The Phantom Prototype

Words by Rick Rothermel - Photos by John Miller

Some cars just shouldn’t even exist.

That’s probably the case with the Hugger Orange ’69 Yenko Camaro shown on these pages. It survived its original duties as a COPO development car and then was used to establish the proper order for the Yenko assembly run. By normal GM standards at that point the car should’ve been forklifted, piled with other used-up test cars and fed to the Tech Center crusher, never to be seen or thought of again.

Instead it somehow made its way to Yenko Chevrolet in Cannonsburg, Pa., surviving whatever use the dealer had for it. At some point it was sold, and after that the screen goes dark for a few decades.

In the early nineties the car was discovered by a Tennessee car-guy, Jimmy Owens. Jimmy, a locally famous Chevy-faithful drag racer, traipsed through a junkyard and found a hurtin’ orange ’69 Camaro, and thought he’d found the bones of his next drag car. It’d been pounded, hit hard in the passenger side A-pillar, totaled and left for dead, perhaps even once again destined for a trip to the crusher.

Jimmy struck a deal, dragged the hulk home, and started planning his next hot rod. Then a closer look at the car and the paperwork stopped him cold. Jimmy knew a LOT about Camaros, and was well aware of the early-90s COPO and Yenko auction frenzy. His paperwork said this car was gold.

He did his own research, verified his suspicions, probably sat back and smiled a bit, and eventually went to talk to his buddies at the bank.

They listened, agreed with his vision and eventually mortgaged the cost of a full-on restoration of one of the rarest Camaros ever found. In his down-home weekend get-togethers Jimmy told his friends that the car would fund his retirement.

Soon the car was blown apart and new and NOS parts were gathered for the project, all in a devoted garage on the Owens property in Hartsville. Work slowed somewhat because of the death of one of Jimmy’s sons, but eventually he was back at it, working every evening re-animating the rare treasure he possessed. Sadly, one evening Jimmy suffered a severe heart attack and passed away.