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COPO Corvette

Making it Extra Special

Story Kevin Harper / Images Bill Erdman - June 28, 2012 10:00 AM

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Every car owner wants to find something unique or different about the car they own. It’s what drives us to the modification side. It’s a better find when your research determines the car is already special in its original condition.

Harold Sofield of Ridgefield, New Jersey, got just that when he purchased his 1973 Corvette in 2007. He became the second owner of a car that was one of the few “COPO” Corvettes built that year.

Dealers in the ’60s and ’70s would order a batch of production cars, then modify those cars to create a one-off that had a unique character to it. The “Central Office Production Order” gave the customer (in most cases, dealers) the chance to order cars that were built with non-standard production aspects.

This black beauty was a one of 30 selections that was ordered by a single dealer. There was no factory black paint option that year, so these cars are believed to be the only ones wearing that tone as they came from the St. Louis assembly plant. It remains in its original condition today. “It is fully loaded and totally original with only 10,900 miles on it,” said Sofield. The sale to Sofield included full documentation to support the previous owner’s claims as well as all of the original paperwork from the sale.

A walk around the car reveals that it is basically a time capsule from 40 years ago. The body is exactly as it rolled away from the assembly line. As the first year for the “rubber bumper” car replacing the chrome bumpers of the past, this car remains laser straight with no wear and tear showing on the exterior. On the inside, there is power in the form of power windows, power brakes and power steering. It offers the tilt and telescoping steering column. The air conditioning unit works like the day of delivery. Tunes are delivered through the AM-FM radio. The driver has the protective shoulder belts that were attached at the plant. The car features a deluxe interior package as ordered by the dealer.

The L82 engine option was selected, putting the 350 cubic inch V-8 in place of the standard equipment. This brought the horsepower up from the base 190 to 250 in the 9:1 compression engine. The powerplant is bolted to a factory four-speed transmission. The gear selection moved to an optional 3.55 gearset. Exhaust is routed through a set of pipes exiting at the rear.

Wheels and tires get the car noticed immediately. Those wheels are exactly what came with the car and looking well after 40 years. The tires are Firestone steel radial 500s in GR 70-15.

While the COPO option was more prominent in the ’60s, there are still some examples from later years out there to be seen. Sofield’s 1 of 30 draws immediate attention from those who know there were no black 1973 Corvettes built. Unfortunately, it gets written off as a paint modification by those not in the know.

The NCRS judges know. They have selected the car as a top flight winner in past judging competitions. That should quiet the naysayers.

Attention to the COPO concept was dormant through the period when cars were built to meet quotas. Now, General Motors has re-invigorated the idea with an announcement at the 2011 SEMA Show. There’s more in the news release offered by GM Performance Parts (above). Once again, it’s the Camaro that will get the attention.

 

Making it Extra SpecialCOPO Camaro

Dealership-created performance packages were an important part of Chevrolet’s muscle car heritage. Names like Yenko, Nickey, Berger and others helped drive high-performance options, while enhancing the mystique of one-off collectibles decades later. In fact, it was creative ordering on the part of dealers that created the legendary COPO Camaros of the late 1960s – cars available from those enterprising dealers, but not offered in any official catalog or order guide.

More than 40 years later, a couple of dealers – DeNooyer Chevrolet in New York and Georgia’s NeSmith Chevrolet – have rekindled the concept of using Chevrolet’s own parts to create specialty Camaros that simply aren’t offered in regular production. DeNooyer used GM Performance Parts’ (GMPP) LSX454 crate engine (part number 19244611) to build a modern 454 engine for the Camaro SS, while NeSmith transplanted the supercharged LS9 engine from the Corvette ZR1 into their Camaro. 

These great Camaros exemplify the spirit of dealer-built super cars that grew out of the muscle car era,” says Dr. Jamie Meyer, product integration manager for GM Performance Parts. “They are the COPO Camaros of the 21st century.”

The DeNooyer 454 Camaro, dubbed the HTR-SS454 (named for partner Redline Motorsports’ owner Howard Tanner), takes the GMPP LSX454 crate engine and adds a port fuel injection system to its LS7-style LSX six-bolt cylinder heads. The engine has an all-forged rotating assembly and an 11.0:1 compression ratio. A front end accessory drive system was added, too, along with a custom flywheel and ZR1 clutch matched to the six-speed manual transmission. 

Much like what was done with the legendary Baldwin-Motion cars of the ‘60s, DeNooyer joined forces with an expert performance shop, Redline Motorsports, to help engineer and build the HTR-SS454. Redline is a leader in LS-based high-performance engines and vehicles and it also collaborates with DeNooyer Chevrolet on the HTR-600 Camaro, which uses the 505hp LS7 engine from the Corvette Z06 – also available as a crate engine from GMPP (part number 19211710).

NeSmith’s LS9-powered “Storm” Camaro is pure modern performance, with the world-beating power of the Corvette ZR1 under the hood. It was created within the dealership’s in-house customization facility, NeSmith Customs, with assistance from nearby Jen Jac’s Restorations.

The LS9 is offered as a crate engine from GM Performance Parts (part number 19201990) and, because of its similar LS-family architecture to the Camaro’s original LS3 engine, easily slipped into the engine compartment – although some fabrication was necessary to accommodate the unique placement of some accessories, as well as the LS9’s dry sump-style oiling system. But when the installation was completed, the engine looked factory-installed. And with a few minor upgrades, the engine is producing about 700 horsepower.

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