Double Dose of 1969 COPO Camaros With Different Personalities

By Scotty Lachenauer   –   Photography by the Author

We’ve all seen it; the lifelines of similarly bred muscle cars can vary greatly. It all depended on what the purchaser had in mind when he laid his hard-earned money down on his future dream ride. Did you buy that big-block bruiser for a life on the street, dominating your local enthusiasts at every streetlight standoff? Or was it purchased to be a standalone racer to do its dirty work a quarter-mile at a time?

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Of course, they could have been bought to do both, delegating time between the two extremes. However, as you will see, this pair of ’69 COPO Camaros have lived their lives in totally different fashions. One a local street crawler, ready for two-lane blacktop action; the other, a no-holds-barred racer—an armed and dangerous speed freak that stormed the local racetracks on a regular basis.

002 Twin Custom 1969 copo camaro

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Brian Henderson and Joe Swezey are co-proprietors of Super Car Workshop in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. The twosome has owned and operated the shop for nearly three decades. Their specialty: Bringing big power GM muscle cars back to the streets where they belong. High on their lists is Chevy’s F-body platform and the top performance models that GM pushed out over the glory years of factory-built muscle cars.

Both guys will tell you that Chevrolet’s COPO program has left an indelible mark on the duo. With their lowkey, sleeper aesthetics, and their big power mills under their respective hoods, the dudes just can’t stop smilin’ when a needy COPO rolls into their shop. “The COPO Camaro is without a doubt the thing that muscle car dreams are made of. It’s got the right look, and of course a killer performance package. It’s a top-tier performer in every sense of the word,” Henderson states.

005 Blue Camaro Driver Side View 1969 copo camaro

So here are two splendiferous examples of Chevy’s COPO F-body for your viewing pleasure. Each was bought with high performance in mind but used by their owners in totally different ways. One common denominator is the fact they are true factory COPOs and both restored by Swezey and Henderson at Super Car Workshop.

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003 Classic 1969 copo camaro

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’69 Dusk Blue COPO

Not a lot is known about the history of the car besides the fact that it had a rough go at it early in its life. NCRS records show that the car was initially received at Wallace Chevrolet in Linden, New Jersey, but was possibly dealer traded to Malcom Konner Chevrolet in Paramus, New Jersey, where it was sold. The Code 51 Dusk Blue that this beauty is bathed in is a rare color indeed, with only 3.3 percent of the Camaros in 1969 skinned in that hue.

004 Blue Camaro Underside Rearend 1969 copo camaro

The story goes that the original engine let go back in the day and was damaged by a broken connecting rod. It then took the cam out, being snapped between the number one and number two cam bearings, thus breaking off a lobe. That piece in turn damaged the cam tunnel on the number 1 cylinder and managed to injure the engine’s water jacket. A replacement engine was brought in and installed to keep the car on the road, while the damaged L72 427 block stayed with the car, the owner placing it back in the garage for safe keeping.

006 Built 427 Engine 1969 copo camaro

Years later, under a new owner, the COPO was brought to Super Car Workshop for a complete restoration. Henderson and Swezey do what they do best, bringing the Chevy up to Gold Medal standards. They also built a correct engine for the Chevy using a CE replacement block. Every part and piece on this rare ride were restored or, if needed, swapped with correct replacement parts. During the restoration, Tom Kusmiesz of Pittsgrove, New Jersey, gained interest in owning the car, and thus bought the unfinished car off the previous owner.

008 Headers 1969 copo camaro

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Super Car Workshop continued to work on the car under its new ownership. Once finished, this stunning COPO was brought to MCACN and judged alongside other COPO rides. “The judges were hard on this car because of the replacement block. It only lost 1 point on the rest of the restoration. Tom decided then and there that he wanted the original block repaired and put in the car. So, we had the block furnace welded, which is the best possible way to repair damage like this,” Brian states. It was done to perfection at Indy Cylinder in Indianapolis.”

