Dealer Built High Performance Camaro's
Berger Chevrolet - Grand Rapids, MI
Berger Chevrolet, located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, took a different approach then the other high performance dealers. Although Berger did a few conversions, they specialized in factory super cars, which made up nearly 20% of their sales. In 1969, Berger Chevrolet received as many as 50 COPO Camaros and another six COPO Chevelles. Berger also featured a strong parts department that even carried other GM parts such as Pontiac or Oldsmobile performance parts. Although the performance market died in the mid 1970s, Berger Chevrolet is still in business at its original location on 28th Street in Grand Rapids.
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Baldwin Motion - Long Island, NY
Baldwin Motion was actually a partnership between Long Island's Baldwin Chevrolet and Joel Rosen's Motion Performance speed shop. In 1966, Joel Rosen approached the management of Baldwin Chevrolet with the idea of the dealership selling muscle cars customized by Motion to eager buyers. A partnership was born and the first Baldwin-Motion car was sold in 1967. The modifications were called "Phase III" and were available on the "Fantasic Five" - Corvettes, Camaros, Chevelles, Biscaynes, and Novas. Camaros were the most popular. Almost any performance upgrade was available, including 427 Camaros and eventually 454 Camaros without outputs from 450 to 600 bhp. The business grew as word spread and by 1971, Baldwin-Motion began modifying the Vega and doing a huge export and mail order business. The party was shut down in 1974 when the Federal government ordered an end to the customized car business. Motion Performance thus switched to only selling "off road use" parts packages and keeping up the export business. Motion Performance still sells performance parts today at its same location on Sunrise Highway on Long Island, New York.
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Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet - Newton, NC
It all started when Ralph Earnhardt and his teenage son, Dale, visited a Kannapolis area Chevy dealer for a suitable race engine. Ralph decided that the new Z/28 302 small-block would work perfectly as the foundation of a potent late-model power plant.
Young Dale, impressed with the fact you could buy a virtually race-ready engine over the parts counter from any Chevrolet dealer, was immediately smitten with a case of bowtie fever. He knew then that he would eventually have a dealership of his own and have the same things available to his customers.
On July 16, 1987, Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet opened in Newton, NC, on Highway 16 South. The name alone generated a newfound interest in the dealership.
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Dana Chevrolet - South Gate, CA
Located on Long Beach Blvd in South Gate, Los Angeles, Dana Chevrolet led the muscle car craze on the West Coast. Dick Guldstrand (who later would gain prominence with his involvement with the Corvette), oversaw the development of the Dana 427 Camaro. Like Yenko, Dana started with a 1967 Camaro SS350, and replaced the 350 with a 1966 spec, 425 bhp L72 427. Numerous options were available including Traction Master traction bars, and race suspension systems. Even the Corvette's L71 435 bhp 427 engine was available.
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Dick Harrell Chevrolet - Kansas City, MO
Mr. Chevrolet, Mr. Excitement--these were the words used to describe Dick Harrell during his brief career as a race car driver and as a race car builder. Dick built his reputation as a race car driver first in the mid '60s, and then turned his efforts to race car building, as well as driving. His first effort in building race cars was with Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago. After a couple of years at Nickey, he moved to St. Louis and then on to Kansas City, where he continued to build and race cars. Dick helped engineer many of the cars for the major dealerships, including Yenko and Gibb. Even though Harrell put his emblem on many high performance cars, including a few 1969 COPOs, he is most remembered for the '68 Novas, an L-78 automatic COPO car that Dick transformed into a supercar with the addition of a 427 engine, Cragar wheels, and many other items that the customer might want on the car. He also "warmed up" a few of the L-78 automatic Novas that Gibb received. As a race car driver, Dick was unmatched in his success. He drove the #1 ZL-1 built for Fred Gibb in '69 to many wins, set a world record, was named AHRA Driver of the Year, was on Hot Rod magazine's top ten list of drivers for 1969, and was AHRA World Points Champion. Dick suffered an untimely death in his funny car in 1971. Not only will Dick Harrell be remembered as a very successful driver, but as one of the driving forces behind the boom of high performance cars in the '60s and '70s. The dealer was located in 11114 Hickman Drive, Kansas City, MO.
