Jim Lammers Strikes Gold With a Certified 1969 COPO Camaro with Drag Racing History

By Tommy Lee Byrd   –   Photography by the Author

The four letters C-O-P-O spell muscle car royalty. During the late ’60s, the COPO designation typically defined a high-performance combination that wasn’t readily available at the dealership. Today, anything that has COPO heritage instantly goes up in value, but a pure stock restoration often removes any previous identities the car carried during its life on the street or on the racetrack. Even though stock COPO cars bring the most money at auction, these cars usually had a more robust personality when they were being used for their intended purpose.

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The “Rat’s Nest” ’69 Camaro, owned by Jim Lammers, goes against the grain of typical COPO restorations, as it wears a wild color scheme, reminiscent of its drag racing days in the early ’70s. The fact of the matter is that Jim bought the car without any knowledge of its COPO heritage or drag racing history, and it took some serious digging to uncover this car’s storied past.

003 Rear low angle view of the 1969 COPO Camaro showing its lifted stance and drag racing tires

Read More: Day Two Restored 1967 Chevy Camaro

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To get the full scope, we need to go back to 2003 when Jim met his coworker, DJ Justice. Old cars were often the topic of conversation and DJ mentioned that he had a ’69 Camaro with a big-block and only 15,000 miles on it. He had owned the car since 1982 and didn’t plan to sell it. Justice later retired, but Jim reached out several years after to see if he still had the Camaro or if he had considered parting with it. Justice stood firm with his desire to keep the car, but Jim asked if he could see it in person—not to persuade Justice to sell it, but to hopefully dispel some of his own desire for the car. Jim said, “I was secretly hoping upon inspection it would not be as described and I could mentally move on.” However, a close inspection revealed a nice, solid, low-mile car. Jim asked again if he’d consider selling it, and this time Justice shocked him. The answer was yes, but with one stipulation: Jim had to promise he would never cut the car up and make it a race car, an ironic request, as Jim would later find out.

007 Under the hood of the 1969 Camaro showing a detailed engine setup with chrome and red components

After getting it home, he started running the numbers and found that the big-block was a 427 from a ’66 Impala, and the car was originally a four-speed, which had been replaced with a TH400 with a manual valvebody. Out back was a non-original 10-bolt rearend with 3.08:1 gears. Despite these modifications, Jim still wanted to be thorough in his investigation, so he kept digging. One peculiar detail was that the car had X44 designations on the trim tag, which denotes a base model, yet it had a big-block heater core. After some research online, he also found that the pierced hole in the firewall for the cowl induction wiring harness (located above the fuse block) was a significant detail. This led to further investigation, and a call to Jerry MacNeish, the recognized authority on ’69 Camaros. A few months later, MacNeish would inspect the car in person and confirm its COPO origins. Jim ran the NCRS report, which revealed Ray Bryant Chevrolet in Dayton, Ohio, as the original seller, but no record was found of the original owner.

009 Close up of the carburetor atop the engine in the 1969 Camaro detailing the complex linkage and air filter

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While he waited for the inspection, Jim went into detective mode to uncover the car’s ownership history. Jim determined that he was the eighth person to own the car, but it had never left the state of Ohio. He still couldn’t track down the original owner, but the car’s second owner was arguably its most significant in the overall timeline. Doug Davis owned the Camaro from 1970 through 1974 and bought it with the sole purpose of drag racing in the Super Stock ranks. Doug had unfortunately died in 2006, but Jim was able to contact Doug’s wife, Judy, and their son, Denny, to get the full story.

011 Interior view of a 1969 Camaro drag car featuring black vinyl seats and a classic three spoke steering wheel

The Davis family had lots of information to share, as well as a great collection of pictures. The earliest photo of the car is from spring of 1970, and it was taken when Doug’s racing partner, Rick Wilkin, gave the car its patriotic color scheme. Later, Doug added the name “Rat’s Nest” to the lower portion of the door and of course added decals along the way. Ault & James Speed Shop gave the L72 427 some attention while keeping it legal for NHRA Super Stock. The car ran regularly at Kil-Kare Raceway in Xenia, Ohio, and even made the trek to the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on a couple of occasions. The Davis family had numerous timeslips, showing a best elapsed time of 11.23 and best trap speed of 123.96.

001 A 1969 COPO Camaro drag car in blue and white with racing decals viewed from the front on a track

Read More: Restomod 1968 Chevy Camaro

Denny still had a picture of the car in his wallet, which had previously spent decades in his father’s wallet before he died. Denny also had his father’s old racing helmet, which was painted to match the car. The most sentimental detail of the car’s history was revealed when Denny took Jim to visit Doug’s gravesite. There, the Rat’s Nest Camaro was engraved in Doug’s headstone, forever displaying his love for this car. Even though Doug owned this car for less than five years, it obviously made an impact on the entire family.

010 Detailed engine shot of the 1969 Camaro showing white exhaust headers and spark plug wires

The next two owners, Daniel Knisely and Terry Walley, kept the patriotic paint scheme, but removed the Rat’s Nest graphics. The car’s fifth owner, Ralph Willis also raced occasionally, but stripped the car down and repainted it black with gold Z/28-style stripes. Based on Jim’s research, the paintjob happened in 1978. Then, around 1980, John Taylor bought the car and eventually sold it to Justice in 1982. At that point, the Camaro only had about 12,000 miles on it and Justice proceeded to add approximately 3,500 miles to the odometer during his 36 years with the car.

