We’ve been writing about hot rods long enough to know that every car has a story. Whether it’s a storied past, a list of legendary achievements, an elaborate transformation, or some other backstory, there’s always an interesting tale behind the metal and glass.
Some cars have more stories than others.
Probably none more than Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins’ original Grumpy’s Toy IV 1968 Camaro, which was recently resurrected by Dale Carvender and Vicki Bolla of Pittsburgh, PA. We caught up with Carvender and Bolla at the NorthEastern Ohio Camaro Club Fall Classic at Summit Racing, where we got to hear the story.
Carvender and Bolla stumbled on the historic Camaro purely by chance.
They were searching online for a new project car when they noticed an advertisement for a Grumpy Jenkins-built 1967 Camaro. Though often referred to as a “1968,” Grumpy’s Toy IV is actually a 1967 Camaro and was one of the first Z/28s ever produced. It was originally delivered to Penske Racing for use in SCCA competition; however, it never saw the track. The Penske team had parts of the car acid-dipped to reduce weight, but this also significantly thinned the metal and compromised the structural integrity. Chevrolet engineers feared the car would break during the twists and turns of a road course.
But straightline drag racing was a whole different story — at least in the mind of Grumpy Jenkins.
Already well known for his engine-building skills, Jenkins joined the Chevrolet racing team in 1967 and was looking to build a new Super Stock race car. He had heard about the acid-dipped Camaro now collecting dust at Penske and decided to buy it. He eventually converted the ’67 into a 1968 Camaro (hence, the 1968 references) by adding ’68 Camaro door glass, trim, and other pieces.
Jenkins won several championships with the car between 1967 and 1969, but 1970 was the year Grumpy’s Toy IV really earned its place among drag racing lore.
A new decade brought changes in NHRA.
The first sanctioned Pro Stock race took place in 1970, and Grumpy’s Toy IV earned the honors of being the very first winner in the class. The ground-breaking Camaro made a 9.99-second quarter-mile pass, making it the first production car to break the 10-second barrier. Following its brief, history-making run in NHRA Pro Stock, the famed Camaro was sold to another racer and eventually sat neglected in upstate New York.
But the impact Grumpy’s Toy IV made on the Camaro brand cannot be understated.
After Grumpy Jenkins’ success, the Camaro became one of the most coveted performance-oriented cars on the market. Grumpy’s Toy IV inspired legions of hardcore Camaro fans, including Dale Carvender.
When Carvender and Bolla saw the advertisement for a “Grumpy Jenkins-built Camaro” in upstate New York, they decided to roll the dice and buy it sight unseen. When they arrived in New York to retrieve their new purchase, they discovered significant damage to the roof and front-end. The car had been sitting next to a building that caught fire, and pieces of the building actually fell on the roof and front-end of the historic car.
This restoration job would require lots of bodywork — and even more investigative work.
Although Carvender was convinced his newly acquired Camaro was Grumpy’s Toy IV, he and Bolla went to great lengths to confirm the car’s identity once and for all.
“We contacted Wayne Guinn, who wrote (the book) Camaro Untold Secrets — you might even have it,” Carvender said. “His father was on the Penske team when they owned the Camaro and he knew a lot about it. We brought it to him to look at and he knew it was Jenkins’ car right away.”
Carvender and Bolla continued their research on the car’s history, so they could restore it to as close to Grumpy’s specifications as possible. That meant repairing the severely damaged roof and replacing the missing front sheetmetal. To get the car back to its “fighting weight” of the 1960s and 70s, Carvender had the new front sheetmetal and deck lid acid-dipped. The process reduced the weight of some of the sheetmetal pieces by as much as 30 pounds, according to Carvender.
They found more confirmation that the car belonged to Jenkins during the restoration. After stripping away its paint and primer, they found “Grumpy’s Toy” and the car’s familiar 777 etched into the metal. They found similar clues on the inside door panels and on the glovebox and even noticed faint outlines from original decals on the car’s exterior. In fact, Carvender used those outlines to replicate the original sticker placement for restoration.
While at the NEOCC Camaro Show, Carvender was happy to point out several other subtle clues that helped confirm the car as Grumpy’s Toy IV.
The shape of the wheel openings and locations of a few dings on the bodyline are an exact match to old 1960’s-era photos from the track. The current roll bar configuration is an exact match to Grumpy’s setup in another photo. The yellowed paint on the underside of the car is a telltale sign of the acid-dipping. He even pointed out a hole in the firewall that allowed Grumpy to run a choke cable from the cockpit to the distributor, so he could manually retard ignition timing.
“There are a lot of things I could show you on the car that you would only know if you had the car,” Carvender said.
The original subframe, roll cage, transmission, leaf springs, steering components, headers, distributor, ignition, and brake lines are still in the car. However, the engine was missing so Carvender and Bolla built a new 427-cubic-inch engine with many period-correct components from Grumpy’s hey day. It was outfitted with GM Snowflake cylinder heads and a set of original Dominator carbs from Grumpy Jenkins himself.
Following Jenkins’ death in 2012, Dick Williams, the executor of Bill Jenkins’ will, affirmed that Carvender and Bolla’s Camaro is the original Grumpy’s Toy IV.
And the legend lives on!