Meet Don Yenko
The custom Chevrolets built by Don Yenko and his team are legendary – so legendary in fact that Chevrolet bought the rights to the Yenko name in 2009 and began selling brand new Camaros modified specifically for drag racing, bringing the iconic name back to the quarter mile.
Don Yenko ran a Chevrolet dealership out of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Chevrolets were in Don’s blood as his father had been a dealer before him, and so he’d grown up surrounded by generation after generation of automobiles from the company.
In the mid-60s Don took a shine to the Chevrolet Corvair and began building special high-performance versions out of his dealership called the “Yenko Stinger”. These custom Corvairs proved to be popular, and they helped put the Yenko name on the performance car map – just in time for the introduction of the Chevrolet Camaro in 1966.
Don immediately realised that he could make the Camaro significantly quicker by dropping in the L72 427 cubic inch (7 litre) V8 that was used in the Chevrolet Corvette. This required an axle upgrade, as well as heavy-duty suspension, either an M21 or M22 gearbox, and a Stewart Warner pedestal-mounted tachometer. Yenko also fitted a distinctive fibreglass hood with twin-snorkels, a rear spoiler, and Yenko badges on the grill, front fenders, and tail.
The official power figure for the Yenko Camaro was 425 hp – but this was an almost comical understatement. Showroom fresh Yenkos were dyno tested at 550+ hp, and minor modifications to the engine were rumoured to give the car over 600 hp. Those numbers are high today, but it the late 1960s they were Formula One figures, and they gave the tweaked Yenko Camaros 1/4 mile times in the mid-10-second bracket.
The positive public reaction to the early 1967 and 1968 Yenko Camaros was such that for the 1969 model year Don began using the official Chevrolet COPO (Central Office Production Order) ordering system that had been originally created to serve fleet orders for taxis, municipalities, and other bulk orders that required special parts or attention on the production line.
The fact that Chevrolet were now doing all the heavy lifting on the Yenko Camaros meant that more could be made – and they could be fitted with other special order parts like power disc brakes, a Positraction rear end, and either the M-21 manual transmission or the Turbo Hydramatic 400 automatic.
Over the 3 years of production, 316 Yenko Camaros were built and today it’s thought that less than half have survived. Their rarity and their raw speed mean that they attract a lot of attention from enthusiasts and collectors, with prices significantly higher than the comparable Shelby Mustangs – which were produced in much larger numbers.
The 1968 Chevrolet Yenko Camaro Shown Here
The all-original 1968 Chevrolet Yenko Camaro you see here is 1 of just 20 from 1968 that are known to have survived. It was delivered new to Yenko Chevrolet and subsequently sold new at Bill Sight Chevrolet in Kansas City, Missouri on August the 2nd, 1968.
It retains its L72 V8, M21 4-speed transmission, 12 bolt 3.73 Positraction rear end, Stewart Warner tachometer (and gauges), the Yenko fiberglass hood, and its Yenko rear spoiler. Since its recent rotisserie restoration to concours condition it’s won both the Gold Award at the Camaro Nationals, and the Gold Spinner award at the Chevy Vettefest Nationals.
It’s due to roll across the block with Mecum Auctions on the 16th of June at the Portland Auction. If you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can click here to visit the listing.
Images courtesy of Mecum Auctions
Articles that Ben has written have been covered on CNN, Popular Mechanics, Smithsonian Magazine, Road & Track Magazine, the official Pinterest blog, the official eBay Motors blog, BuzzFeed, Autoweek Magazine, Wired Magazine, Autoblog, Gear Patrol, Jalopnik, The Verge, and many more.
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