Highlights of the 2019 Carlisle Chevrolet Nationals


SOURCE: HOTROD NETWORK 2019

Carlisle Events’ 19th Chevrolet Nationals was nothing short of a high-octane celebration of all things from the Bowtie brand, extending the passion to other four-wheeled General Motors favorites as well. Boasting a show field of nearly a thousand, a robust swap meet, a burnout contest, and a rip-roaring autocross circuit, there was a ton of action on the ground and, new this year, in the air. A star attraction was the Bandit Jump, performed by the Northeast Ohio Dukes stunt team. As the name implies, the group of daredevils took a Pontiac Trans Am, gussied it up like Burt’s beloved getaway blocker, and proceeded to launch it high off a ramp. After soaring some 30 feet up in the air, it slammed back down to earth, traveling a total distance of 120 feet. Driver Ray Kohn gave the thumbs-up indicating he was OK, and the crowd cheered.

Shifting gears, another popular highlight was found under the massive tent of the Hurst Showcase. This display featured a roundup of Hurst-equipped vehicles and seminars throughout the weekend by several of the employees who worked with the famed aftermarket supplier. One notable speaker included Hurst engineer Don Glover, who in November 1967 penned the design for the original Hurst/Olds badge. Miss Hurst Golden Shifter, Linda Vaughn, was also onsite, thrilling fans and enthusiasts.

Making a happy coincidence, next year’s show will mark the 20th edition of the event, which promises to be even bigger and better. Clear your calendars now; it’ll take place on June 26-27, 2020.

The Solid Lifter Showroom drew big crowds all weekend to Carlisle’s Building Y to see restored, original, and in-process examples of Chevrolet’s top-tier performance cars.

Solid Lifter Showroom
No visit to the Chevy Nats is complete without a spin through the Solid Lifter Showroom, now in its 11th year. Assembled by Brian Henderson and his crew at Super Car Workshop, and joined by friends at Super Car Restoration, the display boasts some of finest and rarest classic Chevy performance vehicles.

“One of the staples of the exhibit has always been no barriers or stanchions,” says Henderson. “The last thing we want is for spectators to feel like they’re walking into a zoo. We want them to be welcomed and interact with the vehicles and owners.”

Another exclusive hallmark is the ability to gaze underneath these topnotch builds. Two lifts allow a pair of vehicles to be shown in the air, giving guests the rare opportunity to inspect the chassis and other components that are seldom, if ever, visible. “I’m just as proud of how much work we put into these undercarriages,” says Henderson. “It’s nice to be able to show it off.”

Vehicles taking part in this SLS came from around the country and Canada. They ranged from just completed multiyear builds to untouched, surviving legends.

Henderson also likes to inject added interest by inviting top authors and subject-matter experts to come in and participate, too. This year, Charlie Morris was on hand to talk about Ford’s high-performance efforts, while I gave several seminars detailing Chevy’s surreptitious COPO program. [The author of this story, Matt Avery, also wrote  COPO Camaro, Chevelle & Nova: Chevrolet’s Ultimate Muscle Cars, available from CarTech Books.—Ed]

You never know what to expect when you pass through the SLS, and Henderson, with creative wheels always turning, likes it that way. “Even after 11 years, we still have fresh ideas,” he says.

This year Carlisle’s Chevy event also included the Hurst Showcase, with Hurst-equipped vehicles, seminars by former Hurst employees, and an appearance by Miss Hurst Golden Shifter herself, Linda Vaughn.

The teams from the Super Car Workshop and Super Car Restoration display vehicles in the Solid Lifter Showroom so you can examine their restoration handiwork. In the foreground is the 427 and front suspension from the in-process restoration of Don Martens’ ZL1 Camaro, while on the lift—where you can get up close to all the accurate assembly-line resto details—is Tommy Kusmiesz’s just-finished COPO Camaro.
Kusmiesz’s Dusk Blue X11 car was sold new through the performance department of Wallace Chevrolet in Linden, New Jersey. It bounced around to a couple of owners before landing in Kusmiesz’s hands late last summer. The car was in the middle of being restored and was completed just weeks before its debut at the Solid Lifter Showroom.

