Berger Chevrolet - The Dealership
Grand Rapids, MI
Berger was a major player in the high performance car market with close ties to Chevrolet brass in the know regarding high performance products. They began stocking hard to find performance parts and sold many of these parts through their "Prescribed Power" performance catalogs. Berger was well known through the use of their "Berger Girl" posters. Berger trailed only Yenko Chevrolet in the sell of 1969 COPOs, most of them being Camaros with COPO 9561 and a few Chevelles with the same L-72 cast iron motor. Berger Camaros with the 9561 option differed from the Camaros Yenko sold as a few were Rally Sports, and most had the SS fender stripe. The Location of the dealer was 2525 28th Street SE, Grand Rapids, MI.
1970 Chevrolet Camaro 454 Berger - The one and only
Dealer Built Muscle
While the name Berger is familiar in Chevrolet circles, it is not always associated with the supercar movement, which gave notoriety to dealerships like Yenko and Nickey. Berger Chevorlet, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was better known as a high-performance parts retailer instead of a supercar builder back in the day. With good speed shops like Gratiot Auto Parts, and other Motor City-based engine machinists and builders nearby, maybe it wasn't necessary for Berger to build whole cars; rather, he could just be a conduit for the best factory parts.
Nonetheless, that didn't stop Berger from entering the supercar history books with its access to GM insiders, and the infamous COPO order codes. It is now believed that Berger ordered and received 45 427 COPO Camaros in 1969, some of which were highly optioned with double COPO coding. Factory specials like this made up a significant part of Berger's new car sales at the height of the musclecar era. It advertised its parts department in notable magazines during this time as well. The 1970 Camaro seen here is pretty special because it was custom-built in-house for resale by the Berger dealership, and is believed to be a one-off creation from the 1970 model run.
The story on the 1970 Camaro seen here starts with new engine packages from GM corporate in 1970. While the hot, big LS-series 454 made its debut in the Chevelle and Corvette with acclaim, that mill was strangely absent from the Camaro order sheets when the second-generation body showed up in the middle of the model year. Roger Barr of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was a Chevy fan who liked the new design and decided maybe his dealership friends over on 28th Street could get something special for him. He drove to Berger and talked with Salesman Mike Wawee and Performance Parts Manager Jim Luikens. With a little brainstorming, the trio came up with a plan that made this car a reality.
The order would go in for a standard L78 (396/375 hp) four-speed (M22) Super Sport combo. Once delivered, the car would get a complete makeover at the dealership. There were no special COPO codes to get a factory 454 into the car that year, possibly due to the UAW strikes that GM dealt with during this time period. Roger's personal plan for the finished car was to have a street machine that could stomp any Corvette-any time, any place.
Soon after the Camaro arrived at Berger, the L78 went into the corner, and was replaced with a new LS6 package, complete with the "swan song" 12.5:1 compression slugs (that would eventually die at the end of the model year). Other then a lumpy General Kinetics cam swap, Berger left the factory internals intact, but added a few peripheral parts: a Weiand single-plane intake topped off with a big Holley 850-cfm double-pumper, a complete Mallory ignition outfit, and a set of Hooker Super Competition headers that feed a noisy thunder back through Cyclone Purple Hornies, similar to a Corvette side pipe setup.
Backing this up was the legendary M22 rock crusher, with steeper gear ratios that were also off the shelf at Berger. The crashbox was stirred by a new Hurst T-handle grab that jutted through the floorboard. A 4.10 ring was in the far back, housed in a factory Positraction 12-bolt rear end. Traction was assisted by a set of Lakewood slapper bars, and fat meat mounted on Cragar S/S rims.
Luikens also knew about a few special body add-ons to dress up the car to match the muscular driveline. However, these modifications went on for about four months after Roger's purchase due to the delay in getting fiberglass parts. A COPO three-piece spoiler was added to the rear of the car, as was an aftermarket full-length front spoiler. A fiberglass L88 hood was used to give breathing room for the fat Holley, and added a little competition style to the nose. The car was painted in factory Mulsanne Blue with Berger-added Z28 black stripes with small 454 logos under the SS tags on the front fenders, and rear panel. And it's no doubt the Camaro went hunting on the weekends. It also did some occasional dragstrip duty, and finally Roger, who always knew it was special, parked it in the garage, with 8,000 showing on the odometer.
