If you’re into high performance Chevrolets—in particular, tire-shredding Chevelles, Novas, and Camaros—then you should really know about Don Yenko. Thanks to his efforts, some of the meanest Bowties of the 1960s screamed out of his Yenko Chevrolet dealership.

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to come across a Yenko/SC tribute car at a local car show and, if you’re lucky enough, you may even spot a legit Yenko Super Car. So let’s talk about Don Yenko and some of his contributions to the golden age of the American musclecar.

Who’s Don Yenko?

Stylized photo of Yenko SC Decal on the back of a vintage chevelle
Depending on who you ask, the SC either stands for “Super Cars,” a term used by Yenko himself, or “Sports Cars” in reference to the formal name of the company, Yenko Sports Cars. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

Donald Yenko was born in 1927 and went on to be a talented pilot in the United States Air Force. Once out of the service, Yenko began a successful racing career, resulting in four SCCA National Driving Champ honors. He parlayed his racing experience into a performance tuning shop, run out of his family’s Canonsburg, Pennsylvania Chevy dealership in the late 1950s.

While Yenko got his start hopping-up customer cars, as the 1960s dawned, he soon began prepping and selling his own Yenko-branded Chevys.

…And it started with a somewhat unexpected nameplate.

Meet the Stinger, Yenko’s Performance-Tuned Corvair

While intended for the race track, Yenko had to produce 100 of his Stinger Corvairs for public use to meet the SCCA’s homologation rules before being be approved for competition. (Image/1965 Yenko Stinger by Nathan Bittinger | CC BY 2.0)

Yup, while many gearheads immediately think of the fire-breathing big block-powered muscle cars that would come later, Yenko’s first off-the-shelf performance car was based on the Chevy Corvair.

Rechristened the “Stinger,” these hot-rodded, rear-engined coupes were able to get classified as sports cars and, once Yenko was able to produce 100 Stingers for public sale, they were properly homologated and permitted to run in the SCCA’s D Production class.

It was a winning recipe too: In 1966, Yenko-built Stingers took home several SCCA division championships.

1965 chevy corvair yenko tribute car
In addition to the Stinger, Yenko offered hop-up parts for standard production Chevy Corvair models, allowing owners to squeeze more performance out of their own cars. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

A Stinger began life as a six-cylinder Corvair Corsa, but the 100 Stingers Yenko assembled in its first production run varied considerably, offering a mix of engine tunes and exterior modifications. In fighting trim, Yenko was able to get the flat-six’s output up to 240 horsepower.

yenko tuned window decal on a vintage chevy corvair
Cars upgraded by Yenko were often awarded a sticker telling you of such. We spotted this one on the Corvair pictured above. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

But as the Corvair itself began to face some adverse headwinds, Yenko was at risk of losing a suitable candidate for his performance upgrades.

Good thing Chevy had an all-new car ready to hit showrooms in 1967…

Enter the Chevy Camaro

Blue 1968 Chevy Yenko SC Camaro
Yenko cars usually carry a unique stripe package, a special Yenko fender/trunk badge, and the “sYc” Yenko Super/Sports Car monogram emblazoned throughout. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Dave Fuller)

With the Corvair racing towards the sunset, Chevy introduced a more traditional front-engine, rear wheel drive coupe: the soon-to-be-legendary Camaro.

And with a GM corporate edict prohibiting any engine over 400 cubic inches from going into a midsize or smaller car, it gave Yenko a unique opportunity.

Since you could get a 396ci big block in a Camaro already, Yenko did some quick math and figured out how to stuff the then-new 427 under the Camaro’s hood.

big block 427 l72 engine in a yenko camaro, 1969
Since it was Yenko doing the engine swap instead of Chevy, buyers could circumvent GM’s 400ci displacement cap and order a 427-powered Camaro through the Yenko dealership. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

And not just any 427, Yenko used the Regular Production Order (RPO) L72 big block that had been reserved for the Corvette. The L72 engine made 425 horsepower—at its debut, it was the most powerful engine available in the Corvette.

For 1967 and 1968, Yenko had to do the engine swapping at his shop, but by 1969 he was able to get the L72 engine installed at the factory through Chevy’s “Central Office Production Order” program—which is better-known by Bowtie aficionados as the acronym COPO.

In essence, COPO allowed you to get engines that weren’t typically RPO options installed at the factory for certain cars. In the Camaro’s case, COPO order number 9561 gave you the fire-breathing L72 427.

And Yenko knew exactly how to work the system.


