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Muscle Car Dealers



In the performance minded 1960's, anyone could walk into a dealership and buy some serious muscle right off the showroom floor. But there were always a few dealers that would offer much more, for the right price. Their creations would take the muscle car to a new level of performance, and excitement. Here is a sample of some of the top performance dealerships of the muscle car era, arranged by make.


CHEVROLET


Baldwin-Motion

Berger Chevrolet

Dana Chevrolet

Fred Gibb Chevrolet

Nickey Chevrolet

Yenko Chevrolet



DODGE


Grand-Spaulding Dodge



FORD


Tasca Ford



PONTIAC


Royal Pontiac





Chevrolet



Baldwin Motion


Baldwin Motion was actually a partnership between Long Island's Baldwin Chevrolet and Joel Rosen's Motion Performance speed shop. In 1966, Joel Rosen approached the management of Baldwin Chevrolet with the idea of the dealership selling muscle cars customized by Motion to eager buyers. A partnership was born and the first Baldwin-Motion car was sold in 1967. The modifications were called "Phase III" and were available on the "Fantasic Five" - Corvettes, Camaros, Chevelles, Biscaynes, and Novas. Camaros were the most popular. Almost any performance upgrade was available, including 427 Camaros and eventually 454 Camaros without outputs from 450 to 600 bhp. The business grew as word spread and by 1971, Baldwin-Motion began modifying the Vega and doing a huge export and mail order business. The party was shut down in 1974 when the Federal government ordered an end to the customized car business. Motion Performance thus switched to only selling "off road use" parts packages and keeping up the export business. Motion Performance still sells performance parts today at its same location on Sunrise Highway on Long Island, New York.


Berger Chevrolet


Berger Chevrolet, located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, took a different approach then the other high performance dealers. Although Berger did a few conversions, they specialized in factory super cars, which made up nearly 20% of their sales. In 1969, Berger Chevrolet received as many as 50 COPO Camaros and another six COPO Chevelles. Berger also featured a strong parts department that even carried other GM parts such as Pontiac or Oldsmobile performance parts. Although the performance market died in the mid 1970s, Berger Chevrolet is still in business at its original location on 28th Street in Grand Rapids.


Dana Chevrolet


Located on Long Beach Blvd in South Gate, Los Angeles, Dana Chevrolet led the muscle car craze on the West Coast. Dick Guldstrand (who later would gain prominence with his involvement with the Corvette), oversaw the development of the Dana 427 Camaro. Like Yenko, Dana started with a 1967 Camaro SS350, and replaced the 350 with a 1966 spec, 425 bhp L72 427. Numerous options were available including Traction Master traction bars, and race suspension systems. Even the Corvette's L71 435 bhp 427 engine was available.


Fred Gibb Chevrolet


Fred Gibb of Fred Gibb Chevrolet in La Harpe, Illinois, is best known as the father of the ZL-1. Fred Gibb Chevrolet started racing with a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro and through numerous drag race wins, built up a reputation as a high performance dealership. By 1968, Fred Gibb was doing 1 to 2 396 and 427 engine sways at the dealership per week. In addition, Fred Gibb Chevrolet sold about 50 COPO Nova's with 396/375 engines and a few 1969 COPO 9561 Camaros.

But it was the 1969 Camaro ZL-1 which would ensure Fred Gibb's mark on muscle car history. A close friend of Chevrolet's Vince Piggins, Fred Gibb helped develop the concept of the ultimate Camaro packing an aluminum 427 - the ZL-1. Chevrolet liked the idea, but wouldn't approve it unless it was guaranteed to sell 50 cars. Fred Gibb proclaimed that he could sell 50 cars himself, at a projected price of $4,900.00. So the concept was rushed to the assembly line. The first two Dusk Blue ZL-1 Camaros (COPO 9560) arrived at the dealership on December 31, 1968 exactly as specified. Another 48 cars were then delivered in March, 1969. One problem though - the sticker price was not $4,900 but rather a startling $7,269, nearly double the price of a cast-iron 427 Camaro (COPO 9561). The high cost was due to a new GM policy that stated that instead of the auto manufacturer absorbing most of research and development cost associated with specialty vehicles, it would be passed on to the cost of the vehicle, driving up the cost of the COPO 9560 option from an estimated $400 to $4,000. Knowing that there was no way that he could sell 50 Camaros at this price, Fred Gibb successfully convinced Chevrolet to take 37 of the cars back, re-invoice them, and re-distribute them to other high performance Chevrolet dealers. This was the first time the factory ever allowed a dealer to return cars. Fred Gibb was able to sell 13 ZL-1 Camaros, and an additional 19 ZL-1's were built and sold by other dealers, resulting in a total production run of 69 ZL-1 Camaros.