Although it was still in the same condition it was when Luikens finished it, the car was repainted once in the mid-1980s, and Roger swapped out the monster cam and big carb for OEM pieces later in the car's life. He was reading about Matt Murphy's 2002 Berger Camaro recreations in 2004, and decided to call the dealership to see if anyone he remembered was still around, and what his old car might be worth. Berger's Camaro sales expert Dick Jacques put him in touch with Matt, who had no choice but to give the one-off Camaro a new home in Georgia.
"He wanted an offer on the car, but didn't really have a price set," Murphy said. "Once I talked to him about the car and knew what it was, we came up with a number we both agreed on, and I bought it. Obviously, since it is one-of-one, it is a pretty special piece, and is about as original as they get. It didn't need anything major, just some clean-up and detailing."
Matt had Larry Christenson at Camaros Plus (Aurora, Colorado) get the car ready to show. And although the recent repaint was very nice, Matt and Larry agreed it should go back to the stock color. They also replaced the worn front spoiler with a proper OEM version from the 1970 Trans-Am COPO package. The motor and driveline were pulled out and simply detailed, not rebuilt, and the only interior change was putting the vintage gauges back in order. Roger's late model BF Goodrich rubber is still on the car, making it much more pleasurable to drive than it was back in the bias-ply days.
The Camaro made its public debut to a bunch of admirers at the 3rd Annual Forge Invitational Musclecar Show in Tennessee. As of right now, the car is on display Floyd Garrett's Musclecar Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where we shot our photos. With only 8,000 miles since it rolled out the showroom doors, the car is a true time capsule of an era when Berger was indeed the king of Motor City Chevrolet dealers.
1999-2002 Chevrolet Camaro SS Berger/GMMG
Dealer Built - Bringing Back The Good Ol' Days
Dennis Barker is like a lot of us. He just plain likes Camaros, especially if they have big gobs of torque and horsepower. Working as fleet sales manager at Berger Chevrolet in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dennis was in the right place at the right time to create a very special Camaro SS.
Dennis filled us in on the making of these new dealer-built musclecars. "I bought a new '99 SS Camaro and started going to Camaro events. Because we had a 75th anniversary coming up, I got with Scott Settlemire the assistant brand manager for Camaro, and talked with him about giving us a special allocation if we would build a special SS Camaro."
Scott was certainly interested. "Chevrolet agreed they would go along with the project. So I took the whole deal to Matt Berger. He looked it all over and approved the deal." To do the job, Berger contacted Matt Murphy at "GMMG" in Marietta, Georgia. In 2000, Berger ordered and sold 30 SS Camaros in an even hotter Berger SS series.
"The '00 Berger SS was a similar package to the current '02 except it had 75th anniversary emblems as opposed to 'Prescribed Power' emblems. We made moderate changes from 2000 to 2001, and we made wheel changes for 2002." Production totaled 27 in 2001 and for 2002 Berger's plan is to do 43, bringing the total for the three model years to exactly 100.
Berger debuted their '02 at the 35th F-Body Birthday Celebration held September 21-23, 2001, at the National Corvette Museum. Barker glows with appreciation as he talks about the car. "It's got the heritage style stripe package. We designed a new billet front grille with an SS emblem for the car that replaces the regular, plastic SS grille." The functional hood scoop is from SLP.
Berger played up the heritage of their COPO Camaros on the Berger SS by blacking out the rear taillight panel, symbolic of the First-Generation big-block cars. Directly below the SS emblems on the front quarters are "Prescribed Power" decals. We wondered if they were similar to the ones from 1969. "Yes, designed right after it," Barker said. The special, billet, five-spoke wheels, fitted with SS emblems, are built specifically for the Berger cars.
Inside, Berger designed a white-face gauge package and the white and red interior. The cars are numbered in a Berger series of cars. The run of 43 Berger SS Camaros for 2002 will be available in coupe or convertible and in any SS Camaro color-Red, White, Black, Blue, Pewter, Silver, and Sunset Orange Metallic.
Barker explained their goal: "We wanted to build a full package, something fast, something which handled the road very well. We wanted to build a really driveable fast car." With 380 hp on tap and a six-speed manual (no automatics are available), Berger claims quarter-mile numbers of 12.9@109 mph on street tires.