The Yenko name still packs a punch in the muscle car market

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1969 Chevrolet Yenko Chevelle Mecum

For Ford freaks, a Shelby of some sort is always on the wish list. Sure, any aficionado would like a Cobra, but most would gladly settle for a GT500. Yenkos, the equivalent car for the Chevy faithful, have a similar effect. Like Carroll Shelby, Pennsylvania’s Chevrolet dealer-turned-racer Don Yenko took a Big Three pony car into the shop, hooked it on steroids, then turned the resulting creation loose in small batches to racers and general speed devotees. 

As we see time and again in the classic car hobby, limited production and high performance usually translate into dollar signs. And there’s another thing Shelbys and Yenkos have in common. Those names carry weight in the larger automotive community—not just among high-end collectors. There’s also a thriving market for clones, tributes, and continuation cars that appeal to folks who can’t quite buy the real thing. Not everybody gets to have a Yenko; but everybody wants one. When the real thing does come to market, it’s an event. That goes for all Yenkos, too, because Don didn’t just build Camaros. He also worked his witchery on Corvairs, Chevelles, and Novas, all of which command a serious premium over their factory counterparts.

Yenko Chevrolet first opened in 1934, but the second location in Canonsburg, southwest of Pittsburgh, opened in 1949. Don, the son of founder Frank Yenko, was born in 1927 and did not immediately go into the family business. Instead, he joined the Air Force and studied at Penn State, finally coming back to the dealership at age 30. He started racing Corvettes shortly thereafter and had considerable success in the SCCA in the early 1960s. After Cobras and Mustangs became the cars to beat, though, Don shifted his attention to a different Chevrolet.

These were still the pre-Camaro years, so Don was drawn from Corvettes to the smaller, lighter Corvair Corsa. After the Yenko shop frantically put together 100 modified Corvairs in a single month in 1965, the SCCA homologated the stripped-down and thoroughly tweaked Corvair, called the Yenko Stinger, for its “D Production” class.

1966 Chevrolet Yenko Stinger front 3/4
Mecum

When the Chevy finally did introduce its own pony car in 1967, Don shifted his attention yet again. GM’s 400 cubic-inch displacement limit handicapped the Camaro’s performance, leaving Hemi-powered Mopars and big-block Fords to rack up wins on the drag strip. There was demand for a 427-powered Camaro, but in 1967, you couldn’t go buy one. 

So, Don gave the people what they wanted even if Chevrolet wouldn’t. The hottest Camaro available from your neighborhood Chevy dealer was the SS 396 L78 rated at 375 horsepower. Yenko’s L72 427 Super Camaro made 450. Big difference. Heavy-duty suspension, 4.10 Positraction differential, a fiberglass hood, and plenty of Yenko badges rounded out the package.

Yenko kept it up in 1968, and the next year Don convinced Chevrolet to drop the 427 in at the factory, saving him the time, energy, and cost of doing the swap himself. Other in-the-know customers could order a 427 Camaro from the factory via the COPO program as of 1969, and other dealers like Dana Chevrolet in California and Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago did similar builds; but Yenko’s cars remain the most well-known and the most sought-after. Sources vary on the exact number of Yenko Camaros built, but it was likely a little over 50 in 1967, a little over 60 in 1968, and around 200 in 1969.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro Yenko S/C
1969 Chevrolet Camaro Yenko S/C RM Sotheby's
1969 Chevrolet Camaro Yenko S/C
1969 Chevrolet Camaro Yenko S/C RM Sotheby's

1969 Chevrolet Camaro Yenko S/C
1969 Chevrolet Camaro Yenko S/C RM Sotheby's

In addition to his Super Camaros, Don followed a similar recipe with the 1969 Chevelle, ordering about 100 of the roughly 350 427-powered COPO Chevelles produced by Chevrolet. Rising insurance rates and stricter emissions regulations marked the end of the Yenko Camaros and Chevelles, but one Yenko that did make it into the 1970s was the Nova-based Yenko Deuce

The Yenko shop first built 427-powered Novas in 1969 and sold less than 40 of them; the Yenko Deuce was something a little less terrifying. Fitted with the 350-cu-in solid-lifter LT1 available in the Corvette and found in the Z/28 Camaro, the Yenko Deuce also got power front disc brakes, anti-roll bars, heavy-duty suspension, 4.10 Positraction differential, a hood tach, SS wheels, Yenko badges and stripes, and either an M21 four-speed or an automatic. After 1970, Don experimented with a turbocharged Chevy Vega called the Stinger II, but that car came to nothing and, after the Yenko Supercar program ended, the dealer went to selling performance parts.

Five decades on, the Yenko name counts for much on the collector car market. Aside from a few ultra-rare Corvettes and other GM unicorns, Yenkos are among the most valuable cars with a Chevy badge and have been for some time. Starting with the least expensive Yenko, though, a Stinger in #2 (excellent) condition is currently worth $42,400 in the Hagerty Price Guide. Examples have sold for more, but that’s already nearly three times as valuable as the Corvair Corsa upon which the Stinger is based and nearly $14,000 more than a 1969 Monza convertible, the next-most-valuable Corvair in our price guide. 

As for Camaros, the most valuable classic Camaros of all are the ’69 cars fitted at the factory with the hand-built all-aluminum ZL1 engine. They carry a #2 condition value of $608,000, but Yenko Super Camaros are next up with #2 values of $378,000 for 1967, $374,000 for 1968, and $250,000 for 1969. By comparison, a 1969 COPO Camaro with the same engine and same condition carries a $140,000 value. An SS 396/375hp, meanwhile, isn’t even worth 60 grand in #2 condition.

1969 Chevrolet Yenko Nova
1969 Chevrolet Yenko Nova Mecum
1969 Chevrolet Yenko Chevelle
1969 Chevrolet Yenko Chevelle Mecum

When it comes to Chevelles, Yenkos carry the highest value, coming in at $245,000 in #2 condition, which is just ahead of a 1970 SS 454/450hp LS6 Convertible, the next highest. For Novas, meanwhile, the king of the hill is the 427 Yenko Nova at $399,000, followed by the Yenko Deuce at $109,000. That said, Mecum did sell a ’70 Nova with an aluminum-head L89, possibly the only one in existence, for over 200 grand back in 2013. Otherwise, a 1970 Nova SS 396/375hp L78 is next most valuable with a #2 value of $80,700.

Like many muscle cars, Yenko prices fell significantly following the 2008 recession and currently aren’t far off from where they were nine years ago after a gradual recovery. Over the last five years, however, high-performance Chevrolet muscle values have held relatively steady. While we can’t tell you what they’ll do in another nine years, Yenkos’ reputation and performance should keep them at the top of the pile—or, at least, very close to it.

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