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Fred Gibb Chevrolet - La Harpe, IL
Fred Gibb of Fred Gibb Chevrolet in La Harpe, Illinois, is best known as the father of the ZL-1. Fred Gibb Chevrolet started racing with a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro and
through numerous drag race wins, built up a reputation as a high performance dealership. By 1968, Fred Gibb was doing 1 to 2 396 and 427 engine sways at the dealership per week. In addition, Fred
Gibb Chevrolet sold about 50 COPO Nova's with 396/375 engines and a few 1969 COPO 9561 Camaros.
But it was the 1969 Camaro ZL-1 which would ensure Fred Gibb's mark on muscle car history. A close friend of Chevrolet's Vince Piggins, Fred Gibb helped develop the concept of the ultimate Camaro packing an aluminum 427 - the ZL-1. Chevrolet liked the idea, but wouldn't approve it unless it was guaranteed to sell 50 cars. Fred Gibb proclaimed that he could sell 50 cars himself, at a projected price of $4,900.00. So the concept was rushed to the assembly line. The first two Dusk Blue ZL-1 Camaros (COPO 9560) arrived at the dealership on December 31, 1968 exactly as specified. Another 48 cars were then delivered in March, 1969. One problem though - the sticker price was not $4,900 but rather a startling $7,269, nearly double the price of a cast-iron 427 Camaro (COPO 9561). The high cost was due to a new GM policy that stated that instead of the auto manufacturer absorbing most of research and development cost associated with specialty vehicles, it would be passed on to the cost of the vehicle, driving up the cost of the COPO 9560 option from an estimated $400 to $4,000. Knowing that there was no way that he could sell 50 Camaros at this price, Fred Gibb successfully convinced Chevrolet to take 37 of the cars back, re-invoice them, and re-distribute them to other high performance Chevrolet dealers. This was the first time the factory ever allowed a dealer to return cars. Fred Gibb was able to sell 13 ZL-1 Camaros, and an additional 19 ZL-1's were built and sold by other dealers, resulting in a total production run of 69 ZL-1 Camaros.
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Nickey Chevrolet - Chicago, IL
Nickey Chevrolet, based in Chicago, was perhaps the biggest factory performance sales and service shop anywhere, anytime. Founded in 1925 by Edward and John Stephani, Nickey Chevrolet grew to a huge 200,000 square foot facility in the 1960s that boasted the largest inventory of "Genuine Chevrolet High Performance Parts." Nickey Chevrolet began its high performance parts business in 1957 and immediately went racing with some success. Their "Purple People Eater" Corvettes became famous and soon everyone knew that Nickey was spelled with a backwards "k". Nickey specialized in engine swaps, and dropped 427s in late '60s Camaros and soon turned to Nova's and Chevelles with 427s or the Z/28's 302 V8. The 454 was added in 1970 and any other part was available through Nickey's extensive parts department.
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Yenko Chevrolet - Canonsburg, PA
Perhaps the best known of the high performance dealers was Yenko Chevrolet, based in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, roughly 25 miles from Pittsburgh. A sucessful racer, Don Yenko first dipped into the performance market in 1965 with his "stinger" Corvairs. Next came the first Yenko Super Camaro in 1967 which was a Camaro which had its 350 pulled out and the Corvettes L72 427 engine dropped in, along with other heavy-duty hardware and performance upgrades. Yenko did the same for 1968, but started with a Camaro SS396. In 1969, Yenko was able to order factory built COPO 9561 Camaros with 427s installed at the factory. With special stripping and badging, the Yenko Camaros were real eye-catchers. But Yenko didn't stop there, and also ordered CORP Chevelles which came with 427s from the factory. But his wildest creation was the Yenko Nova S/C which featured a dealer installed 427 engine. The Nova actually was the lightest of the three vehicles and had the best weight distribution so were actually the fastest of the Yenko Super Cars. Just a few were sold, as they were so fast (0-60 in 4 seconds) that they were downright dangerous. In retrospect, Yenko remarked that "this probably wasn't the safest car in the world." In 1970, high insurance costs reduced the market for super cars and Yenko only offered his Yenko Deuce, a Nova with the LT-1 350 from the Corvette rated at a stout 360 bhp. About 200 were built, as they could be insured as a 350 Nova. For 1971, Yenko only offered a Stinger Vega and the performance era was officially over. Yenko, and three passengers, were tragically killed when his Cessna 210 crashed in West Virginia on March 5, 1987.
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