engine option.
It’s also the only one of the 69-car production run built with the NC8 chambered dual-exhaust system, an upgrade over the restrictive cross-flow canister muffler used on the 68 others. Restored with its correct Hugger Orange hue and equipped with a correct Muncie M22 rock-crusher 4-speed manual transmission and 4.10 ratio 12-bolt rear axle, it is the epitome of Camaro high performance.
Don’t confuse this COPO 9560 ZL1 with the more common COPO 9561 427 Camaro, also offered in 1969. Though highly sought-after, the 9561 used the less-exotic 425-horsepower L72 427, as offered in certain full-size Chevy passenger cars and top-powered 1966 Stingrays.
The COPO 9560 ZL1 was so much more. Beyond the lighter-weight cast-aluminum engine block and cylinder heads, inside the ZL1 had bumped compression and included an even wilder mechanical cam. Chevrolet coyly rated the ZL1 at just 430 horsepower, at least 100 below its actual capability, but not so much to attract unwanted scrutiny from insurance agents or the NHRA (which factored engines based on advertised horsepower).
Along with two Corvettes, the fleet of 69 Camaros were the only ZL1-powered Chevrolets ever built. And while the Corvette installations were targeted at road racing, Chevrolet had NHRA Stock, Super Stock and Factory Experimental Class drag racing in mind with the lightweight Camaro. Carrying the weight of a small block but producing over 500 horsepower before modifications, the ZL1 was an instant standout at the hands of racers like Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins, Dick Harrell, Lamar Walden and others.
If demand for 396 big-block Camaros was any indicator (37,310 were sold from 1967-69), the ZL1 should have been a very popular machine. But while Chevrolet initially predicted a $400 option charge, the actual number turned out to be $4,160. And that was in addition to the purchase price of the host Camaro. When all was said and done, a typical ZL1 Window Sticker broke the $7,000 mark. For some context, at the same time, Cadillac charged $6,711 for a loaded Eldorado, GM’s ultimate status symbol of the day.
One dealer, Fred Gibb Chevrolet of LaHarpe, Illinois, was so awestruck by the ZL1, it placed a 30-car order. Gibb must have had nerves of steel; the batch cost him $216,000 – not including tax. Try as they might, Gibb’s salesmen only managed to retail 13 of the $7,200 supercars as 1969 came to a close. Facing ruin, Gibb persuaded Chevrolet to disburse the unsold units to other dealers.
Admittedly it’s hard to imagine any ZL1 Camaro going unwanted, but time heals all wounds. Today a verified ZL1 Camaro like this one is highly sought-after. Be smart and bid aggressively. Opportunities to own real, properly restored ZL1s are few and far between.
For up-to-date information on this vehicle, click HERE.