Fred Gibb Jr. opened his dealership in 1948, near La Harpe, Illinois, a tiny farming community. He and his crew sold many pickup trucks and family sedans for many years. It wasn’t a hugely successful dealership, yet he sold enough cars and trucks to live a comfortable life.
In 1961, he built a new building and recruited a guy called Herb Fox. Though Fred never cared about drag racing thinking that it attracted just the wrong kind of crowd, Fox was a huge enthusiast.
Fox eventually became the best salesman in the dealership. In 1965, Fox sold 368 cars out of the small dealership. One day in 1966, Fox was getting ready to head out for another weekend of racing at the local strip in Cahokia, Illinois, when Fred approached him and asked what was going on. When Fox told Fred that he was about to go out for racing, to his astonishment, Fred wanted to come with him. He agreed and to take Fred along and the two men went to participate in the racing event. Fred changed his mind about racing after this specific event.
In 1967, Chevrolet unveiled the Camaro, Fred Gibb Jr. ordered a Z/28 as a demonstrator car. Fox was asked if he’d like to go in on a race car. Fox said that he doesn’t have that kind of money to spend on a race car. Fred then told him that, he is going to turn the Z/28 car into a serious drag racing machine and that Fox could drive it.
Fox wasn’t sure about the plan as the Z/28 was a stock car and, in his experience, he knew that you couldn’t win a race with a stock car.
A few months later, Fox went to see a football match and got lost on his way to East St. Louis. So, he had to pull in to Dick Harrel’s place, where he was building the 427 V8 equipped Camaro cars there.
Fox went back to La Harpe and told his boss about these cars and Fred wanted to see the cars and the man whose building them. Fred ended up purchasing two cars that were for sale. Harrell started to work with them, improving their Z/28 cars and when the season ended, the Royal Plum colored Camaro ended up winning 35 races in 1967.
Fredd Gibb Jr. was also friends with Vince Piggins, the head of the engineering at Chevrolet. Fred enquired whether they could order a small car powered by a big block and this is when Piggins told him about the COPO (Central Office Production Order) System. Gibb also told them that they could install L78 386 cubic inch engines in Chevy II Novas, but the minimum order had to be 50 units. Fred ordered a batch of COPO #9738 Chevy II Nova cars. All the 50 cars were built and delivered to La Harpe by the 15 of July 1968. All the cars were sold at full sticker price without a single trade-in.
Piggins was approached again for a new order. This time the engine of choice was the 427 cubic inch ZL-1 motor. ZL-1 motor was the Chevrolet’s most capable engine back then. The ZL-1 engine had an aluminum block, head, and manifold, weighing only 500 pounds, which is equal to the weight of the 327 cubic inch engine. This engine was specifically built to compete in the Can-Am series. However, the ZL-1 engines that were installed in the Camaros were detuned a little. It developed 500 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque.
Gibb placed the order for COPO #9560 Camaros, and he was told by the Chevrolet that this street-legal car would cost about $4900. Convinced that he can sell them easily, and expected to receive cars soon. The first two cars were delivered to the dealership on December 31, 1968, in minus 22-degree weather, and neither car would start and a tow truck was used to get them off the trailer.
The first bill came by, and he was supposed to pay $7269 per each car he ordered despite the previously estimated $4900. When Fred enquired Chevrolet about this, he got to know that starting from 1969, the customer had to pay the research and development costs associated with limited-run vehicles. Gibb explained that he cannot buy all the 50 cars, because he couldn’t afford that kind of money. Chevrolet agreed to buy back the bulk of the cars. They eventually sold 13, but never knew what to do with the rest. When they went to Detroit for drag racing, Fred was called into the Chevrolet headquarters. Apparently, the general manager of Chevrolet thought the ZL-1 car was the hot deal and wanted one. Eventually, he came with a semi and took all the rest of the ZL-1 cars but one. This leftover car sat there for two years at the dealership until a man came along and bought it for good.
Only 69 ZL-1 Camaros were built. Most of the ZL-1 cars were based on the basic racing platforms, but one came with an RS package.
Fred Gibb Jr. stepped away from racing at the end of the 1971 season. He saw all the political and economic changes and knew that the performance age was coming to an end. So, he went on to sell pickup trucks, family cars, and vans.
He sold his dealership in 1984 and retired. Today, the dealership building is a tire shop.