Savvy dealers could also get a Camaro fitted with the high performance ZL-1 aluminum race engine under COPO order 9560, resulting in the uber-rare 1969 Chevy Camaro COPO ZL-1. (You can read more about the 1969 Camaro ZL-1 here.)

rear quarter view of a 1969 yenko camaro copo 427 sc
Given that only about 300 were made in a three-year span, a legit Yenko Camaro is a rare and welcome sight at a car show. We spotted this one at the 2023 Goodguys Summit Racing Nationals in Columbus, Ohio. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

Those 1967-68 cars began as 396 SS models and in 1969, thanks to COPO, the Super Camaros had an options package curated specifically by Yenko—which included disc brakes, a Positraction rear end with 4.10 gears, heavy duty cooling and suspension bits, and other prudent upgrades. While predominantly available with the Muncie M21 close-ratio four-speed manual, a few Camaros left Yenko’s shop with a GM TH400 three-speed automatic.

Most Yenko Camaros were fitted with a set of American Racing Torq-Thrust Wheels.

interior of a 1969 chevy yenko camaro sc 427
The majority of the Yenko Camaros got a manual transmission, along with a more robust gauge package and basic black vinyl interior. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

All told, Yenko only made a little more than 300 of his eponymous Super Camaros from 1967-69, with a bulk of the production (201 cars) occurring in 1969.

But spoiler alert, Yenko didn’t just focus on the Camaro.

blue yenko camaro ss
While official Yenko-branded Camaro production ran from 1967-69, owners of later models could upgrade their Camaros with performance parts purchased through Yenko. Note the telltale fender badge here. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

The 1969 Yenko Chevelle

Remember GM’s corporate 400ci displacement cap? Well, that affected the mid-size Chevelle too.

So, for 1969 only, Yenko borrowed his recipe from the Camaro cookbook to develop a 427-powered Chevelle. And, better still, thanks to COPO, he was able to get Chevy to do the heavy lifting.

rear quarter view of a yellow 1969 yenko chevelle 427

Just as it had done for the Camaros, the COPO program meant that the Yenko Chevelles got their L72 427 big blocks installed at the Chevy plant.

COPO order number 9562 gave you that L72 and all of its 425 ponies. From there, Yenko worked some more tuning magic and installed some upgrades (namely long-tube headers).

close up of ysc logo on yenko chevelle headrests
The Yenko treatment carried over to the interior with the signature sYc monogram printed proudly on the headrests. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

Inside, the Yenko Chevelles got a more extensive gauge array and either a M21 Muncie or GM TH400 automatic, similar to the Camaro.

And again, America Racing Torq-Thrusts were the wheels that most Yenko Chevelles received.

Gold Yenko Chevy Chevelle SS 427
Just like the Camaros, Yenko Chevelles wore the signature stripe kit, along with Yenko and 427 badging fore and aft. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Matt Griswold)

Sadly, the Yenko Chevelle was a one-year only endeavor, and less that 100 examples passed through the famed dealership, with fewer in existence today.

Yet Yenko didn’t stop at the Chevelle…

A Pair of Yenko Novas

Given that he’d already perfected the whole 427-in-a-Camaro thing, Yenko looked toward its X-Body cousin, the Nova. Following the same path, Yenko dropped a L72 into the Nova in 1969 to create what is often referred to as simply the “Supernova.”

But by this time, Chevy had grown apprehensive about shipping 427-powered performance cars out its back door via the COPO program, and refused to do the swap in its factory.

Undaunted, Yenko took the job back in house, as he had done with the early runs of his Camaro.

Yenko Nova doing a wheel stand at Summit Motorsports park drag race
Big block or small block—in whatever flavor your choose, Yenko Novas are a popular choice for the quarter-mile crowd. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

The good news was, Chevy made a 396 big block available in the 1969 Nova, which meant that the cars received the requisite chassis and suspension upgrades for a Rat motor already.

Starting with SS396 Novas, Yenko plunked in the 427 and outfitted the cars in a similar fashion to his contemporary Camaros and Chevelles, which meant things like upgraded gauges, bigger brakes, and heavy duty suspension parts. But unlike the Camaros and Chevelles, a Muncie close-ratio four speed was the only transmission available on the 427-powered Yenko Supernova.

427 yenko chevy big block in a nova
Want to turn a Nova into a Supernova? Just add a 427 Chevy big block. (Image/Summit Racing – Mandy Longoria)

Given the extra work that went into each Nova’s engine swap, Yenko only managed to produce 37 or 38 of these cars (depending on who you ask). It’s estimated that less than 10 of these original cars exist today.