018 Underneath the Camaro showing the differential and suspension components

As Jim unraveled this enormous amount of information, he also scoured the country for date-code correct components to complete a factory-correct restoration. Jim sourced engine and drivetrain parts that coincided with the car’s late September ’69 build date. This included a date-correct L72 engine, M22 Muncie four-speed transmission, and BE 12-bolt rearend with 4.10:1 gears.

015 The Camaro's gear shift area with additional gauges for oil pressure and water temperature

Luckily, the car was never gutted for weight reduction, and it never received a rollbar, so the interior was in excellent condition. The only parts that Jim and his brother Mike replaced were the carpet, headliner, and dashpad. Everything else is original and looks brand new, thanks to a deep cleaning. Jim and Mike are responsible for nearly every aspect of the restoration, and debuted the car at the Camaro Nationals in original, as-delivered form in LeMans Blue with painted steel wheels and dog dish caps. Upon returning from the event, Jim began the Day Two portion of the build.

019 Low angle front view of the Camaro showing its distinctive drag racing wheels

Read More: Day Two 1967 Chevy Camaro

Jim performed the Rat’s Nest transformation in a way that could be reversed if he chose to put it back to stock. Ken Thompson at Flawless Wraps followed Jim’s direction to recreate the car’s original color scheme, as well as the Rat’s Nest graphics and decals. The pearl white and Candy Apple Red vinyl pops in the sun and has an excellent gloss. All exterior sheetmetal and trim are either original or N.O.S. items, and the front and rear bumper still wear the original chrome plating.

032 Close up of the engine bay showing BPT marked on the engine block indicating custom tuning or parts

Period-correct Day Two components include Cal Custom valve covers, fly eye air cleaner, Mallory plug wires, Hooker headers, Hurst line lock, Sun Super Tach, Sun blue-line gauges, Gabriel Hijacker shocks, and a set of 15×3.5 and 15×8.5 slotted mag wheels. When Jim bought the car, it still had a Lakewood driveshaft loop and Lakewood traction bars, which were dated 1971 and installed during the car’s drag racing days. He restored those components and installed them for the perfect finishing touches to the Day Two 016 Close up of the auxiliary gauges under the dashboard highlighting their chrome detailing

With the car’s Rat’s Nest identity finalized, Jim toured the car around Ohio to visit previous owners, or the family of previous owners. He also attended the MCACN show in Chicago where the car took Concours Gold in the Day Two class. The car made its first trip down the dragstrip in approximately 45 years when Jim attended the 2022 Supercar Reunion in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

004 Rear view of the 1969 COPO Camaro on a track displaying its dual exhaust and racing stickers

While some might say that Jim stumbled into a car with an outstanding storyline, the reality is that his intense research led him from one amazing discovery to another. His thoughtful approach to bringing the car back to its previous life as a Super Stocker truly does this car justice, so much that you almost forget that it’s significant in other ways. There’s a COPO underneath all those early ’70s drag car details, but if it wasn’t for the investigation work of Jim Lammers, the world would have never known this car’s significance. Whether it’s wearing street clothes or its Rat’s Nest getup, this COPO has an incredible story to tell and an awesome caretaker who brought it all to life.

006 Side view of the blue and white 1969 COPO Camaro on a clear day with rural backdrop

TECH CHECK
Owner: Jim Lammers, Minster, Ohio
Vehicle: ’69 Camaro COPO

Engine
TYPE: L72 big-block
DISPLACEMENT: 427 ci
COMPRESSION RATIO: 11.0:1
BORE: 4.250 inches
STROKE: 3.760 inches
ROTATING ASSEMBLY: Original GM
CYLINDER HEADS: Original cast iron
VALVETRAIN: Original
CAMSHAFT: Original 0.520-inch lift
INTAKE: Original aluminum
ASSEMBLY: Corvette Specialties of Kansas City
EXHAUST: Hooker Super Comp headers
ANCILLARIES: Cal Custom valve covers, fly eye air cleaner, vintage Mallory plug wires
OUTPUT: 450 hp

Drivetrain
TRANSMISSION: M22 Muncie four-speed manual
CLUTCH: Stock with Lakewood bell housing
REAR AXLE: COPO BE 12-bolt with 4.10:1 gears

Chassis
FRONT SUSPENSION: Stock
REAR SUSPENSION: Stock leaves with Gabriel Hijacker shocks and Lakewood traction bars
BRAKES: Stock
MASTER CYLINDER: Stock with Hurst Roll Control
PEDALS: Stock

Wheels & Tires
WHEELS: Fenton 15×3.5 front, Ansen 15×8.5 rear
TIRES: Pro Trac 5.60-15 front, M&H 10.0/27.0-15

Interior
SEATS: Stock with original upholstery
STEERING: Original
SHIFTER: Hurst
DASH: Stock
INSTRUMENTATION: Sun Super Tach and Sun blueline gauges
HVAC: None
AUDIO: Stock AM radio
WIRING: Stock

Exterior
BODYWORK: Hausfeld Classics (Springboro, OH)
PAINT: Code 71 LeMans Blue, PPG base/clear
TRIM: Original
HOOD: Original cowl induction
GRILLE: Stock
BUMPERS: Original chrome
TRUNK: Original, spoiler added

Click on this issue’s cover to see the enhanced digital version of Jim Lammers Strikes Gold With a Certified 1969 COPO Camaro with Drag Racing History.acp may 2024

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