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Chevy Performance was Spelled "Y-E-N-K-O"

 

Yenko Chevrolet, was first known as Yenko's Central Garage and located in Bentley, PA. It became a franchised Chevrolet dealer in 1934. In 1947, the dealership moved to nearby Canonsburg, PA. This is where the hi-performance division of Yenko was created. Yenko Sportscars, Inc. (sYc), as it was known, was the brainchild of the Yenkošs only child, Donald Frank "Don" Yenko.

It has been over 20 years since the last Yenko was produced, it is impossible to be involved with Chevy musclecars and not hear the name Yenko mentioned. Yenko built cars are some of the rarest and most sought after musclecars ever built, demanding a high price if you ever see one for sale. Any musclecar collector would love to have at least one "Yenko" in their collection. Even us Blue Oval guys. At car shows across the country, enthusiasts flock to get a glimpse at one. There seems to be something magical about cars that carry the Yenko name.

Don, not one to do things in a small way, set about turning a portion of his Dad's Chevrolet dealership into a race shop, a place where not only were Donšs race cars were maintained, but where other area racers could have their cars maintained as well. By 1957, Don succeeded in making his Dadšs dealership into a speed shop for Chevy cars, where customers could order hi-performance parts at the counter for their 265's and 283's, or leave their car at the dealership to be worked on by Donšs race mechanics.

Sometimes in the 1960's car business, actual performance wasn't enough. Perceived performance was just as--if not more--important than what actually happened out there on the street from light to light. Pop culture sang songs about fast cars. And the guy who could lay the longest patch of rubber got the girls. Most historians consider the "Musclecar Era" starting when Pontiac dropped a big block 389cid in the Tempest/LeMans mid-size platform, and gave birth to the famed GTO.

In 1967 at the height of the musclecar wars, you could buy any number of Mopars with a 426 Hemi or 440 wedge motor. Ford's were popping up all over the place with dual-quad 427's. Low Risers, High Risers, even an SOHC 427 Ford was built. It soon became obvious that more power was needed--or at least perceived to be needed--under the hood of the soon to be released Camaro. But the General (GM) had a policy. No more than 400 cubic inch engines in intermediate and compact cars. If the Camaro was to be marketed successfully against the other performance pony-cars, Mustang, Barracuda, Firebird, and the rest of the musclecar pack, Chevrolet was going to have to level the playing field.

For 1969, which would prove to be his most productive year, Don went all out. Besides his already successful Yenko Camaro, Don saw the need to offer a 427 Chevelle and a 427 Nova. As with the '67 and '68 Yenkos, the engine of choice was the L-72, 427cid, 435hp Vette engine. But even Don could not get Chevrolet to put a 427 into the lightweight Nova. This had to be done at the Yenko dealership.

The 1969 Yenko Chevelle came equipped much like the Camaro, using COPO 9562 and COPO 9737. Colors included Garnet Red, Butternut Yellow, Lemans Blue, Dover White, Daytona Yellow, Fathom Green, Hugger Orange and Olympic Gold, and you could opt for a vinyl top here too, available in several different colors. It is thought that less then 100 "Yenko Chevelle's" were produced, making it more rare than the famed '69 Yenko Camaro.

By the end of 1970, high insurance costs had reduced the market for super cars and it was evident to Don Yenko that Chevrolet was no longer going to offer any high horsepower engine options and was instead starting to produce smaller cars. With the newly released 1971 Vega (a small, 4 cylinder economy car), Don looked at the Vega and saw his next project, the "Stinger II". It was to have fiberglass front and rear spoilers, special Yenko graphics and a turbocharger. But, just as Don was ready to release the latest Yenko on the performance market, the EPA heard what he was intending to do. The EPA informed Yenko that the "Yenko Turbo Vega" would need to pass EPA certification before it could be sold to the public.

This certification process would require a test run of 50,000 miles under the scrutiny of the EPA. The Yenko staff had rented a racetrack and were prepared to complete the certification test, but at the eleventh hour, decided not to do it. Don went ahead and produced his Yenko Vega, but with out a turbocharger. The turbo had to be purchased separately as an aftermarket item. It is unknown how many Yenko Vegašs were ever produced, with few documented examples surviving today.

Just as Chevrolet was changing directions, so was Yenko, as in 1972 they held a ground breaking ceremony for a new modern facility in McMurray, Pennsylvania. Except for a limited number of "special purpose" race cars, Yenko was now out of the business of building and selling hi-performance cars. Instead, Yenko Sports Cars had started publishing a hi-performance parts catalog. Here, customers throughout the country could order all sorts of hi-performance parts for their Chevrolet products. Everything from Yenko stickers to an all aluminum big block 427. This block was the same famed ZL-1 power plant made famous in Can-Am racing and in the ill fated 1969 ZL-1 Camaros and Corvettes of Fred Gibb.

Yenko had received permission to produce this block when Chevy had abandoned the ZL-1 project. The only difference between the Yenko version and the ZL-1 version was the Yenko name cast in the front of the block. The majority of these aluminum blocks were used in boats and for stock car racing. It is unknown how many of these blocks were sold, but many of them are still around today.

Yenkošs last creation was called the "Yenko Turbo Z". Built using the 1981 Z-28 Camaro, Yenko added a turbocharger to the cars 350cid engine. The "Turbo Z" could be ordered in two different stages. Besides the turbo, the Stage I cars received a special Yenko designed graphics package, by now a staple on all Yenko cars.

Stage II cars received the turbo, the graphics, a special nosepiece, different wheels and tires, Koni adjustable shocks and special leather racing style seats. It is believed that only 19 Turbo Z's were ever built, with only 2 in Stage II trim.

Yenko Chevrolet was sold in 1982. Don Yenko continued with all of his hobbies, which included racing, playing the piano and flying his own plane. Flying would claim Don Yenkošs life. In 1987, while on final approach to a airport near Charleston, WestVirginia, Don lost control of his plane and crashed. Tragically, everyone on board the plane was killed on impact, including Don. Surviving the great Don Yenko were two daughters Terri and Lynn, their mother and Donšs first wife Hope and hundreds of Yenko Chevrolet creations still alive today.

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