007 Brake Booster 1969 copo camaro

Once the engine was completed and installed, Tom was a much happier owner, knowing that the original drivetrain was intact. This COPO was certainly an interesting build. Besides the rare color, this one also came with the X11-style trim package (all trim plus white pinstripe), D80 spoilers (front and rear), VE3 front Endura bumper, and 14×7 YJ Rally wheels with F-70-x14 white pinstripe tires. This one still boasts its original seat upholstery and door panels. One note, all non-RS COPOs use the base silver grille with Bowtie, which can be seen on this model.

009 Original Interior 1969 copo camaro

“I love that there are a lot of rare options on the car, like the front and rear spoilers, Endura bumper, and X11-style trim. I drive the car using 110-octane leaded fuel and it runs great. I just want to say that Super Car Workshop did a fantastic job on the restoration. I couldn’t be happier,” Tom says.

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013 Red 1969 copo camaro

’69 Garnet Red COPO

In stark contrast to the life led by ol’ Blue, this COPO has logged limited miles on local roads, as it was used solely as a weekend warrior on the local dragstrips. It’s racked up a scant and documented 64 miles over its existence, backing up its true race-bred history. It wasn’t until 1979 that it was actually registered for road use and sadly it was locked away in storage from that point on.

014 Red Rearend 1969 copo camaro

Visually, it’s easy to see that this COPO was built for a life on the strip. The original hood was ditched for an early Moroso Pro Stock hood. Out back, a set of Mickey Thompson slicks are wrapped around a pair of 15×8 Motor Wheel Flys, while up front 15×4 Flys are shod in Moroso Drag Specials in 7.10×15. A ladder bar suspension helps keep the traction out back, frame connectors add some stiffness, and a Dana 60 with 4.10 gears puts the power to the pavement.

018 Fully Built Big Block 1969 copo camaro

The mill in this behemoth has been replaced over the years, and the current Booth Arons Pro Stock 427ci engine was restored by Joe Zeoli and Dave Reid at A1 Machine in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. They coincidently also rebuilt the previous COPO’s engine as well for Super Car Workshop. Engine vitals include an Edelbrock TR2X Tunnel ram, aluminum heads, a pair of Holley race carburetors, a Hunt Magneto, and Accel plug wires. Hooker headers get rid of the spent gases. The four-speed was also upgraded over its time at the track, with the M22 giving way to an M23 by Hoss’s Gear Shop in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania.

025 Custom Speedo 1969 copo camaro

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Originally, this ride was built with the COPO 9737 Sportscar Conversion/Yenko package, which consists of the 140-mph speedo, 13/16-inch front sway bar, and E70-15 tires mounted on “YH” Rally wheels. Currently, it sports a Sun tach with Stewart-Warner gauges, Hurst Ram Rod shifter, and an eight-point rollcage built around its rare and restored 718 code red standard interior. Like stated before, this car was built to hit the track, and it ended up making a multitude of runs over its years on call.

028 Custom Intake 1969 copo camaro

Tim Schell of Toronto, Canada, is the fifth and current owner. “The original owner sold the car in 1979 after he had an accident and could no longer drive it. It was sold new out of Ewing Chevrolet in Canton, Ohio. Sometime in its life it was painted Roman Red. That’s why I had it restored. If it was the original Garnet Red, I would’ve left it alone as it was a totally rust-free car,” Tim states.

021 Block Cover 1969 copo camaro

When the second owner purchased the car, it had a fiberglass front end on it for racing, along with wheeltubs out back. “I own several other COPO Camaros, including one of the few factory-born and bred ZL1 cars,” Tim mentions. “That is a red-on-red car, which was the only one built in this color combo. The previous owner got to see the car finished at the GM Nationals in Carlisle. I enjoy showing the cars but love driving them even more. There’s nothing better than shredding the tires in a COPO Camaro.”

