The hits, the misses, and the unicorns.
When you have an automaker with a long history, it's easy to remember the hits, the legends, and the icons while forgetting that the company has a deep back catalog. Chevrolet can easily lay claim to having one of the largest back catalogs as it has been around as an automaker since 1911. Its most significant influence on the automotive market came through the 1950s and 1960s, but it still runs deep. Among the icons are legends like Camaro and Silverado, but not every swing has been a hit, and some of its greatest cars didn't get many sets of wheels on the road. As we learned with Dodge, that means there are some incredibly rare cars out there. Not all of them good, and not all of them bad. However, they're all interesting.
The Z/28 Performance Package was designed to allow the Camaro to compete in the SCCA Trans-Am Series and featured a solid-lifter 4.9-liter V8, upgraded suspension, front power disc brakes, and a Muncie 4-speed manual close-ratio transmission. It was introduced as an option code by Vince Piggins, who wanted to offer a close to race-ready Camaro to customers via dealerships. The engine was rated by Chevy at 290 horsepower at 5300 rpm, but in reality, it made a peak of 360 hp, or 400 hp with optional carbs and at 6,800-7,000 rpm.
Chevrolet's Special Production Division wanted to promote the package, but this was before marketers crunched numbers. General Manager Pete Estes only drove convertibles, so he wasn't convinced and needed a lot of persuasion. The tactic taken was to build a single Z/28 Convertible model and leave it in the executive garage for Estes to drive. He took the bait and immediately authorized promoting the Z/28. That convertible was the only one built.
In the hallowed hall of fame of fast street trucks, we remember the Dodge Ram SRT-10, the Ford SVT Lightning, and the GMC Syclone. Often forgotten, however, is the Chevy 454 SS and its 7.4-liter V8 engine pushing 230 hp with 385 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels through a three-speed automatic transmission. It also came with a heavier sway bar, Bilstein shocks, quicker steering, and a big set of tires for the era. Only around 17,000 were built between 1990 and 1993, and they're not particularly expensive to buy now if you're a fan of big, smokey burnouts and velour interiors.
While the auto industry races to build and bring to market the first modern electric truck, we forget Chevrolet already did it. It was not great, but the fleet truck was a proof of concept. The problem was that it was a proof of concept that electric vehicles weren't ready, and electric trucks certainly weren't ready, for the mainstream. The S-10 EV used lead batteries, did 0-60 mph eventually, only ran for 47 miles in combined driving, and downhill and with the wind behind it, it could manage 70 mph. It was introduced in 1997, updated in 1998, then discontinued with just 60 built and little fanfare. GM's forthcoming GMC Hummer will be a far better electric pickup.
The COPO (Central Office Purchase Order ) Camaro was created by finding a loophole to circumvent limitations General Motors placed on Chevy's performance vehicles in the late 1960s. Chevy's special-order system was usually used for special order alterations to municipal fleet vehicles but also allowed dealers to order performance options not found in the factory paperwork. To cut a long story short, the first COPO performance car was the 1969 ZL-1 COPO Camaro, and the name still lives on. In 2019, Chevy built 69 of the 50th Anniversary models to celebrate the 69-model run of the first 427-equipped COPO Camaro.
The 50th edition from 2019 comes with a bunch of exclusive trim but is built to drag race with its big block 427 LSX engine developing 480 horsepower and 490 lb-ft from the factory. Even rarer are the ones optioned with the Racer Package, which added a parachute and dual batteries.
Chevrolet named the Yoeman well as it was designed to do a yeoman's work. The dealership brochure declared that "You can swab this deck!" in reference to the vinyl and rubber interior that could be washed with a bucket of water and a sponge. It could seat six people as either a two-door or four-door station wagon and was powered by a beefy straight-six engine or an even stronger 4.6-liter V8 with a Rochester two-barrel carburetor. Other options included the 5.7-liter "Turbo-Thrust" V8 or the "Blue Flame" inline-six to go with the Powerglide transmission option.
The Yeoman entered production for 1958 as Chevy's entry-level wagon and exited production at the end of the year as a minor footnote in the brand's history. Chevy sold a huge amount of wagons in 1958, and overtook Ford in sales overall. However, just 16,590 of the two-door Yeoman were built, and only a handful still survive.
The 1975 Chevrolet Monza shaped as a response to the 1973 gas crisis and GM's first car designed using CAD technology. At one point, it nearly got a Wankel rotary engine, but it was too costly to pay for permission to use it and neither fuel-efficient nor reliable enough for the car. It was built on a rear-wheel-drive chassis and with enough room under the hood for Chevrolet's small-block V8. In 1977, Chevy launched the IMSA Monza GT race car-inspired Monza Mirage. Chevrolet commissioned BORT (British Overseas Racing Team) to create the package and then contracted Michigan Auto Techniques Corporation to install it for the minimum 8,000 orders expected. It was built with four, six, or eight-cylinder engines ranging in displacement from 2.3 to 5.7 liters. All 4,057 built came painted white with the blue and red stripes, but it's believed only around 30 survive.
The recipe of 70 horsepower from a 1.0-liter inline turbocharged three-cylinder engine in a rebadged Suzuki Cultus from the 1980s doesn't sound appetizing at first glance. However, it had a wheelbase of 88 inches, weighed 1,633 lbs, and if you enjoyed torque steer, it was a blast to drive. It cost $7,690 in 1987, which was too much despite the Chevy hot hatch spec added to it. It's not entirely clear how many sold, but those in the know have picked them up used, and made a few small modifications that turn it into a hilariously angry little autocross competitor.
In 1969, Chevrolet quietly offered a ZL-1 packaged Corvette featuring a 356-T6 aluminum version of the 7.0 V8 weighing 100 lbs less than the stock cast-iron engine. It was factory rated at 435 hp but made over 500 hp in reality and added a monstrous $3,010 to an already hefty $10,771 sticker price for the car. Between the lack of awareness it existed and the fact that, price adjusted to this day, it's the most expensive engine Chevy has sold, only three were built as a result. It's an incredibly rare beast, and 'beast' is the right word. It nailed the quarter-mile 11.2 seconds, which is exactly the same time that Car and Driver managed with the Challenger SRT Hellcat on street tires 45 years later.