by Denise L. Clumpner
Lynn Yenko is no stranger to speed and power. She is the next generation of a name every serious muscle car fan in the world associates with performance, and these days lofty prices on the auction block. Mention the name Yenko, and you get everyone’s attention.
Lynn is the daughter of Yenko Super Car creator Don Yenko.
During the early 1960s, Don raced Corvairs at the annual 12-hour Marlboro event and he knew that the Corvair was going to be redesigned in 1965. Yenko had made valuable contacts with GM administrators early on, participating in the GM dealer’s son program (which encouraged input and ideas from dealers’ sons) and he felt that the only way to remain loyal to Chevrolet was to build his own car. Chevrolet agreed to help, and the result was a high performance version of the 1966 Corvair named “Stinger,” which Don raced and sold.
Special features were offered through a little known program through GM called COPO (Central Office Production Order) normally used to satisfy special orders from non-performance fleet-buyers. Yenko used COPO to offer exclusive options, and Don’s then 11-year-old daughter Lynn remembers stuffing envelopes with promotional flyers that introduced the new Yenko Stinger to all Yenko authorized dealerships and also muscle car enthusiasts.
Excited performance fans snapped up the cars, painted in Encino white and sporting blue stripes. The Stinger was available through negotiations with Don’s dealership in Canonsburg, PA to a network of dealers including the famous Nicky Chevrolet in Chicago.
About the same time the Stinger was launched, so was a book which criticized the Corvair called “Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile” by Ralph Nader, a political activist, author and attorney. The book accused automobile manufacturers of offering comfort options over safety, and one entire chapter of the book was dedicated to bashing the Chevrolet Corvair.
Ralph Nader became a household name, but the Corvair was eventually discontinued.
During this time, Don Yenko realized he would need to redirect his talents, and focused his energies on the Camaro. 1967-68 Camaros were offered with 410 and 450 h.p. 427 c.i. big blocks installed at Yenko’s dealership. 1969 would bring about the COPO Camaros, with the 427 engines installed at the factory to save money. Lynn remembers being “promoted” to gassing up muscle cars, striping cars and applying the now-famous Yenko decals on the Camaros.
Lynn has many great memories of working at her father’s dealership, traveling with him to races, acting as his timing crew, and attending other GM and dealership events. Don raced in the U.S. and internationally, and one story Lynn shared was about being in Le Mans, France, with her father for a race.
After spending hours on a Corvette trying to make it race-ready, the track was not open and they were forced to test the car (which wasn’t street legal) in the traffic. Lynn was on the passenger side, unrestrained, and they were stuck in a long line of traffic. Don was worried that the car was overheating, and took a quick left. They were struck by a car, and the front of the fiberglass Corvette was destroyed. Don rushed over to help the family in the other car, noting they had a baby with them and not realizing Lynn had been injured. Lynn remembers being loaded into a French ambulance (she had a head injury resulting in stitches) while her father was detained for a time by French police until they could retain an interpreter. Once it was determined he was a race car driver, no charges were pressed and he was released to participate in the race. The car was fixed in time, but due to politics, he was not allowed to run.
Some of Don’s famous co-racers included comedian Dick Smothers and actor Paul Newman. Don also had special publicity visits from astronaut Alan Shepard and actor James Garner; Garner took a victory lap with Don after a race in Oklahoma, after which Garner had dinner with Yenko and his racing crew.
An unknown fact to many is that Don was also a professional jazz pianist. Lynn says he enjoyed entertaining in the hotel lounge before and after races, and in the early days of racing for Gulf Oil, a piano was flown into the paddock for Don to play in between races. He said it helped him to relax.
Sadly, Don Yenko perished while piloting his own airplane on March 5, 1987, at Charleston, W.Va., airport. The man who brought performance fans the Yenko Super Cars was gone.
Lynn Yenko has vowed to continue the Yenko legacy, and was instrumental in planning a special Yenko Reunion of all Yenko muscle cars at the Mecum Corvette Nationals at Rosemont, Ill.. It was there that the decision was made to design a commemorative Yenko to honor Don’s contributions to racing and muscle car conversions. With the help of Nicky Chicago, a Yenko prototype was built to honor the 45th anniversary of the Camaro and the 25th anniversary of Don Yenko’s passing.
The car was built from a 2012 stock Camaro SS 45th anniversary edition platform, and boasts an LS3 6L V-8 engine, custom dyno tuned to 427 h.p. at the crank and features Yenko billet valve covers and lines, Roto Fab cold air intake/ported intake manifold, custom chambered exhaust, 160-degree thermostat, high performance spark plugs, with super-conductor spark plug wires, and a six-speed manual transmission with a 3.45 ratio rear axle rated to achieve 0-60 mph acceleration in 4.6 seconds.
Other performance features include Peddlers lowering coils to help maneuver tight curves on the road or track, and sublet aligned wheels and tires. Visual pleasures include custom painted Torque Thrust wheels with Yenko center caps, Yenko door sill plates, black custom Yenko stripes on hood, Yenko 25th anniversary badges on rear fenders, chrome-plated tail fin inserts, and custom leather interior with Yenko design headrests.
And now for the exciting part of the story... Lynn Yenko will be offering the 2012 45th Anniversary SS Yenko Super Camaro Prototype to be sold at Mecum Auto Auction in Indianapolis on May 17.
The proceeds of the sale will be used to launch the next generation of Yenko Camaros, and Lynn’s focus is to offer exciting high-performance and quality muscle. She has spent a great deal of time traveling with the car and her team, reaching out to Yenko fans and enthusiasts, and doing professional market research and surveys that show there is great demand for affordable muscle cars with proven road and track performance. Lynn promises to do just that, and deliver a car that would make her father proud.
Want to get excited about the new Yenko? Visit their website at: www.yenko-enterprizes.com for specs, videos of Lynn racing the Camaro at Road America and the Joliet Autobahn Racing Club, upcoming special interview with Lou Gramm of Foreigner, and other great Yenko events.
Plan to be at Mecum (www.mecumauction.com) in Indianapolis on May 17 to see this magnificent prototype and place your bid on the next generation of Yenko history!