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There were some days in the second half of 2012 when November 21st, seemed like a lifetime away. That date was the predicted delivery of my ordered 427 COPO Camaro – the actual day I could take delivery and haul away my prized race car from its assembly plant in Oxford, Michigan.
My interest in securing one of the just 69 cars being built for 2012 began last January when Chevrolet Performance displayed the first COPO, Proof of Concept Car #1, at the Scottsdale Barrett-Jackson Auction. Over the days I was there, my trips back and forth to the GM display to view the COPO became quite regular.
I met Dr. Jamie Meyer early in the week and spending time with him, discussing the car only fueled my desire to see if one of these very special cars could ever be mine. To that end, I filled out the initial request form, like everyone else, sat back and waited for a call I really thought would likely never come… But, alas it did. Dr. Meyer was on the phone, and he soon asked if I was still interested in a COPO. Of course, I was! Then it was on to the particulars – what motor, color, and who would be the Chevrolet Dealer of choice?
Needless to say, I had answers ready to roll for the phone call I will never forget.
I decided the car would be Victory Red without stripes. It would be the 427 N/A version, and Dave Hallman Chevrolet at 1925 State Street in Erie, Pennsylvania would handle the sale. It seemed fitting as the State Street Chevrolet Dealer location in Erie was exactly where I drove away at age 16 in my new Citrus Green 1970 350, 4spd. Camaro. Good karma for sure!
Dr. Meyer then proceeded to tell me about the COPO Engine Build Experience; something I thought I would really had no interest in. However, at that point I'm sure he could have sold me rustproofing, snow tires and an 8-track tape player!
How could I say no to a guy that just called to say that I'd pretty much won the lottery? As it turned out, ever-so-slightly coaxing me into the Engine Build was one of the best things he could have done for a lifetime car enthusiast like me.
The trip to Wixom, Michigan in September to assemble my COPO motor was a most rewarding experience and worth every penny of the optional expense. And, yes, you really do "build" your motor; this is no observation event. From a bare block to a test run motor later in the afternoon, you get to install every component, start to finish, under the watchful eye of a most helpful GM engineer. If it isn't already – the GM Engine Build Experience is one that should unequivocally be on your "Bucket List."
All through the order process, Cliff Cohen, from Chevrolet Performance communicated with me regularly, and the predicted November date for my car to be picked up never deviated from target. Much like the Engine Build Experience, the car delivery in Oxford, Michigan was a day I won't soon forget.
We left our home in Erie, Pennsylvania in a Chevy Suburban, trailer in tow, the night before the delivery and planned to arrive at 9 a.m. on the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving. We arrived in Michigan and checked into our digs. Upon perusing the map on my iPhone, it looked like an easy 30-minute jaunt from the hotel, but we left an hour early "just to be safe!" And with all the lead-up excitement, I couldn't sleep, anyhow – what a shock, huh?
Upon our arrival, friendly faces greeted us at the plant, in particular, Cliff Cohen, one of the GM guys instrumental in making this whole deal possible.
I had the good fortune of seeing the facility a few months prior, but a fresh, very complete shop tour was our first order of business that day. At this point in production of the 69 cars, we saw the last few customer delivery cars up to #67 well underway in the metal shop. Back over in the Final Assembly area I spotted one lone car sitting under a car cover aimed at the exit door. When Cliff asked if I was ready to see the finished #53, I knew the moment I'd anticipated for so long was about to arrive.
Seeing my #53 427 COPO for the first time as the cover rolled off was a most memorable moment and the GM guys went out of their way to really make it all worthwhile. Perfectly cleaned and detailed, this Victory Red COPO Camaro looked for a moment to be more ready for the show field than the drag strip. However, that all that changed as the initial starting procedure commenced and this 427 open-exhaust monster roared to life inside the assembly plant.
After I donned my custom, numbered Simpson Fireproof racing jacket presented by Cliff, I took to the right seat as we headed out the door with a most competent GM employee at the wheel and began a short drive through the industrial park as we watched for oil and coolant temps to rise from cold start. At that moment, I was respectfully asked if I would like a demo burnout or two followed by a launch with warmed up slicks.
The answer of "yes" was met with unleashed fury and clouds of smoke like none I'd ever witnessed on a new car delivery… Then – it was my turn.
Seat positions switched, gauges glanced over, Hurst pulled into gear, Line-Loc activated and right foot planted – I let her fly for the first time. Wow! Where's the drag strip? From that moment I was hooked. I guess we left a little bit of those Hoosiers back in Oxford and come Spring I intend on leaving a bit more rubber at some North East drag strips, while having the time of my life with this fantastic car.
Initially tested for battle duty, I now loaded my COPO for the trip back to my home in Erie, Pennsylvania anxious to get unloaded safely in my garage and have some quiet time to really look over and learn more about this most special Chevrolet Race Car.
In the background, in the months prior to my COPO delivery, I had been secretly working on the "finishing touches" for my plan of reliving some drag racing memories of long ago with this 427 Camaro. I'd already been mentally designing a nostalgia-themed graphics package that would pay homage to some local Chevrolet drag racers from my area – and really make this COPO look like the racecar it is.
Since I knew the car would be in my hands prior to an annual garage Christmas party I throw for my car buddies in the tri-state area, I decided to hide the car and debut it fully finished at the event. I borrowed a new 6-cylinder Camaro from the dealer back in October to get panel dimensions. Then I reached out to performance component suppliers for the new COPO to get sponsor decals in the proper scale for my layout.
I hunted down old photos and decals to have digitally copied to the proper scale I needed and had everything made prior to the COPO's arrival. I even tapped the talents of a local graphic artist to replicate an old Chevy dealer's logo, because the pictures I had were not of high enough quality to translate to digital. There were, of course, lots of questions as to what I was doing, but I kept things very close to the vest as I was really aiming for the big surprise at the party. I even did all the vinyl installation myself, not knowing who else I could trust to keep quiet with the party just days away. And, what do you know, it went very well as I relived the nightmare of putting that old wood appliqué on Country Squires and Caprice Estate Station Wagons as a young bodyman.
Much to my joy, the COPO #53 debut at the Christmas party went spectacular, and seeing one of the new COPO Camaros was in and of itself, a huge hit. But it was the graphics package I carefully chose that really hit the sweet spot with my local band of long-term car nuts.
The best moment of the day for me was when 1966-1967 NHRA Stock Class Champion Jim Cordia of Cordia Chevrolet in Clymer, New York walked in the door. The look on his face was priceless as he spotted the "Cordia Chevrolet, Home of the Fast Tracks" graphics on the new COPO. Also featured prominently is Gemlers Performance from my hometown of Erie. Jim and Jere Gemler are lifetime racers who, from new, still own their '62 409 Impala and '69 Yenko Camaro.
Cordia and Gemlers will be a part of my informal race team as we take COPO #53 to the track this coming spring. Local B&H Speed Shop has a spot on each fender, and I know my greatly missed pal George Helsel will be keeping me going straight from another place as I head down the 1320.
So there you have it; one very satisfied new COPO owner waiting for spring to see if he can drive this car somewhere, anywhere near its full potential. I can tell you what, though – it'll sure be fun trying.
All photographs courtesy of Mark Kelly www.mpk-photo.com and George Lyons.