Special order COPO vehicles get better with time

If you were shopping for the baddest Chevy in the 1960s, you definitely wanted a COPO.

That four-letter word was the brand's backdoor workaround to hang with its fire-breathing Ford and Chrysler rivals, while also staying out of Uncle Sam's watchful gaze and far away from his monopoly-busting threats.

COPO stands for Central Office Production Order, which at its core was mere paperwork. But when placed in the right hands, those documents resulted in some of the most sought-after Chevy muscle cars of the day, which now have roared into legendary status.

For the last two years I've been researching these ultra-special vehicles, writing a new book, “COPO Camaro, Chevelle & Nova: Chevrolet's Ultimate Muscle Cars.” Their tales have never been told like this and from Day 1, I set out to use every researcher's skill I've got to make the final piece the very best it could be.

This led me to want to see and experience every COPO vehicle I could find. By journey's end, I had traveled to 14 states and Canada, getting up close and personal with more than 45 of the world's best examples. All that exposure led to a thorough library of images. So much so, I was honored to have General Motor's Heritage Center ask if it could include my images in its permanent museum collection.

"COPO" caught the attention of former "Tonight Show" host, comedian and car enthusiast Jay Leno, who attended a recent book signing in Burbank, California.

Engaging backgrounds help make that photography stand out. I wanted readers to be drawn in by what they see. So as I traveled around the country, I looked for distinct backdrops. I put COPO cars in front of desert sunsets, Route 66 icons and even vintage military jets.

One stunning setup took place right here in the suburbs at Miller's Dog n Suds in Ingleside. I jammed the diner's lot full of cool Chevy rides and sure enough, it smacked of a jammin' drive-in from decades ago.

Uncovering the COPO story took intensive research. In addition to pouring over internal documents, corporate letters and vintage journalism, I also looked to one of my favorite sources: original owners. I tracked down and interviewed dozens who shared wonderful memories of buying these icons new from the dealer. Like all of our favorite rolling classics, every COPO car, too, has a story.

One location Avery chose to shoot photos was Miller's Dog n Suds in Ingleside.

In the same way I love writing about original owners here in my column, I did the same in my book, spotlighting several, complete with vintage Polaroid family photos. These COPO cars are cool but it's the people behind them that make them truly interesting.

Rounding out the creative elements are tons of puns, word play and hidden Easter eggs in the photos. It was all intentional and put there to bring a smile to readers' faces.

There's so much more to share and tell from this incredible journey, which, just like the cars, is something I'll never forget. Learn more at

Book appearances

Daily Herald columnist Matt Avery will attend two upcoming events where he will talk about his new book and sign copies.

• Oct. 17: Daily Herald Cruise Night Season Finale, Zeigler Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Schaumburg, 208 W. Golf Road. 5-8 p.m.

• Nov. 17, 18: Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals, Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, 5555 N. River Road, Rosemont. Many of the COPO cars featured in Avery's book will be displayed.

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