As a teenager, Don Martens could always be found at Diney’s Drive-In in Cleveland. “It was the place for hot cars.” Sometime in the summer of 1972, a certain Marlene and her pal, Jill, caught his eye. It wasn’t their looks that drew his gaze but rather their rides. “Both girls drove Camaros with Cragars.” While Jill cruised in her SS350, a looker in black paint with a red hockey stripe, Marlene drove a somewhat plain silver Camaro. “Rumors persisted it was a 427 car,” which turned out to be true—the Camaro was indeed one of the very rare ZL1s. Ordered by dealer Fred Gibb but returned and reassigned to Merollis Chevrolet in Detroit, the car was stolen and stripped before it was sold. Marlene was driving it with a Corvette 327 underhood. In August 1976, Martens bought it from Marlene and drove it for a year before putting it into long-term storage. Over the years he amassed a huge collection of N.O.S. parts and other related goodies for the car’s eventual restoration, which the Super Car Workshop began in May 2018. The final product will debut at this year’s MCACN show. That’s Martens second from right, talking to fellow SLS attendees about some of the treasures he’s collected.

This 1969 COPO Camaro was sold new right in the Motor City, being ordered by Jim Funston Chevrolet. The first owner, Bill Wilson, sold it to James Binkley in October 1971. Binkley kicked things up a bit, adding traction bars, cheater slicks, and other go-fast parts. It became a weekend warrior, running regularly at Detroit Dragway and turning mid-11s on a good night. In 1977, he sold it to a family friend; and after nine more subsequent owners, the Camaro made its way to John Quinones in 2003. It has been a lifelong dream of the enthusiast to own a COPO car, and over the past couple of years he has had Super Car Workshop restore the rolling legend. An unveiling is planned at this year’s MCACN.

Don Yenko got 99 of the 1969 Chevelles that received double COPOs (9562 and 9737). Another three slipped out to other dealers, including Dave Frendel’s Cortez Silver example. He bought the car in 2016 after searching for years for one of the special machines. While the Chevelle had been restored, Frendel has stayed busy upping the car’s authenticity. “I’ve swapped out incorrect hoses and parts like the dipstick and alternator bracket to make sure it’s as right as possible.” The Chevelle was sold new at Bob McDorman Chevrolet in Canal Winchester, Ohio. Previous owners told Frendel that the car’s original owner wanted an L78 Chevelle but somehow left that day with the one equipped with the L72 427. While at the SLS, Frendel received a special gift. “Another enthusiast, Mark Kickle, found the McDorman newspaper ad with both the L78 and the COPO Chevelles listed. It’s what the original owner saw that led him to the dealership for that day of car shopping.”

 

In addition to his COPO Camaro, Tommy Kusmiesz also had the hottest hauler on display, a 1969 El Camino SS. The car was sold new in sunny Southern California and stayed there for most of its life. Kusmiesz bought it in 2014. Under the hood is a 325hp 396 V-8 paired to a M20 four-speed transmission. Inside the cabin are creature comforts like air conditioning, power steering and brakes, and bucket seats. A white vinyl top was originally installed at the factory, but a previous owner removed it. Liking its looks, Kusmiesz had one put back on, along with other slight updates such as the correct carburetor, air cleaner, and smog equipment.

Grady Burch purchased his 1969 Chevrolet Nova SS in 2006. The cool little coupe was sold new at Lyle Chevrolet in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and, despite the years in the icy Midwest winters, remained rust-free. Part of that can be attributed to little driving; Burch got it with a mere 8,400 miles on the odometer. While it hadn’t been stored well and a few dents were visible, he at first was going to leave the car alone, but eventually decided on a full overhaul. “It was a toss-up, but it just wasn’t good enough to leave as a survivor,” Over 2007-2008, a restoration was completed with the focus on saving as much of the car’s originality as possible. The interior is all original, including the rubber floormat, save for a small piece of vinyl on the lower front seat. Also original are the L78 engine, rearend, and wheels. The transmission was missing when Burch, the car’s fourth owner, got the Nova, but he did track down a correct service replacement CT M22.

