In the late 1960s, a cottage industry had developed within the automotive dealer network to build and market high-performance street/strip cars. Among Chevrolet dealers, some of the most prominent were Gibb, Berger, Baldwin/Motion, and Yenko. Dealers like these were converting Novas, Chevelles, and especially Camaros from 396ci to 427ci engines, and designing accessory packages around this engine swap. In 1969, Chevrolet facilitated sales of these ultra-high-performance cars by building a series of low-production offerings designated by the acronym "COPO," which was short for Central Office Production Order, followed by a series number.
One of these COPO offerings was tagged "9561," and was developed by Chevrolet Engineering for Yenko Chevrolet. COPO 9561 supplied a 425hp/427ci L72 engine in place of the 375hp/396 L78 engine. The L72 received a four-bolt main block, forged steel crank, mechanical camshaft, single-point aluminum distributor, and 11:1 forged aluminum pistons. A Holley 780-cfm carburetor with vacuum secondaries was mounted on an aluminum intake with an open element air cleaner with a chrome lid. The valve covers were also chromed.
Also part of the COPO 9561 package was the ZL2 cowl induction steel hood, and a heavy-duty four-core radiator. The F41 high-performance suspension was fitted with heavy-duty multi-leaf rear springs, heavy-duty shocks, and a 4.10:1 ring and pinion gearing in a 12-bolt housing. Mandatory options with COPO 9561 were power front disc brakes, and either a four-speed manual gearbox or Turbo 400 automatic transmission. COPO 9561 was available to any Chevrolet dealer by special order, and cost $489.75, with the obligatory power front disc brakes ($64.25) and transmission choice ($195.40) adding $749.40 to the Camaro's $2,727.00 window sticker.
The Dick Harrell Connection
In 1967, Dick Harrell, a prominent Chevrolet drag racer and tuner (known to his fans as "Mr. Chevrolet"), had opened his own shop in the Kansas City area and established a successful business building high-performance Chevrolets, not only for customers, but also for dealers like Yenko. In early 1969, Harrell ordered four 9561 Camaros, all with automatic transmissions, from Bill Allen Chevrolet in Kansas City, with the idea of offering his own version of the 427 Camaro, much like other tuners and dealers were doing across the country. The colors Harrell chose for the four COPO Camaros were Glacier Blue, Frost Green, Rallye Green, and Cortez Silver.
Dave Libby worked for Harrell and remembers the four COPO Camaros that were ordered by Dick Harrell Performance Center. "They were done sometime in early to mid spring of 1969," Libby said. "We did some minor modifications to the distributor and carburetor and gave the engine a thorough tune-up. According to Dave, Harrell's shop could legally modify the engine since "we were a small manufacturer and had an exemption." The L72 was making 450 horsepower when the Dick Harrell badge was affixed to the left-hand valve cover.
Inside, a Sun Super Tach was mounted on the dash and a set of direct reading gauges were installed just above the ashtray. The exterior received Harrell badges on the front header, the quarters, and the decklid. A set of hood locks was installed, and Libby custom painted the top of the hood black. On the rear decklid was an aluminum airfoil designed and sold by American Racing Equipment. "The spoiler was installed to make the car distinctive," Dave said. "It was a real eye grabber!" Also added was a set of 15x7 Ansen wheels with a pair of M&H Racemaster slicks at the rear. "We put our signature on the cars," Dave said. "They were unique and they were drag race ready."
Harrell had built an excellent reputation in the Midwest, and his Performance Center was always crowded with customers. To give potential buyers an idea of how well a Harrell 427 Camaro performed, the Glacier Blue car was kept as a demonstrator. Harrell sold the Cortez Silver Camaro to Bill Jacobs Chevrolet in Joliet, Illinois. Randy Krnac of Plainfield, Illinois, wandered into the Jacobs dealership and lusted over the gleaming silver Camaro sitting alongside the Impalas and Chevelles. "I remember the salesman, his name was Swede Lindstrom," Randy said. "I happened to be in the showroom and saw the Camaro and liked it. I was 20 and had never heard of Dick Harrell. Swede explained to me that it was kinda like a Yenko, but was built in Kansas City."
Early Life & Times
Randy put a deposit on the Camaro and went home. He told some of his buddies about the car, and he took them back to the dealer to show it to them. "There were four guys sitting in my car, right in the showroom. I had Swede lock the car up since they couldn't get it out of the showroom till Monday."