With only a few dozen ever made, seeing a 427-powered Yenko Supernova is a welcome sight at any event. (Image/Summit Racing – Mandy Longoria)

Then in 1970, with rising gas and insurance prices hastening the demise of the performance car, Yenko took a different tack. Instead of the 427, he shifted focus to the venerable 350ci small block—or more specifically the performance-tuned LT-1 350 found in Corvettes and Z28 Camaros.

1970 Camaro RS, Z28 350 LT-1 turbo fire engine
Chevy introduced the 350ci small block LT-1 engine in 1970, where it made 370 horsepower in the Corvette and was detuned slightly to become the 360 hp Z28 engine in the Camaro. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

This time, Chevy was on-board with the idea of an LT-1 powered Nova and gave Yenko the go-ahead to get the cars so-equipped at the factory via the COPO system. These 350-powered cars were nicknamed the “Deuce” as a nod to the Chevy II nameplate and again, offered similar options to the Chevelles and Camaros that Yenko had assembled in 1969. That included either a Muncie four-speed manual or GM TH400 automatic.

Even with the engine work handled by GM, Yenko was only able to crank out 175 Deuces for the 1970 model year, making them yet another rare subplot in the Yenko performance story.

Yenko Tribute Cars & A Lasting Legacy


As for Yenko himself, he sensed the end the muscle car era and found a suitable alternative project: turbocharging the nascent Chevy Vega.

Impressed with their potential, Yenko was able to get the Vegas equipped with stronger pistons through the COPO program, but growing emissions entanglements meant that the cars never got the turbo kits on the assembly line (though Yenko made the turbo available to customers to install themselves).

Despite it being Yenko’s best-selling model, with a few hundred Vegas being built, less than a dozen are said to exist today.

1969 chevy camaro ZL-1 COPO, 427 engine side
Many regard the aluminum block ZL-1 427ci engine to be the peak of factory GM performance efforts in the 1960s. And thanks to Don Yenko’s parts catalog, you could continue to get GM-approved versions long after the original Chevy production run ended. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

And after 1972, Yenko was out of the specialty car building game. His focus instead shifted to selling performance parts out of his own curated Yenko catalog—which notably included a GM-authorized version of the aluminum ZL-1 427 big block.

Yenko’s last major contribution to the performance world was the short-lived 1981 Camaro Turbo Z. It featured a turbocharged LM1 350ci Chevy V8 from the Z28 (hence the Turbo “Z” name), and less than 20 were ever built.

yenko convertible chevelle at summit motorsports park 2012
Though Yenko never offered a 350-powered ragtop Chevelle, thanks to aftermarket performance parts, folks can now build one themselves. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Matt Griswold)

It’s no secret that Don Yenko cast a big shadow in the Chevy performance world and as folks began purchasing parts out of the Yenko catalog, numerous tribute cars were built in his honor. In fact, nowadays it’s not uncommon to spot the iconic Yenko stripe rolling down a Camaro’s fender or the sYc logo printed on the headrests of a Nova.

blue Yenko camaro doing a wheel stand at Summit Motorsports park drag race 2
A Yenko-inspired stripe package is a familiar sight at dragstrips across the country. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

Better still, for decades, grassroots racers have been applying the Yenko style treatment to their drag cars too, as an enduring legacy to a man who knew how to find loopholes and work the system to build some of the most epic 427-powered muscle cars of the 1960s.

late model yenko camaro, rear
Want an authorized version of a late model Yenko Camaro? Talk to Ed Hamburger. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

But perhaps the best testament to Yenko’s prominent place in automotive history is the fact that Yenko-authorized performance cars are still being made.

Yup, Ed Hamburger (of Hamburger’s Performance fame) produces a range of late model Yenko/SC cars via his firm Specialty Vehicle Engineering—though you may be more familiar with the company’s old name, SLP and its high performance Pontiac Firehawks. From the Yenko Camaro to the Yenko Silverado, each of these limited-edition vehicles leaves the SVE factory with an arsenal of upgrade parts and, of course, the familiar sYc badging throughout.


Tragically, Don Yenko (along with three passengers) perished when the aircraft he was piloting lost control and crashed during a difficult landing in 1987.

Thankfully, the Yenko name endures through his legendary vehicles and the owners that care for them.

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Author: Paul Sakalas

Paul is the editor of OnAllCylinders. When he's not writing, you'll probably find him fixing oil leaks in a Jeep CJ-5 or roof leaks in an old Corvette ragtop. Thanks to a penchant for vintage Honda motorcycles, he spends the rest of his time fiddling with carburetors and cleaning chain lube off his left pant leg.