Phil Wojnarowski’s1969 Chevelle was bought new in Cleveland and, despite packing some serious muscle, was never put to the test. Besides coming with the 396ci L78, it was then given the super rare L89 option, which swapped out the heavy cast-iron cylinder heads for lighter aluminum heads. In spite of all of this potential, it was never raced, pulling family errand duty instead. Still, the father of the house couldn’t bear to be last in the carpool lane and added additional performance options. He purchased the cowl plenum air cleaner as an over-the-counter part from the dealership and had his friend, a machinist for the Chevrolet Parma Stamping plant, install it. Not a lot of miles were put on the numbers-matching, Tuxedo Black beauty, but the time in the Midwest tundra did take it’s a toll. A full restoration commenced in 1987, and Wojnarowski purchased it in the fall of 2017. The interior is all original.

A young Paul Rissi of Grand Rapids was the original owner of this Rally Green 1969 COPO Camaro. In the fall of 1969, Rissi headed down to Berger Chevrolet to trade in his tired 1965 Catalina, which had seen its fair share of street racing. While Berger processed many of the now-legendary L72-equipped-Camaros, when Rissi got there he had just two color options, the other being Hugger Orange. That one had a vinyl roof, and Rissi wasn’t a fan. He opted instead for the green machine, purchasing the vehicle for around $3,600, less a couple hundred for the Catalina’s trade-in. Wasting no time, aftermarket parts were installed to make the Camaro go even faster, like headers, traction bars, and additional gauges. Rissi did return the car to Berger to install valve-stem seals and to fix a paint defect. Other than that, he used the car every day and raced on occasion. In 2006 he recruited Supercar Specialties in Portland, Maine, to do a full restoration. The car’s current owner, Tim Schell, bought it in 2018.

On a crisp fall day in September 1968, John Hawk strolled into Wantz Chevrolet in Taneytown, Maryland, to buy the heaviest car with the most horsepower. He ordered a white-on-white Impala SS427 convertible, but instead of getting the Impala’s usual 390-horse 427, he wanted the L72 that packed 425 hp. The car arrived in November, and for the next 14 years he enjoyed the muscled-up droptop. It was passed to a couple of other owners before landing with Les McNally, who lived in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He owned the car through 2019, selling it to Jeff Boone just weeks before the Carlisle show.

 

Marc Chezepock isn’t afraid to use his 1969 Chevrolet Biscayne, driving it down from Toronto, Canada. The big brute was ordered new by Ed Carpenter, who worked at the Buick Assembly Plant in Flint, Michigan. While the L72 underhood wasn’t in any sales brochure, Carpenter, being an employee, was on the inside track and knew of these off-radar options. He enjoyed the car for a few years before selling it to drag racer Dick Ross. The sleeper, dubbed the Quarter Pounder, was his family’s grocery getter in more ways than one. On Saturday nights he’d make a quick buck on unsuspecting street racers, cash that was then used on Sunday to buy groceries. Chezepock bought the car first in 2007 and then again in 2015. The original engine is long gone, but underhood is a 454 place-holder until an LD 427 is completed and installed.

No doubt celebrating some independence from cramped life aboard ship, a young serviceman named D.A. Hodges Jr. bought this 1969 Yenko Camaro on July 3, 1969, from Colonial Chevrolet in Norfolk, Virginia. Like the majority of Don’s cars, this Fathom Green one came armed with a COPO-provided L72 V-8, a BE 12-bolt rearend, 15×6 Atlas wheels, and all the proper striping and badging. Initially, this car’s life was smooth sailing, but eventually doldrums rolled in and Hodges grew bored. He returned to Colonial and traded in the Yenko for a 1970 LT1 Corvette. The Camaro was then purchased by Lenwood Toler from New Bern, North Carolina, and then bounced around to a handful of other speed-seeking enthusiasts throughout the 1970s. Finally, it landed in Rodger Styke’s possession in 2011. Over the next five years a comprehensive restoration was performed by Ricky Smith Restorations in Ararat, Virginia.

