All images courtesy of Mecum Auctions.
Fans of a specific make of muscle cars can be a parochial bunch. Mopar guys have their 426 Hemis and Six Packs. Blue Oval types have their Boss 429s and Cobra Jets. But utter one of the most potent alphanumeric combinations ever to come from Chevrolet and even those aficionados of the competition will feel the hairs on the back of their necks standing on end. That combo is “ZL1.”
Most of you reading this probably know part-or all-of the Camaro ZL1 story, but we’ll do a quick refresher here. Fred Gibb, owner of the appropriately named Fred Gibb Chevrolet of La Harpe, Illinois, knew how to work Chevrolet’s Central Office Production Order process. The COPO program allowed for dealers to essentially create very specific models for customers. Set up to service taxi and business fleets, COPO could also accommodate the high-performance minded dealer. Gibb convinced GM to build 50 Camaros with the race-ready, all-aluminum 427-cu.in. V-8 designed for the likes of the McLaren and Chaparral teams in the insane world of Can-Am’s unlimited, essentially unrestricted Group 7. The only catch was that Gibb had to order 50 cars.
Without even knowing what it was going to cost him, Gibb pulled the trigger. A base V-8 Camaro stickered at $2,727 in 1969. The addition of the ZL1 added a whopping $4,160.45 to the bottom line, before any other options were added, including the mandatory ZL2 hood, V01 four-core radiator, K66 electronic ignition, and F41 suspension. Gibb had a helluva time selling such a $7,000 plus Camaro, ultimately only landing buyers for 13 of them, with the rest returned to GM or traded with other dealers. While the savvy—and well-financed—drag racers snapped up cars, most languished on dealer lots, all but unsalable.
In the end, Chevrolet built some 69 ZL1-equipped Camaros in 1969. While not exactly a sales success, the fire-breathing ZL1, rated at 430 hp, but more likely substantially over 500 in gross hp terms, could propel the Camaro to a quarter-mile in the low 13s, right out of the box. With open headers, some tuning, tires and suspension work, the ZL1 Camaro could do mid-11s all day long.
Since then, the Camaro ZL1 has become one of the most sought-after muscle cars, and certainly one of the most collectible postwar American cars. When they come up for auction, people notice and bidders open their wallets. When ZL1’s find new homes on such a public stage, mid-six-figure sales are the norm, not the exception.
Auction giant Mecum is no stranger to moving big-dollar muscle cars, so for its upcoming monster auction in Kissimmee, Florida, where more than 3,000 cars will cross the block over eight days of auctions (along with additional motorcycles, boats, and automobilia over 10 total days of bidding), the company is offering a twofer—a package deal on two 1969 Camaro ZL1’s, set to cross the block on Thursday, January 11. Win the auction and you will own a measurable percentage of ZL1’s in existence. The pair of cars include the 18th and 30th built of this legendary quarter-mile demon. Notably, both cars feature their original all-aluminum V-8s and are well known to the ZL1 community.
Car number 30, orange with a black interior, is said to have covered a mere 361 miles since new, though it has been treated to an award-winning restoration. It also comes with a stack of documentation, such as its original MSO, Protect-O-Plate, and other important factory docs. Car 30 also lays claim to being one of the mere 13 cars originally sold by Fred Gibb Chevrolet.
Car number 18, has a known history since new, with some interesting twists and turns at the start. Originally ordered by Gibb, it went unsold and was returned to GM, which then shipped it off to a dealer in Virginia. Its first owner, who traded in a ’69 Corvette and financed the rest of the $7,3425.35, reported an engine noise. When Chevrolet refused to repair the car under warranty, the buyer stopped paying and GMAC repossessed the ZL1. A drag racer later acquired it and immediately had the engine rebuilt for competition. The car has since passed hands several times, including as the grand prize in a raffle offered by the U.S. Camaro Club for the model’s 25th anniversary. The car has been restored a couple of times and was displayed in a prominent Las Vegas collection from 2005-2016.
Both cars have been publicly offered in a recent years, though without meeting reserve. Car 30, the orange one, went across the auction block recently, failing to sell at Mecum’s Denver auction in July 2017 with a top bid of $425,000. Car number 18, the blue one, reached $600,000, also with no sale, at the Mecum Kissimmee event in January 2016. At that same sale two years ago, car number 30 reached a top bid of $625,000, without changing hands then, either.
Mecum’s online catalog lists the pre-auction estimate at $1,250,000 to $1,750,000, making this a sale for the most serious and well-heeled of muscle-car collectors. In an unusual move that we applaud for its transparency, Mecum also lists an “announced reserve” of $1,100,000, giving a very clear and distinct floor to what it will take for this pair of pedigreed muscle cars to find a new home.