Nickey Chevrolet


Nickey Chevrolet, based in Chicago, was perhaps the biggest factory performance sales and service shop anywhere, anytime. Founded in 1925 by Edward and John Stephani, Nickey Chevrolet grew to a huge 200,000 square foot facility in the 1960s that boasted the largest inventory of "Genuine Chevrolet High Performance Parts." Nickey Chevrolet began its high performance parts business in 1957 and immediately went racing with some success. Their "Purple People Eater" Corvettes became famous and soon everyone knew that Nickey was spelled with a backwards "k". Nickey specialized in engine swaps, and dropped 427s in late '60s Camaros and soon turned to Nova's and Chevelles with 427s or the Z/28's 302 V8. The 454 was added in 1970 and any other part was available through Nickey's extensive parts department.


Yenko Chevrolet


Perhaps the best known of the high performance dealers was Yenko Chevrolet, based in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, roughly 25 miles from Pittsburgh. A sucessful racer, Don Yenko first dipped into the performance market in 1965 with his "stinger" Corvairs. Next came the first Yenko Super Camaro in 1967 which was a Camaro which had its 350 pulled out and the Corvettes L72 427 engine dropped in, along with other heavy-duty hardware and performance upgrades. Yenko did the same for 1968, but started with a Camaro SS396. In 1969, Yenko was able to order factory built COPO 9561 Camaros with 427s installed at the factory. With special stripping and badging, the Yenko Camaros were real eye-catchers. But Yenko didn't stop there, and also ordered CORP Chevelles which came with 427s from the factory. But his wildest creation was the Yenko Nova S/C which featured a dealer installed 427 engine. The Nova actually was the lightest of the three vehicles and had the best weight distribution so were actually the fastest of the Yenko Super Cars. Just a few were sold, as they were so fast (0-60 in 4 seconds) that they were downright dangerous. In retrospect, Yenko remarked that "this probably wasn't the safest car in the world." In 1970, high insurance costs reduced the market for super cars and Yenko only offered his Yenko Deuce, a Nova with the LT-1 350 from the Corvette rated at a stout 360 bhp. About 200 were built, as they could be insured as a 350 Nova. For 1971, Yenko only offered a Stinger Vega and the performance era was officially over. Yenko, and three passengers, were tragically killed when his Cessna 210 crashed in West Virginia on March 5, 1987.



Dodge



Grand-Spaulding Dodge


Located in Chicago, Mr. Norm's Grand-Spaulding Dodge was the home of Dodge performance during the muscle car era. "Mr. Norm," alias Norman Kraus, along with his brother Lenny, started a used car lot next to their father's gas station. After specializing in late '50s stick shift performance cars (they used the line "Call Mr. Norm" in their classified ads and the name stuck), they were approached by Dodge to open a new car dealership. They initially passed, but when they heard about the Max Wedge performance cars, they agreed and opened the dealership in October of 1962. Their advertising was targeted at the young performance fan, and they created the "Mr. Norm's Sport Club" to fuel the fire. Sales doubled each year for the first seven years and by 1966, Grand-Spaulding Dodge was the biggest performance Dodge dealership and by 1972, Dodge's largest dealer. A second location in Buffalo Grove soon became the number two Dodge dealer. Grand-Spaulding Dodge led Dodge's performance efforts. In 1967, the dealership started selling Dart's with the 383 big block, something that Dodge had said couldn't be done. By basically coping Grand-Spaulding's modifications, Dodge was able to introduce a 383 Dart by late 1967. Then, Grand-Spaulding Dodge began offering Darts with 440 engines, the so-called "GSS" conversions. In 1969, Dodge began to offer its own 440 Darts. One car that Dodge did not follow suit was the 1972 Demon GSS with its supercharged 340. It's 13.9 second quarter mile was evidently more performance than Dodge wanted to offer. Unfortunately, Grand-Spaulding's dependence on the high performance market, as well as allegations of odometer tampering on used cars, made it vulnerable when the performance era ended in 1973 and the dealership closed its doors in 1975.



