The Most Exclusive of Camaros, the Camaro ZL1

The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was only offered in the first and sixth generation Camaros

While most of us know the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to be the most expensive and most powerful package in the sixth generation Camaro line-up, the ‘ZL1’  The ‘ZL1’ actually became synonymous with the Chevrolet Camaro in 1969 with the legendary Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.

The first generation ZL1 is the holy grail of Chevrolet Camaros. When they do come up for sale, they tend to break records. Two recently sold at auction, one went for $848,000 while another sold for $715,000.

Chevrolet’s Central Office Production Orders (COPO)

1969 was the golden era for American muscle cars. Ford Mustangs and Dodge Chargers ruled the roads in those days. The top Camaro at the time was the Z28 and while it was fast and powerful, Ford and Dodge won the horsepower wars.

At the time, General Motors forbade Chevrolet from installing in engines larger than 400 cubic inches. As a result, GM’s legendary 427 big block engine was available as an option for the Chevrolet Camaro. That didn’t stop select dealers from installing them in brand new Camaros at the time. The most famous of which was Don Yenko and his famous Yenko Camaro.

General Motors, not wanting to miss out on the action soon opened up orders for big block Camaros through its Central Office Production Orders (COPO) office. This was a special ordering process in place for dealers to order fleet and special order vehicles such as taxis and trucks.

In 1969 Camaros were offered through COPO in two different option packages.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro COPO #9561

The COPO 9561 used a solid-lifter L72 427 cubic inch big block engine. It claimed to produce 425 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 460 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. This vehicle was the basis of the legendary Yenko Camaro. He ordered 201 COPO 9561 Camaros in his day.

Eventually, dealers learned of this loophole around GM’s displacement cap for Chevrolet and began placing their own orders. Between 900 to 1,000 Camaros were fitted with the L72 engine option out of the factory.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 COPO #9560

This particular option package was designed specifically for drag racing. It was powered by an all-aluminum, 427 cubic inch 7.0 liter big block V8 called the ZL-1. It was ordered through Fred Gibb Chevrolet in La Harpe, IL with the intention of competing in the NHRA Super Stock class. Only 69 first-generation Chevrolet Camaro ZL1s were produced.

The ZL-1 engine was designed for drag racing and was a $4,000 option. This was more than the cost of a base V8 hardtop coupe.

The ZL-1 was rated at 430 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 450 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm. However, the engine produced 376 horsepower installed and without any modifications.   With some mild tuning and exhaust changes, horsepower was in excess of 500.

The 2019 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

The legacy of the first-generation ZL1 lives on in the sixth generation Camaro. Rather than just drag racing, the new ZL1 offers additional track capabilities beyond straight-line acceleration in the form of an adjustable suspension.

Powered by an LT4 supercharged 6.2 liter V8 engine, the hot Camaro produces 650 horsepower. Available with either a six-speed manual transmission or 10-speed paddle shift automatic, this set up is sufficient to power the ZL1 from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just 3.5 seconds. The quarter-mile happens in just 11.4 seconds at 127 miles per hour.


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