Fred Gibb Jr. had a vision of an even more
awesome factory big block Camaro than what was already available. Half the
problem was in regards to the ban on engines over 400 cid in smaller cars.
Gibb, an avid racer and Chevy dealer and enthusiast, realized Chevrolet needed a
new weapon to head into Super Stock drag racing, the ultimate class at the time.
Using COPO order 9560 to break through the 400 cid barrier, Gibb ordered 1969 Camaro's
with a particular 427... an all-aluminum 427--The ZL-1.
The ZL-1 engine was originally slated for Corvettes only in 1969 (and only two
were apparently produced, considered one of the rarest American performance cars
ever), but Gibb ordered the exact same engine to drop into the Camaro.
Under the hood of the '69 ZL-1 Camaro sat a direct descendant of the
all-aluminum Can Am racing wars of the same era; an all-aluminum big block with
427 cubes, fed by a massive single 4-bbl Holley Double Pumper carburetor and a
single plane aluminum intake manifold. This engine featured a compression ratio
of 12.5:1 and used solid lifters in the valve train. While advertised highly
underrated at 430 hp, the all-aluminum 427 actually produced about 600
horsepower at a towering 6600 RPM. This today is still the most powerful
engine ever offered in a production North American car, along with the Corvette
This amazing power plant reared it's monstrous head best at the drag strip. One
of the first tests of the ZL-1 came at Kansas City International Raceway Park,
by the editors of Hot Rod. It was clear they were unprepared for what was
...Harrell insisted I mat the throttle with the transmission in Neutral and
then yank the lever into Low. Two of these perilous Neutral starts blew the
M&Hs to kingdom come, as the Camaro vectored toward the guardrail. After
that, all launches were made with the throttle against the the torque converter,
shifting the Turbohydro manually. Amidst a cloud of smoke, I netted a
12.28/118.10 and a 12.11/118.35...
...It was clear the tires couldn't handle the engine all at once. So someone
swapped the manual Holley for (an identical) one with vacuum-operated secondary
in the hope that the tires would have time to recover from the initial shock
before the rear barrels assaulted them. Despite those slippery shoes, I netted
an 11.98/118.92, an 11.90/118.92 and an 11.85/119.06....
...At this point, Harrel and company increased the valve lash for less low-end
torque, dropped the tire pressure to 16 psi and uncorked the headers. I couldn't
get the thing off the line consistently, and after several false starts, Harrel
got behind the wheel. Right away he powered the Camaro to an 11.78/120.84, then
an 11.72/121.03. The next run, he went up in smoke. We cooled the motor down and
Harrell put down the best pass of the day: 11.64 seconds at 122.14 mph.
Clearly, there was a hell of a lot more in the car as it sat, but my 10 minutes
of celebrity were over...
It was somewhat unfortunate that Hot Rod did not have more time to tweak
the Camaro, and it was obvious that a set of wide slicks were in order to deal
with the 600 horsepower. It was only the lack of bite that kept the Camaro out
of the 10s, but even spinning the tires as it did, it was still obviously one of
the fastest street cars ever built. The proof in this came about a year later,
when a ZL-1 Corvette with the identical engine ran consistent 10.70s in
Milford, Michigan, this time using 10.50x15 Race master slicks. And this was, as
Hot Rod editors bluntly put it, "10.70s ran by idiots at the
It's kind of ironic that the fastest production Camaro ever built, and indeed
one the fastest street cars ever built, looked just like a plain old Camaro.
Fred Gibb ordered a plain-jain base six-cylinder Camaro with a black vinyl
interior and even the old-man dogdish hubcaps. The Turbo-hydromatic was column-shifted,
and the car ran on 4.10 rear gears, f70x14 tires, manual steering and power disc
front brakes. There was a heater installed, but no radio, no clock, no
tachometer and not a single emblem on the body at all. The only clues of what
lurked beneath the hood were the cowl induction hood and the dual exhaust. Only
one ZL-1 with the RS package was produced, making it the rarest and most
collectable Camaro of all time.
Fred Gibb originally ordered 51 COPO 9560 Camaro's, but in the end could not
sell them all from his dealership, so he shipped them off to several other
dealerships around the country. Gibb raced his ZL-1 until 1971, winning the AHRA
Pro Stock World Championship, after which he retired.
Another popular racer to run the ZL-1 was Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins. With
the famous Camaro, dubbed "Grumpy's Toy", he racked up an unheard of
25-0 record. The #777 car was the first Pro Stock racer to ever run a 9 second
E.T. with a 9.98 pass. With the exception of some minor engine tweaks and minor
weight reduction, the car was essentially stock. Amazingly enough, he built car
#777 for only $8000... he won over $150,000 with it.
An appropriate total of 69 ZL-1 Camaro's were produced in '69, and the reason
for such a low number was obvious: the sticker price of the ZL-1 option alone
was $4,160.15!! These cars are therefore some of the most sought-after
collectors items, and considered by most as the ultimate performance car ever
built by Chevrolet.