An Average Man’s Supercar
By Jerry Heasley
The COPO Camaros of 1969 are well known. And who hasn’t heard of a Yenko Camaro SYC (Yenko Super Car), also a first-generation Camaro with a 427 under its hood? But what has been said about a 4K Camaro in the muscle car magazines? And what exactly is a 4K Camaro?
Richard Kuhn, an electrician from central Kentucky, knows much about 4K Camaros. He calls himself “just an average guy” and relates well to the 4K as “an average man’s supercar.”
While “you had to be in the know to get a Yenko or a COPO,” Richard says, anybody could get a 4K. He refers to the 375-horse 396 Camaro. Option code L78 was on the order form for everybody to see and select; the 4K code was stamped on the car’s trim tag. So, how many people took advantage of this ’67 model and its solid-lifter big-block? The production figure well known among what Richard calls the Chevrolet “supercar crowd” is 1,138.
This figure is low to begin with before discounting the cars driven to their untimely ends. How many are left is anybody’s guess. Richard’s estimate is 250, or about 50 more than the number of Yenko Camaros built in 1969.
In reality, the COPO 427s and Yenko SYCs used the same top end as the L78. During the Camaro’s first model year most Yenko 427 Camaros started out as L78 models, though early Yenko Camaros started life with 350ci V-8s. Richard says that Don Yenko “would put a 427 short-block in there and use the heads, intake and distributor off the 396. In some instances they switched the whole engine. That’s my understanding.”
As I stood at the 2011 Forge Muscle Car Show (in Sevierville, Tennessee) looking over Richard’s amazingly plain Ermine White ’67 Super Sport Camaro coupe, he pulled out a June ’10 issue of Muscle Car Review. He showed me a sidebar titled “’67 Super Camaro VINs.” Richard pointed to his VIN on this list of cars taken from “Yenko inventory sheets and/or owner’s documentation” released by Tim Lopata — the man who was putting on this very muscle car show. Was Richard trying to tell me his SS396 Camaro was a Yenko?
The answer is not really. He has learned from shipping records kept by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) that Chevrolet shipped his Camaro to Jackshaw Chevrolet in Euclid, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. Jackshaw was in the same zone as Yenko. Whether or not a dealer swap landed this car at Yenko Chevrolet in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, is a question Richard is still researching. No matter; Yenko did not convert this L78 to a Yenko Camaro. Perhaps Richard can answer this question by contacting the original owner. He is still filling in blanks in his car’s provenance.
“I can get back to the third guy from me, and then I run into a brick wall,” says Richard. “His name was Clyde Ranck from Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.”
Richard bought the car in 1995 from a man in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. The seller told him he “had always heard the car was bought new and put on the drag strip.”
With a factory radio block-off plate, Richard’s ’67 looks like a likely candidate for a drag car. However, he explained that he actually added this “without radio” feature (the official factory nomenclature) to his car. He said he wanted to “plain Jane” it even more. He says, “It had bumperettes on the back, too. I took them off. I like a stripped-down base car, and that’s how I show it.”
This ’67 coupe, sporting white paint, blue vinyl bucket seats, and a floor-mounted shifter (without a console) for the M21 close-ratio four-speed, has very little flash. One has to wonder if the owner would have even added the Super Sport package had Chevrolet not made this option mandatory with the L78.
Whoever ordered the car new had the wisdom to add power front disc brakes. With this much horsepower, the ability to stop becomes even more important than acceleration. The original buyer also added power steering, making the car much easier to navigate the streets.
The odometer showed a mere 25,000 miles. Richard was elated with the purchase. He wasn’t after a 4K Camaro at the time. He knew he wanted a ’67. His first car was a ’67 Camaro. “I bought it when I was 15 years old, drove it for years. Sold it for $600. I wish I had it back,” says Richard.
Richard’s hero growing up was Bill Jenkins. The Grump “swept the 1967 Super Stock Nationals” behind the wheel of a ’67 Camaro 396 coupe, Richard recalls fondly.
Richard also wanted a big-block. He looked at a few possibilities. Most of the ’67-model big-blocks he located for sale were ex-drag cars. “They had the dash cut out of them, fiberglass windows, that kind of stuff,” says Richard. “I found this car for sale near Philadelphia. I flew up to look at it. It didn’t have a set of brakes on it, so I couldn’t even drive it. He did start up the motor. The motor sounded good, so I bought it.”
The Camaro needed paint and interior work. The sheetmetal was “good” with original floorpans. A previous owner had installed new quarter-panels. The car was in such good condition that Richard did not want or need to strip it to do a frame-off restoration. He farmed the paint out to Jerry Beasley from Hazel Green, Kentucky. Richard says, “Everybody in the Chevelle circle knows him. He does great work.”
He takes his Camaro to what he calls “invitational shows,” such as the Forge. He also drives his SS Camaro on cruises. He attends local car shows as well. He says, “I enjoy taking long trips out of state maybe once or twice a year.” To keep the car show-worthy for the cognoscenti who enjoy viewing this historic 4K masterpiece, Richard trailers his Camaro.
On first look, people recognize the Camaro is a sporty pony car, very desirable and collectible. On second look, they notice the SS396 status, making this ’67 a muscle pony car. If they investigate further, they get to the 4K stamped into the trim tag on the cowl.
A “4L” stamping would denote a Z/28 on the ’67 Camaro. “4N” would denote a 325hp 396. “4K” denotes the L78 396.
Richard was lucky to find a ’67 big-block Camaro, and even luckier to find one with an original, numbers-matching block. “My car has the born-with engine,” he says. GM’s Tonawanda plant stamped the engine code (“MQ” on the L78) followed by the last six digits of the VIN into a pad on the top front of the block.
Richard says, “People in the Camaro circle also say that’s the real McCoy. My engine builder, an ex-Super Stock racer, says it is not a restamp.” He refers to Sherman Gerlach, a Division 3 Super Stock racer from the early days. Richard considers himself fortunate, indeed, for counsel from Gerlach. “He ran with Jenkins, Sox, and all those guys. He has taught me a lot about these cars,” says Richard.
Yes, there were hotter first-generation Camaros, but none with higher performance that were available to what Richard calls “the average man.”
Interestingly enough, Grumpy Jenkins’ Super Stock championship car, which is still kicking around these days, was a white, base L78 coupe. Richard says, “His car was white, a base car, and that’s what mine is.”
AT A GLANCE
1967 CAMARO SS396
Owned by: Richard & Debbie Kuhn, Danville, KY
Restored by: Owner
Engine: 396ci/375hp L78 V-8
Transmission: 4-speed M21 close-ratio manual
Rearend: 12-bolt with 3.73 gears and Positraction
Interior: Standard vinyl bucket seat
Wheels: 14x6 Rally
Tires: F70-14 redline
Special parts: 4K L78 option, F-41 suspension