Based on its weight (the L72 was a heavy engine) and horsepower, the COPO package cars ended up down in SS/E or SS/EA. Tarantola debuted it in the middle of 1969 and it took class at the AHRA Summernationals at New York National Speedway that August. The car served as a rolling test bed for Vitar and did not travel far from home during the years that Vinnie campaigned it. After he decided to stop racing in 1972, he sold the car to a pair of brothers who worked for him.
Vince and Ed Alessi owned the car for over a decade, and Vince would take it to class wins at the US Nationals in Indy in 1978 and 1983, plus additional class crowns at the NHRA Gatornationals, Springnationals and Summernationals. SRD Racecars (the Malvern, PA, guys who were building Jenkins’ Pro Stock Vegas) did some upgrades in 1973. By the time the Alessis sold the car to racer Lyn Lapierre in the mid 1980s, the NHRA had factored it up to SS/DA. Lapierre raced it just briefly and then parked it, and collector Clint Richmond bought it as a roller in late 2002 from Iowa racer Alex Polewik. It was painted white and showed little signs of its Vitar heritage.
With only 500 miles on the odometer, the car had never been licensed. Richmond decided to do a “semi-race”’ resto on it, leaving in SRD’s narrowed 9-inch Ford rear and suspension changes, and building up a replacement driveline so the car could be driven. An 1100cfm Barry Grant carb has taken the place of the original Holley for the time being on the otherwise period-correct COPO block, along with a Crane hydraulic cam, Hooker Super Comp headers, an Edelbrock intake, and Accel ignition parts. Mike’s Transmission out of Fulton, IL, reworked a performance Turbo 400 with a 4,000 rpm TCI converter and a race-bred Cheetah SCS TurboAction shifter.
|SRD did this fabrication work in the 1970s. Clint decided to leave it in place. Purists might whine, but it will take all the abuse even the stickiest starting line may hold. Look, mom, no wheelie bars…||While the OEM air cleaner was usually removed for racing, this one is in place to let people know it is all about cubic inches. On COPO cars, this was the only visible 427 logo.|
Other than the hood, which was like tissue paper from previous acid-dipping and had to be tossed, the rest of the car’s sheetmetal is original. Credit for the new Chroma Premier Hugger Orange goes to Ken and Joe Schoenthaler Restorations in Donahue, Iowa. A guy known as “Jobber” redid the original lettering.
“There are not many historic restorations on these cars today, most of them are brought back to stock,” says Clint . “I just could not see taking it back to a street car when it had been a race car since it was brand new. Plus, I felt its race history was significant. Vitar was a huge transmission rebuilder in the east, and had customers like Ray Allen, Bernie Agaman, and Ed Hedrick winning with its products.”
When we saw the car at the Forge Invitational Musclecar Show, Clint hinted he may do a few exhibition runs in the future. Regardless of whether it is on the show field or the starting line, this COPO is a memorable tribute thundering from the distance.