The cars nearly bankrupted him, but if Fred Gibb is known for anything among Chevrolet performance enthusiasts, it’s for convincing Chevrolet to fit the storied all-aluminum ZL1 427-cu.in. V-8 into a handful of Camaros, thus creating one of the fiercest and fastest cars on the dragstrip. This past weekend, the first of those cars hammered at Mecum’s Spring Classic auction in Indianapolis for $400,000, a figure some are already calling the deal of a lifetime.
Gibb, who had been selling Chevrolets in the town of LaHarpe, Illinois, since 1948, didn’t embrace racing as a means to selling more cars until Herb Fox, one of his salesmen, bought a 1967 Camaro Z/28 and introduced Gibb to Dick Harrell. The next year, Gibb began to use his contacts at Chevrolet to order special cars through the Central Office Production Order system, starting with a small fleet of L78/TH400-powered Chevy IIs. Those sold well, so the next year, Gibb went all-out and pulled some strings at Chevrolet to have the ZL1 – developed for Can-Am racing and not slated for production use – installed in 50 1969 Camaros. The first of those 50 Gibb reserved for Fox to race with the Gibb and Harrell names lettered across the sides. According to Mecum’s description:
The first and second ZL1 Camaros arrived at Fred Gibb Chevrolet covered in snow on New Year’s Eve, 1968. It was so cold the cars would not start and had to be towed off the transporter. The first car was immediately sent to Dick Harrell’s Kansas City, Missouri, shop, where Harrell readied it for its scheduled debut at the 1969 AHRA Winternationals three weeks later at Phoenix. Piloted by Gibb Chevrolet employee Herb Fox, the car served notice on its competitors that trouble lay on the horizon when it beat the two top qualifiers before losing in the semi-final to eventual winner Arlen Vanke’s Barracuda. The most alarming part of the day for the Mopar contingent came when Fox eliminated Mr. Four-Speed himself, Ronnie Sox, in the Sox & Martin Hemi Barracuda.
Harrell demonstrated the car’s performance for Super Stock magazine in February 1969, turning 10.41 at 128.10 MPH with the stock Holley 850, and 10.29 with dual 660 Holleys on a Weiand tunnel-ram. The Gibb-Harrell ZL1 Camaro then barnstormed the country, racking up victories in both AHRA and NHRA competition. In 1971, the car was converted to the new AHRA Pro Stock rules and driven by Jim Hayter, who set the AHRA Pro Stock record of 9.63 at 143 MPH and won the AHRA Championship in both Super Stock and Pro Stock.
Afterward, the Camaro languished in semi obscurity until Bill Porterfield located, purchased, and restored it in the 1980s. As for the ZL1, it wound up in just 69 total Camaros and two Corvettes, and documented ZL-1-equipped Camaros – sans Gibb Harrell and Fox provenance – have sold for as much as $800,000 in the past.