New book on COPO Chevrolets tells tale of rare muscle cars

New book on COPO Chevrolets tells tale of rare muscle cars

New book provides a fascinating look into Chevy's backdoor supercar program

I don’t envy authors or booksellers these days. The ways in which we all receive our information has become a very fickle environment, with (sometimes dubious) answers only a Google search away.

But a first flip through veteran automotive journalist Matt Avery’s new book, COPO Camaro, Chevelle and Nova: Chevrolet’s Ultimate Muscle Cars, put my mind to rest, for here is a tome whose size, layout and depth immediately appeals as an entertaining read while providing fresh reference-grade data on a fascinating chapter of the muscle car era.

Chevrolet’s Central Office Production Order was a legendary 1960s backdoor program in which savvy, performance-hungry car buyers could covertly order their staid Nova, Camaro or Chevelle with monstrous powerplants that GM’s management had otherwise disallowed because of public safety concerns.

Matt Avery's book <i>COPO Camaro, Chevelle and Nova: Chevrolet’s Ultimate Muscle Cars</i> is a delightful read for any automotive person, especially Chevy lovers. | Matt Avery photo

Matt Avery’s book COPO Camaro, Chevelle and Nova: Chevrolet’s Ultimate Muscle Cars is a delightful read for any automotive person, especially Chevy lovers. | Matt Avery photo

More than simply striking an option box, the COPO cars were individually engineered vehicles which essentially offered a boutique-built supercar from the world’s largest automaker.

A revelation to me was that this loophole was first exploited on the Corvair Stinger by Chevrolet dealer Don Yenko to compete in SCCA racing against the dominant Shelby GT350s. The 33-page chapter devoted to the Stinger make this book a valuable reference to Corvair fans, as well as a powerful rebuke to Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed, which famously maligned the mid-engined, air-cooled American sports cars.

The name Yenko appears a lot in Avery's book. | Matt Avery photo

The name Yenko appears a lot in Avery’s book. | Matt Avery photo

By the time Yenko turned his attention to refitting the 1967 Camaro with the big-block 427cid engine, the swap had already become common practice nationwide by hot-rodders and performance-oriented dealerships like Dana, Baldwin and Nickey. The book’s scope widened nicely to include references and background on these dealership conversions.

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Yenko remained a central figure in the story of how the COPO process was applied to produce subsequent factory made-supercars such as the 1968 Yenko Super Camaro, the Gibb Chevy II Nova Super Sport, the ZL-1 Camaro, the 1969 COPO Chevelle, the 1970 Yenko Deuce Nova, the 1970 ½ COPO Camaro and the Vega Yenko Stinger — all which receive designated chapters in the book.

A Yenko-customized Chevrolet Vega Stinger. | Matt Avery photo

A Yenko-customized Chevrolet Vega Stinger. | Matt Avery photo

Peppered throughout are fascinating tidbits about the production, marketing and sales of these cars, with a wealth of period and original photographs. Appendices in the back of the book list data on each of the 69-produced ZL-1 Camaros and all 50 of the 1968 Gibb Novas.

Sidebars with personal accounts from mechanics, racers, corporate GM employees, dealers and original owners help bring the narrative to life.

Avery has done a yeoman’s work on this book, which takes a wealth of detail on these rare cars and weaves it into a light and entertaining read that you can absorb in satisfying intervals. With Christmas around the corner, it’s a sure hit for the Chevy lover in your life.

Another gorgeous shot from COPO Camaro, Chevelle and Nova: Chevrolet’s Ultimate Muscle Cars. | Matt Avery photo

Another gorgeous shot from COPO Camaro, Chevelle and Nova: Chevrolet’s Ultimate Muscle Cars. | Matt Avery photo


Reviewed

COPO Camaro, Chevelle and Nova: Chevrolet’s Ultimate Muscle Cars

By Matt Avery

RELATED:  Historical racing-themed novel 'The Last Open Road' to be audiobook

CarTech, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-6613-2539-15

Hard cover and e-Book, 204 pages

Hard cover: $44.95, e-Book (PDF format): $39.95

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  • Norman Spirit
    November 23, 2018, 7:13 PM

    Must be quite a book, but there’s more too the GM/special vehicle legend. Young people today know about "packages" as options but they have no concept of what it was like to have a 4-to-6 page 8 1/2 x 11 two-sided list of options for virtually every car from the Chevy to the Cadillac. I’d love to have someone research the options list for, say, Pontiac between 1959 and 1969. I’d also like to know if there really were aluminum front clip/421 engine/4-speed/all power accessory Pontiac convertibles, as I have heard, or pre-442 Olds Cutlasses with the Big Olds V8…

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