In the late 60s, automakers were more than happy to build low volume production models with absurd performance to win on the track and improve brand image, but there were some places even they wouldn’t go. GM drew the line when Don Yenko asked for help to build the ultimate Chevy Nova, a car that looked stock but was powered by one of Chevy’s most powerful engines.
What’s a Yenko?
Impressed by the handling of the Corvair, Don Yenko got the SCCA to approve “The Stinger, ” a stripped-down version built at his dealership. This success led to the creation of modified Camaros and eventually a whole line of high performance cars from the Pennsylvania Chevy dealer. Built with a combination of in-house modification and creative use of the GM’s Central Office Production Order (COPO) system, these “Yenko Super Cars” offered turn-key high performance in a near-factory package. The cars retained a stock look aside from a unique stripe treatment with “Yenko S/C” on the sides and “sYc” on the front end.
What’s so Special About the Nova?
The Nova was Chevy’s small car, and its platform was used as the basis for the Camaro. That made it lightweight, cheap, and easy to modify. Yenko wanted to sell Novas fitted with the L72 427, a high output version of the big block that was usually found under the hood of Corvettes. GM refused to fill the order despite selling Yenko other cars with the engine. He got around this by ordering 396-equipped cars, chosen for their upgraded brakes and suspension, and fitted them with the 427 on site.
In interviews, Don Yenko has called the Nova “the craziest thing I ever built.” With 450 hp on tap, the car could reach 60 mph in five seconds and quarter mile times were in the high 10s.
The Nova Today
The 427-powered Camaros may be the most famous Yenkos, but the rarity and performance of the Novas make them more desirable. The L71-equipped Nova was offered for just one year, and of the 37 built, between 6 to 10 are thought to exist today. With the current craze for muscle cars, sale prices have gone through the roof: restored cars have been offered twice in the past three years, and both times the final auction price has approached $500,000. That puts this outrageous tuner car up there with the most desirable factory cars of the era.
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