We first met Dan Bishop several years ago when he displayed one of his big-block Chevelles at the San Marino Motor Classic. Dan owns LS5 and LS6 versions of the 1970 SS454, both of which he shows often around Southern California. So we were sort of surprised when, at the 2018 SMMC, he told us he was looking at a Camaro to buy.
“A few years back, I decided I wanted to add a 1970 Chevelle L78 convertible to my inventory,” he explains. “I seriously searched for about two years, but could not find a car that was numbers-matching.”
Then, early last year, Dan got a text from Jim Mikkelson, a friend of his who owns an outstanding 1969 Camaro convertible (which we featured in our SMMC coverage last year). “Jim told me he had a lead on a L78 convertible, but there were a couple of caveats about the car,” Dan recalls. “First, it was in Tennessee. And second, it was a first-gen Camaro. But it was a L78 convertible. Come to find out it was a 1967 Camaro Indy pace car.”
Intrigued, Dan started researching the 1967 pace cars, “but I found out very quickly that there isn’t an abundance of documented information. I joined several Camaro forums, including the Camaro Research Group [camaros.org] and CamaroPaceCars.com.”
Dan was able to ferret out a few stats: “In 1967, 220,906 Camaros were manufactured. Of those, 25,141, or 11 percent, were convertibles. There were 1,138 Camaros with the L78 option, half of one percent. Through extrapolation, that means approximately 125 to 150 1967 L78 convertibles were produced.” As you’ll see later in this story, he wasn’t too far off.
“My next step was to find out how many 1967 Indy pace cars were produced, but this is when my research went off the rails,” he admits. “There is no definite number, only approximations that range from 100 to 300 or so.”
Pace Car Hierarchy
What complicates the issue is that there are different kinds of 1967 pace cars, and they fall into a definite hierarchy. With the help of Tom McGinnity and other members of CamaroPaceCars.com, we went into this in great detail back in our Aug. 2008 issue. We encourage you to dig out that issue or visit the website to get the full story.
The short version is this: At the top of the pace car heap are what’s known as the Camaro IPC Special Promotional Vehicles. These 81 Norwood-built cars were used at the Indy 500 in various capacities, from pacing the race (there was one car used on the track and two backup cars), to taking part in local events and activities around the Speedway during April and May 1967, to being loaned to celebrities, executives, and members of the press. These cars were outfitted with certain identical options, including special white paint (a story unto itself), Rally Sport equipment, 12-bolt rearends with 3.31 gears, manual convertible tops, and a blue stripe around the nose to complement the blue-lettered pace car door decals. Most of these cars were powered by the SS model’s 350 V-8 and a Powerglide transmission, although a few—including the track car and its backups—received 325hp big-blocks and TH400 transmissions. The IPC Special Promotional Vehicles had vinyl numbers stuck to the back of their rearview mirrors, and that’s how pace car enthusiasts identify the individual cars: No. 92, for example, was the Camaro that paced the race.
Next in the hierarchy are pace cars that were ordered by Chevrolet zone staff and dealers. While not part of Chevrolet’s official order for event-related cars, these are “considered real and legit pace cars and are all easily identified by their trim tags,” Tom says. The tag on the car Dan was looking at matched this “second-tier” batch of pace cars.
Unlike the IPC cars, these pace cars could be ordered with any combination of options, which is how this one came to have a 375hp engine and Muncie M21 four-speed.
“Dealers had a one- to two-week window to order a car in this configuration,” Dan adds. “It was sort of like the COPO system. You had to be in the know to order one.”
Dan would later learn through a NCRS report that this Camaro was ordered by V.V. Cooke, a Louisville, Kentucky, dealership with a long history of selling high-performance Chevys. “Considering this, it would be a foregone conclusion that V.V. Cooke would order a pace car with the L78 option,” he says, “and since the car was built in the fourth week of April, they would have had plenty of time to take the car to Indianapolis for the race activities, though we have no proof of that.”
While in the thick of his research, Dan received several emails with photos of the Camaro from its seller, Jim Brannon. “By this time my interest in the car had skyrocketed, since the owner indicated it was a numbers-matching, 1967 L78 M21 four-speed Camaro pace car. My best guess is that there was just a handful of these cars produced.”
That impression was echoed by Tyler Collins, who had undertaken a three-year, frame-off, rotisserie restoration of the car. In an eBay listing for the Camaro (where it did not sell), Tyler noted that he had owned “at least six 1967 Indy pace cars. I knew what this car was, and it deserved to be finished to the highest standard.” He described the Camaro as “ultrarare” and said it was “one of only two known listed in the registry and the only one with the fleet code.”
The little that’s known about the car’s history comes from Tyler. As he wrote in the listing, “I found the car in a small city close to Indy where a retired Air Force pilot had bought it while he was in the service. When we found the car it was apart and a roller, but it came with all the important stuff (original block with the broach marks, transmission, rearend with the factory square traction bar, and very nice original door panels).The factory cowl tag, which has never been removed from the body, was still intact, and most of the parts were still with the car, as it had been off the road since the late 1970s.”