022 Red Interior 1969 copo camaro

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Henderson and Swezey are thrilled that they got to work on such prominent pieces of Chevy factory muscle car history, and at basically the same time no less. Henderson sums it up this way. “It was very interesting working on these two X11 COPOs. I really enjoy the challenge of doing an accurate stock restoration, like on the Dusk Blue COPO. On the flipside, I love applying the same technique to the highly modified Garnet Red COPO and using period-correct race parts is a fantastic departure.”

023 Custom Shifter 1969 copo camaro

“We here at Super Car Workshop enjoy looking for real Day Two parts,” Swezey maintains. “Not the stuff that is made today to mimic some of the old speed parts, but the real-deal vintage pieces. The quality back then was so much better. Sure, it takes longer to find these old speed parts, but it makes all the difference in the world to the purists. We definitely work for the 1 percenters.”

Tech Check:
Owner: Tom Kusmiesz, Pittsgrove, New Jersey
Model: ’69 COPO 9561 Camaro Dusk Blue

Engine:
Type: Big-block Chevy
Block: Stock L72 code MN
Displacement: 427 ci
Compression Ratio: 11.0:1
Bore: 4.251
Stroke: 3.760
Cylinder Heads: Stock, cast iron
Rotating Assembly: Stock
Valvetrain: Stock
Camshaft: Solid lifter
Induction: Stock high-rise intake manifold, Holley 850-cfm
Ignition: Stock
Exhaust: Stock

Ancillaries: None
Output: 425 hp

Drivetrain:
Transmission: M22
Rear Axle: BE 12-bolt rear COPO option with 4.10:1 Posi

Chassis:
Frame: Stock
Front Suspension: Stock
Rear Suspension: Stock

Brakes: J52 disc brakes (standard on COPOs)
Wheels:14×7 YJ Rally wheels
Tires: F-70-x14 white pinstripe tires

Interior:
Upholstery: 711 Standard black interior

Seats: Stock buckets
Steering: Stock
Shifter: Stock
Dash: Stock
Extras: No console, radio delete

Exterior:
Bodywork and Paint: Arone Autobody (Homer City, PA)
Paint: GM Dusk Blue
Hood: Stock
Bumpers: Original Front Endura

Tech Check:
Owner: Tim Schell, Toronto, Canada
Model: ’69 COPO 9561 Camaro Garnet Red

Engine:
Type: Big-block Chevy
Block: Booth Arons Pro Stock
Displacement: 438 ci
Compression Ratio: 12.5:1
Bore: 4.310
Stroke: 3.750
Cylinder Heads: GM Factory aluminum open chamber heads, fully ported
Rotating Assembly: Custom GM forged crank destroked to 3.750, Manley aluminum rods, forged pistons
Valvetrain: 2.30 intake valves, 1.880 exhaust valves
Camshaft: Solid lifter cam
Induction: Ported Edelbrock TR2X tunnel ram intake, two 660-cfm carburetors
Exhaust: Hooker Headers
Output: Approximately 600 hp

Drivetrain:
Transmission: M23
Rear Axle: Dana 60, 4.10:1 gears

Chassis:
Frame: Stock with subframe connectors
Front Suspension: Stock
Rear Suspension: Monoleaf with ladder bars
Brakes: Stock front, Chrysler drums rear
Wheels: Motor Wheel Fly 15×7 front, 15×8 rear
Tires: Moroso Drag Special 7:10 x15 front, Mickey Thompson slicks rear

Interior:
Upholstery: Code 718 red standard interior
Seats: Stock
Steering: Stock
Shifter: Hurst Ram Rod shifter
Dash: Stock with Sun tach and Stewart-Warner gauges
Extras: No console, radio delete

Bodywork:
Paint By: Super Car Restoration (Clymer, PA)
Paint: Code 52 Garnett Red
Hood: Moroso
Bumpers: Stock

Click on this issue’s cover to see the enhanced digital version of Double Dose of 1969 COPO Camaros With Different Personalities.

acp january 2024

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