Photos: Lee from Flikr.com
In November, the thoughts of speed freaks and gearheads inevitably turn to Las Vegas, and the auto enthusiast fantasy world that is the SEMA show. Back in the day, SEMA stood for Speed Equipment Manufacturing Association but in 1970, the name was updated to Specialty Equipment Market Association as the growing aftermarket juggernaut sought to improve the overall image of the association. The very first SEMA show was staged in 1967 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles with only five cars on display.
1967 was a big year for another piece of auto history. In 1966, the ’67 model year Camaro debuted as an alternative to the Ford Mustang. However, the story goes that despite an outcry for a Chevy pony car that could really compete on the street and the track, GM corporate wouldn’t allow anything bigger than a 400 cu in engine to power the vehicle. Ford, Dodge and Plymouth lacked these restrictions, and it was Don Yenko who found a way around them for the Camaro.
Yenko, a racer whose father owned the Yenko Chevrolet dealership in Pennsylvania, knew there was a market for more power. He’d been selling hop up parts for Chevys since 1957, but it was his mods for the Camaro that put his name on the map.
Using an SS Camaro, he swapped out the stock engine for the L-72 427 cubic inch monster which was powering the Corvette. The whole thing was rated at 450 horsepower. He then upgraded the axle and suspension, and installed a fiberglass replacement hood. The car wasn’t officially sanctioned for racing by GM on the drag strip, but the powerplant changed the face of power in this Chevy pony car.
By 1969, Chevy had taken the hint and moved the power upgrade to the assembly line, creating the Central Office Production Order version, or COPO. Yenko would then add special striping and Yenko Super Car badging, but those first Yenko Camaros were as important to the aftermarket surge as was SEMA.