Tyler replaced the rear quarter-panels, but otherwise the Camaro’s sheetmetal is original. He installed all-new date-coded glass, a power top, and a tilt column. “Other than that the car is factory correct in every sense of the word.”
Motivated by the emails and photos he’d received, Dan and Jim flew to Nashville and spent two and a half days poring over the car, checking every number that they could (even the hidden ones) to verify its authenticity. Once satisfied that it was the real deal, Dan bought the car and arranged to have it shipped to California.
“A few things needed to be completed on the car before it was shipped,” he recalls. “There was a paint chip on the driver’s door at the door handle, and the correct alternator needed to be located and shipped with the car, as well as the original RPO N30 Deluxe steering wheel, and the Deluxe seatbelts.”
When the car arrived a couple months later, Dan says it was obvious that the repaired door chip was blended, a fix that wasn’t of high enough quality for the concours events he planned to enter. Fortunately, a quart of the paint Tyler used for the restoration came with the car, so Dan had the door stripped and repainted.
“Now a matching door decal had to be located,” he says. “I learned very quickly that there are significant variations of the reproduction decals. The decal I needed was the one with screen-printed bright lettering manufactured on a single sheet of vinyl. I bought three sets from Stencils and Stripes in Illinois. No one really wanted to install the decals, so Jim and I did it ourselves. The first decal application was a learning experience, the second was a success.”
Dan’s research into the car’s history continued after its purchase. This is when he received the NCRS report with the info about V.V. Cooke being the selling dealership. It’s also when he got something of a nasty surprise.
“As I scoured the archives of Yenko.net, I discovered a post from the restorer from 2009, where he indicated that he had just acquired the car from the previous long-term owner in Indianapolis. The post was requesting some parts and a motor! The car I had just purchased as a ‘numbers matching’ rare L78 Camaro pace car had no motor when the restorer acquired the car. Had I been duped? Should I have stuck to what I knew in Chevelles?”
For two more days Dan says he “frantically searched the web looking for any info on the motorless ‘numbers-matching’ car.” That search yielded a short post by a Yenko.net member with the handle rare4K dated January 1, 2010: “I have the block and it is for sale!” The post mentioned other parts, like pistons, rods, a timing cover, and a distributor.
Dan wrote to rare4K via Yenko.net, got no answer, and decided to send a text to the phone number listed in the 9-year-old post. As it turned out, Phil Bate still had that number.
Phil is one of those dedicated enthusiasts with a deep and granular knowledge of a very specific niche in our hobby: those 1,138 1967 Camaros with a 4K on their cowl tags that indicates they were built with L78 engines. Phil has a registry of 4K Camaros (see sidebar) and for a time hosted a Camaro forum called the L78 Fan.
In 2008 he spotted an online ad for a L78 short-block that was for sale in Seminole, Oklahoma. A year or so later, he was able to “marry” that block with its original pace car home by selling it to Tyler. How the car and engine were separated is one of the mysteries that Dan has yet to unravel.
To the unexpert eye, the Camaro looks concours-ready. Dan says he’s still trying to find a correct starter—“the one in there is out of a ’69 big-block Corvette,” he says—and he is hunting for a Harrison radiator tag with a UN code. We first saw the Camaro at the Hot Rod magazine 70th Anniversary show in Pomona, though Dan will “officially” debut the car at the 2019 SMMC, no doubt with Jim Mikkelson’s Camaro nearby.
At a Glance
1967 Camaro Indy Pace Car
Owned by: Dan Bishop
Restored by: Tyler Collins, Nashville, TN
Engine: 396ci/375hp L78 V-8
Transmission: Muncie M21 4-speed manual
Rearend: GM 12-bolt with 3.31 gears
Interior: Bright Blue vinyl bucket seat
Wheels: 14-inch Rally
Tires: FR70-14 Coker Firestone Super Sport Wide Oval redline
Home of the Rare 4K
“I knew about 4K Camaros before anyone knew what they were,” Phil Bate tells us, his experience with the rare 375-horse 1967 Camaros going back to “1987, 1988.” He has a registry dedicated just to 1967 L78 cars, and in it he has plotted all kinds of data about the cars, the engines, and the components used on the engines.
“I have broken down all kinds of things on the spreadsheet, the two different blocks used, the two different square-port heads, even things like a breakdown on colors, which cars had RS equipment versus bug-eyes. There were more Rally Sports than bug-eyes on 4K cars.”
Of the 1,138 4K Camaros that were made between March and July 1967, he has documented 285 of them. By his records, less than 100 of the 4K Camaros were convertibles, meaning Dan’s estimate of 125 to 150 wasn’t too far off. Of those, “50 to 60 percent” were pace cars.
Phil owns a super-rare 4K Camaro, one with a three-speed manual, bench seat with standard upholstery, 4.10 gears, and just 9,700 miles on the odometer. “It was a race car from day one,” he says, and is in the midst of a lengthy restoration. Its original engine is back with it now, after Phil located it in Hawaii. He says he has “married a lot of cars that way,” finding the engine, getting its numbers, and then reaching out to locate the car it goes with. That’s how the original engine wound up back in Dan’s pace car.
You can reach Phil by email at L78cars@gmail.com.
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