Forming one half of motoring history’s greatest rivalry, the Camaro set out as Chevrolet’s option for those who weren’t pinning after Ford’s highly popular and ultra-fashionable Mustang. Often considered to be the brawnier more sports oriented option of the two, the Chevy machine has an enviable legacy that has spanned 55 years and it all started during the golden age of muscle cars with the first generation Camaro in 1967.
Able to build up some truly special vehicles through the internal Chevrolet central order production order system, licensed dealers were able to create some truly fantastic cars, like the one-of-fifty Berger 427 specced Camaros that was discovered in a barn.
One such special build was the now legendary racer for the street, the tire shredding and rarer than hen’s teeth Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. A highly ambitious project that packed the most horsepower available at the time into a fairly basic package, here are 10 things we love about the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
10 The Dawning Of A Legacy
The 1969 Camaro ZL1 has become the stuff of legend, an unassuming yet specially ordered streetcar that came fitted with a high-power racing engine that Chevrolet never once intended to fit into a public production vehicle offered.
Aimed at hardcore fans and racers, the ZL1 became something of a unicorn, a whispered rumor that only a few believed in its actual existence, with even fewer ever laying their eyes on one laying down thick rubber elevens in the wild.
9 That Famous Engine
A glorious collection of high-specification parts the ZL1 engine, identified by a unique Winters foundry snowflake casting logo on the front of the aluminum block, which was designed and built for racing and as such was a true powerhouse.
Officially rated from the factory at 430hp with 450 lb-ft of torque, the ZL1 output is generally believed to have been vastly underrated, with a true figure likely to have been standing much closer to the hugely monstrous 550hp mark.
8th Central Office Production Order
Thanks to the COPO system, a special order process for licensed Chevy dealers to spec individual car builds, Illinois-based trader Fred Gibb went about creating one of muscle car history’s most unique, and now highly sought-after, roaring powerhouses.
Having put in an order for 50 of his street-racing ZL1 Camaros, Gibb had pushed the COPO system to what was almost its limit, and despite a few raised eyebrows at company headquarters, the wild notion was finally rubber stamped, and the project put in production.
7 Built For Racing
The idea was a simple one, take the most powerful engine available within the company and fit it inside a fairly basic Camaro shell to create a car that would hopefully appeal to those that sought their thrills through racing, in all of its forms.
Proving to be an absolute weapon, the ZL1 used its 7.0-liter big-block to rocket to 60mph in a ballistic 5.1 seconds whilst on its way to clocking 100mph in 12.4 seconds, whilst the quarter-mile could be dispatched in 13 seconds.
6 Not An Instant Hit
Putting the best engine that Chevrolet offered at the time, although one designed for racing, into a streetcar proved to be quite an expensive venture, with the ZL1 unit adding $4,200 to the sticker price of the car.
With a final retail price that was more than an L88 Corvette, the Camaro ZL1 failed to find buyers, as out of the 50 shipped to Gibb, only 13 were sold, with the remaining cars either sent back to Chevrolet or swapped to other dealers.
5 Very Limited Numbers
In total, only 69 true factory specification Camaro ZL1s were built, with the majority of cars sitting unsold in showrooms for up to 12 months due to their horrifically high and totally uncompetitive $7,200 sales price.
Thanks, in part, to its disastrous failure in the salesroom, the ZL1 has become one of the rarest and most unique muscle cars to have ever been available to purchase within the USA and has transcended into something of a living legend.
4 The Holy Grail Of Camaros
With so few genuine cars ever having been born at the factory the cost of sourcing and buying a real item has skyrocketed, to secure an example of the coveted ZL1 purchasers will need to have a budget of $1 million and expect very little in change.
Due to the rarity and unbelievable cost of now buying what was once an unwanted performance car, a prolific market for creating replicas has sprouted up to cater to those buyers who want the ZL1 look and sound but don’t have seven figures in the bank.
3 It Caused A Lot Of Headaches
Starting life as a Super Sports model, the SS package was deleted at the factory before the mightily expensive ZL1 engine was dropped in, as a factory-made car it also carried a full new car warranty, something that made the money counting executives rather twitchy .
With 50 fully street-legal cars needing to be built to allow the ZL1 to satisfy NHRA regulations for racing, the whole exercise became a nightmare, as to break even, completed units had to be priced way too high for their target racer market to even consider.
2 Tire Smokingly Fast Even Today
For those deep-pocketed buyers who would look past the huge asking price and focus on what a fantastic creation the ZL1 actually was, they were rewarded with what was a truly impressive machine and potential supercar of its day.
Even today, the ZL1 has a set of performance numbers that, on paper, will beat a lot of modern metal in a game of Top Trumps before setting them right out on the road where the crazy Camaro was always destined to truly dominate.
1 It Was Rightly Honored
Despite the ZL1 badge having made an appearance on a number of prototype or concept vehicles, it wasn’t until the emergence of the sixth generation based Camaro that the 1969 version had a worthy and true successor.
Outfitted with a 6.2-liter supercharged engine that boasts 640hp and 640lb-ft of torque, the 2016 ZL1 explodes off the line to hit 60 mph in as little as 3.1 seconds before cracking 100mph in an unbelievably ferocious 7.5 seconds.