Ford



Tasca Ford


Tasca Ford still operates today at its original location on 777 Taunton Avenue in East Providence, Rhode Island. The premier Ford performance dealer during the muscle car era, Tasca Ford entered the performance market in 1961 when Bob Tasca formed a special high-performance division. Early projects included a 427 Thunderbird in 1965 and a "505" Mustang, which featured 505 bhp and supposedly inspired the Boss 302 Mustang. Tasca's personal driver in 1969 was an 11-second Mustang. But most impressive were Tasca's drag racing cars, first a 1962 406 Galaxie, and then a 406 equipped Fairlane (supposedly the inspiration of the factory 1964 Thunderbolt). In 1966, Tasca Ford debuted its Holman-Moody built "Mystery 9" Mustang, which quickly changed names as its et's dropped. By 1969, Tasca was running a fuel funny car, but that strayed away from the "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday" mantra. By 1963, upwards of 60 high performance cars (40% of total sales) were being sold each month. Tasca also sold the first Shelby AC Cobras in the Northeast. But Tasca will be remembered as creating the inspiration of the Cobra Jet 428. It all started when Tasca reworked the standard 428 Police Interceptor with reworked heads and a 735-cfm four-barrel Holley carb and dropped it into their 1967 Mustang GT coupe. They called it "KR" for "King of the Road" and word soon reached Ford management. They decided to offer the new 428 from the factory but passed on the Tasca name (The "KR" label was actually used on the CJ-powered GT 500 Shelby Mustang) and labeled it the "Cobra Jet" which saved Ford's performance image on the street. But the performance era would soon end, and Tasca actually switched over to Lincoln-Mercury in 1971. But it switched back in 1994 and the home of Ford performance lives on.



Pontiac



Royal Pontiac


Ace Wilson Royal Pontiac, based in Royal Oak Michigan, carried the performance banner for Pontiac. It all began with Pontiac adman Jim Wangers, proposed the idea of dealer-supported performance programs. Pontiac management would allow only one dealer to be a guinea pig, Royal Pontiac was chosen because of convienence. With factory support, Royal Pontiac sucessfully campaigned a 1959 Catalina in NHRA drag racing and then triumphed on Super Duty Monday, Labor Day in 1960, when Super Duty Pontiacs won three major competition events in three different locations. Sales of performance cars and parts escalated from there and Royal Pontiac created the Royal Racing Team for their fans which quickly grew to 55,000 members in just two years. In 1965, Royal mechanics developed the idea of sealing the Tri-Power's three air cleaners in a "pan" that that sandwiched a large foam gasket against the underside of an opened-up hood scoop. This package became an over the counter dealer option from Pontiac in 1965 and debuted as Pontiac's full force Ram Air engine option in February 1966. Along with parts, Royal also offered conversion kits. Early examples included a Paxton-supercharged "Royal Grand Prix" in 1962 (one built) and a hopped-up four cylinder "Tempest Tiger." Then came the first "Royal Bobcat," a big Catalina with all of Pontiac's hotest parts, including a Tri-Power 421, various tuning tricks and tweaks, distinctive paint, and Bobcat identification (made from the "CAT" leters from the Catalina and two "B"s and the "O" from the Bonneville. Royal became the leader in modified Pontiac's and Wangers continued to turn to Royal for all cars prepped for races or the press (including the infamous GTO vs. GTO Motor Trend car - which, by the way, had a 421). At its peak, Royal was selling over 1,000 Bobcat conversions a year, including GTOs, big 2+2s, Bonnevilles, Grand Prixs, and Firebirds. In 1968, Royal started dropping in 428 engines into GTOs and Firebirds, against GM rules, but similar to the shenanigans performed by Don Yenko and others. But in 1969, Ace Wilson decided he had enough and sold his Royal Racing Team to Leader Automotive, run by John DeLorean's brother George. In 1974, Wilson sold his dealership to pursue a land development deal and the Royal era came to an end.








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