Rare Mega Muscle – Dennis Albaugh’s 1969 Camaro ZL1
There’s little doubt that the Camaro is one of history’s most revered muscle cars, and that among all Camaros the 1969 model remains one of the most popular. It seems fitting, then, that Goodguys is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Camaro in spectacular fashion with the Summer of ’69 display at the 22nd PPG Nationals, July 12-14 in Columbus, Ohio.
Over 130 1969 Camaros will gather, from ultra-rare COPO and Yenko examples, to some of the most influential custom builds to come from the hot rodding community through the decades. We’re giving you a sneak peek at a few of those iconic Camaros that will be joining the display – next up is Dennis Albaugh’s pristine 1969 Camaro ZL1 that won top honors in 2015 claiming the Goodguys Muscle Car of the Year title.
Designed to honor an all-original or restored factory-correct muscle car of superior quality, Goodguys Muscle Car of the Year Award is all about getting back to our automotive roots. Dozens of cars are considered each year for this award, with some pretty rare ones making appearances at events all over the country. In 2015, one of the rarest of the rare showed up at the Heartland Nationals in Des Moines, Iowa and ultimately stole our hearts and the minds of the selection committee. Though there were a number of amazing finalists for the award by the end of the year, it was this car, an original 1969 Camaro ZL1 owned by Dennis Albaugh, which took the top honors, winning Goodguys 2015 Rocket Racing Wheels Muscle Car of the Year.
Albaugh is no stranger to the collector car world, currently owning several coveted Chevy Camaros of the rarest varieties, but his completely restored #23 Camaro ZL1 is one of the rarest, and ultimately one of his favorites. His collection of GM vehicles in Ankeny, Iowa is one of the largest in the world.
One of just 69 original 1969 Camaro ZL1s, fewer of which have survived the test of time, Albaugh’s factory Dusk Blue ’69 has been restored to feature all the goods Fred Gibb Chevrolet equipped it with back in the day, including one of the original all-aluminum GM 427ci ZL1 V8s commissioned through the Central Office Production Order program to be fitted in a select few very special 1969 Camaros.
One from the original round of Camaros produced by Chevy with the ZL1 upgrade in mind, this particular Camaro, car #23, was sent from GM to Fred Gibb Chevrolet in March of 1969 to undergo its ZL1 conversion, like a number of other Camaros. After Chevrolet released the price point for the upgraded cars, however, Gibb went back to GM and ultimately pleaded for them to take back some of the cars he had already converted as he didn’t expect the cars to sell. Chevy agreed to take back some of the cars and #23 was returned to GM in May, along with a number of other converted cars, to be redistributed to Chevy dealerships around the country. Eventually, #23 ended up at Lafferty Chevrolet, where with a price point far exceeding the asking price of a standard Camaro, and even more than the price of a well-equipped Corvette at the time, the car remained on the lot for over a year before it was sold.
Sold by Lafferty on August 10th 1970, the #23 Camaro went on to the drag racing circuit, where it was raced through 1977– a typical but unforgiving life for such a rare production vehicle. Fortunately, the car saw the last of the drag strip long ago and was returned to what Chevy and Fred Gibb intended for generations to enjoy.
Now fully restored to its original ZL1 specifications thanks to noted COPO expert Barry Burnstein, car #23 features everything that Fred Gibb Chevrolet put on the car 47 years ago, including all of the “High Performance Unit” upgrades like a specially ducted hood, posi-traction rear axle with 4.10:1 gears, a 4-speed close-ratio Rock Crusher Muncie M21 transmission, and of course, a vintage, all-aluminum 427ci ZL1 engine. This isn’t the car’s original engine, as its extensive racing history, much like that of many COPO and ZL1 cars from back in the day, ultimately voided the car of its original engine early on in its life with a number of rebuilds and modifications done over nearly a decade of drag racing. Luckily, another original ZL1 engine was found and purchased for the car – the original all-aluminum V8 from car #41 to be exact – in preparation of restoring the car back to its original ZL1 specs. It is with this engine that this very special Camaro ZL1 lives on in historically correct form. Attached to that classic ZL1 powerplant is the obligatory heavy-duty radiator, Holley carburetor, aluminum heads, transistor ignition system, and chrome valve covers that came with the ZL1 upgrade, as well as the standard dual exhaust.
Underneath, the car is fitted with correct 14-inch color-keyed wheels with dog dish hubcaps wrapped in original F70/14 Goodyear Polyglass white letter tires. Other historically-correct equipment featured on the car include “High Performance Unit” heavy-duty springs and power front disc brakes. The Camaro even retains its factory-correct Dusk Blue paint scheme.
One look at the interior of the car and you’re instantly transported back to 1969. Like all of the Fred Gibb-modified cars, the #23 Camaro features all black vinyl upholstery wrapped around bucket seats in the front and a split bench seat in the back. True to its bare-bones racing origins, the car also maintains its original dash with minimal instrumentation and the basic stock steering wheel with a Chevy bowtie emblazoned in the center.
Impressively documented with the original shipping report from Fred Gibb Chevrolet, Protect-O-Plate and notarized letter attesting to the car’s history and the mere 630 original miles on the odometer from the original owner of 30 years, car #23 is one of the rarest and most valuable Camaros in the world today. A true piece of automotive and racing history, this car has been certified by the COPO Connection, as well as received a score of 995 points out of 1000 at the Classic Chevrolet Club meet, attesting to just how magnificently restored this rare Camaro is.
One of the nicest and rarest cars we’ve had the pleasure of seeing, Dennis Albaugh’s 1969 Camaro ZL1 is what the Muscle Car of the Year award is all about!
Photos by Marc Gewertz