Yenko Specials – Taking Chevrolet Performance to the Extreme
In the muscle car era of the 1960s, Yenko Sports Cars became legendary for turning ordinary Chevrolets into giant killers. Founded by racer Don Yenko, Yenko Specials modified Camaros, Chevelles, Novas, and even Corvairs from the factory with huge engines and performance upgrades aimed at dominating drag strips and street racing. Yenko gave supercar power levels to affordable General Motors models through specialized performance preparation before delivery. For Chevy fans, Yenko Specials became the ultimate expression of bowtie performance.
Bored With Stock Power Levels
A successful Chevrolet dealer in Pennsylvania, Don Yenko grew frustrated with the factory power and tuning limitations placed on late-’60s muscle cars. He knew much greater performance could be extracted safely. After gaining permission from GM to order stripped “COPO” models and customize them how he pleased, Yenko went to work enhancing power, brakes, and suspension for domination at the drag strip. Massively boosted engines turned economy compacts and pony cars into giant killers with just a Yenko badge added.
Giant-Killing Yenko Camaros
No model received more Yenko attention than the 1967-1969 Camaro, which turned from a pony car to a supercar. The top L72 427ci V8 cranked out nearly 500 horsepower, enabling sub-4-second 0-60mph times and low 10-second quarter miles. This transforms the Camaro into a serious threat for any Ferrari or Lamborghini on the road. Yet Yenko Camaros remained civil enough for street use thanks to specially installed heavy-duty components to handle the boosted power. At $5,000 they delivered supercar power for half the price.
Fearsome Yenko Chevelle SS
It also got his hands on Chevelle SS models, morphing the capable muscle car into an absolute monster. Here the 450 horsepower L72 427 was again the weapon of choice. Combined with suspension and transmission upgrades, a Yenko Chevelle SS with L72 power and a cowl induction hood could provide a legitimate race car experience in a road car wrapper. The performance reached rarefied levels – 0-60mph in 4.5 seconds – that only the most elite American supercars like the Ford GT40 could match at the time.
Maximizing the Modest Nova
Even Chevy’s humble compact Nova received the Yenko treatment. The lightweight Nova SS’s small dimensions helped it use extra power quite effectively. Here the high-winding 350 horsepower L79 327ci V8 imbued a startling performance increase, slicing two seconds from 0-60mph and delivering quarter mile times deep into the 13s – squarely in Corvette territory. Handling tuned for track use translated the power into warp speed acceleration just a straight pipe exhaust roar away.
Corvair Turbocharging Innovator
Not just V8s, this also worked magic with the Corvair’s flat-6. A turbocharger installation in 1966 boosted power from 140 to 180hp while retaining reliability. It also customized the suspension and brakes to match the increased performance. Already nimble, the extra power transformed the Corvair into a giant killer capable of keeping up with V8 sports cars. This pioneering early turbo power increase presaged the factory turbo Corvair and showed Don Yenko’s innovative performance thinking.
Lasting Impact on Tuning Culture
Yenko’s customized supercars spotlighted the potential within ordinary Detroit iron long before tuner culture went mainstream. While a costly endeavor undertaken more for passion than profits, Yenko’s creations influenced a generation of enthusiasts to realize big power gains through aftermarket modifications. The audacious performance increases proved properly engineered Chevys were capable of much more. For these innovations, Yenko Specials remain automotive legends today.