Garry Thomson brought his 1969 Chevy Nova down from Hamilton, Ontario, which isn’t far from where the hopped-up hauler was sold new, being processed through Toronto’s Belmont Chevrolet. Thomson bought the car in December 1978 and, for a number of years, drove it daily from his apartment to the body shop where he worked. After a while, he began taking it apart before relegating it to long-term storage. Finally, in 2005, he embarked on a full restoration. The process was completed in 2016. A pleasant surprise occurred at the vehicle’s debut at a show in Toronto. “An inquisitive spectator recognized the car and kept asking questions,” recalls Thomson. “It turns out he was the salesman.”

Albert Galdi’s 1969 Chevrolet 300 Deluxe is far from being numbers-matching, but that’s OK. It’s nothing but a pure dream ride. “If I could go back in time, this would be the car I’d order,” he says. He purchased the vehicle in 2010 from a seller in Minnesota. “The older gentleman never drove it in bad weather, so it stayed in the garage mostly.” The Chevy was a humble little 38,000-mile machine, packing a six-cylinder engine and Powerglide transmission. The stock powertrain came out, and in its place went a newer-style 427ci, ZL1 engine block equipped with date-correct components like 074 cylinder heads and a 198 intake. The car breathes through a cowl plenum air cleaner and chambered exhaust. Galdi also decided the factory Frost Green paint would have to go. “It just didn’t have any pop.” He found his preferred pizzazz in a 2012 Kia color called Alien Green. “The car has my three favorite things: it’s a Chevelle, a post sedan, and has a ZL1 engine.”

A spunky 16-year-old kid named Larry Taylor purchased Skip Lecates’ 1969 Camaro Z/28 from Emrich Chevrolet in Manchester, Pennsylvania. He wisely always had another car to drive daily, which preserved the Z. Taylor also went above and beyond in his meticulous care of the car. “When the original battery went bad, he bought another Y77 battery,” explains Lecates. “He put the original back in the box and stored it on a shelf.” That kind of extreme attention to detail paid off. When Lecates bought the car from Taylor in 2014, it was still in fantastic, survivor condition. As such, everything down to the hoses, tires, and clamps are all original. “Few sporty cars like this survived without living a rough life,” says Lecates. Taylor seldom drove his Z. A 1978 lube sticker in the doorjamb indicated the car had 21,200 miles. Today, it’s got just 21,681. The Camaro was judged at the 2015 MCACN and became the first solid-lifter car to attain Time Capsule status.

 


Bandit Jump
The Northeast Ohio Dukes stunt team paid homage to Burt and the Bandit by staging this jump on the Carlisle show field. Don’t worry, purists, the car that was used for the stunt was a cobbled-together Pontiac made to look in much better shape than it really was. If you’ve ever wondered how a car really looked at the end of a movie-stunt jump, check out the final frame in the sequence. Driver Ray Kohn gave a thumbs-up after landing.


Hurst Showcase
Nestled within the Chevy Nationals was a familiar sight but new to this event: the Hurst Showcase. The display and gathering has been held over the past several years in conjunction with the Carlisle Chrysler Nationals, but in effort to mix things up, it was put with the big Bowtie show.

“Hurst had its hands on all of the domestic brands back in the day, but GM was the largest brand it interacted with,” explains Ed Buczeskie, who is the Event Manager for the Hurst Showcase. “It just made sense.”

This year, 14 Hurst vehicles were displayed, ranging from an original-owner 1969 Hurst/Olds to a modern 2017 Camaro SS Hurst Edition. Cars participating came from the local Pennsylvania area and from as far away as New Jersey, Ohio, and South Carolina.

Throughout the weekend, engineers and team members who worked for Hurst gave seminars, with the highlight being an employee roundtable, where the discussion centered on how the third-party engineering firm went from designing components to full-blown vehicles. The vivacious Linda Vaughn, Miss Golden Hurst Shifter herself, was on hand, too, participating in the discussions and signing autographs.


Camaro Bikes
A special exhibit within the SLS was the Huffy Camaro Bike display. During the 1960s, it wasn’t just GM cranking out metal machines with the Camaro nameplate, but Huffy Bicycles, too. The collection of seven Camaro bikes all came from Rick Smith. Quite poetically, he traded a 1968 Camaro door shell for his first in 1986 and hasn’t stopped adding to the collection of pedal power since.

The bikes weren’t licensed by Chevrolet, and production stopped sometime in the early 1970s.

 

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