The very best collectible automobiles are sometimes tucked away and off-limits to prying eyes. In the upcoming months, we will be gaining access to some of these amazing collections and bringing you never-before-seen photographs as well as insight into the cars and the people that collect them.
This fabulous collection is stored in a nondescript warehouse on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee. It holds some of the most-sought-after, best-performing models of the 1960s as well as some distinctive older classics. All of the examples reflect the individual character of the collector, and each one comes with its own story. We met with the owner, Cliff Ernst, who gave us a guided tour and educated us on drag racing, big blocks, and choosing the perfect car. His passion for performance is rooted in drag racing; he cut his teeth on the drag strips and stoplights of Ohio during the 1960s.
Walking around his immaculate white-tile showroom, we were shocked to see everything from Super Duty Pontiacs, Shelby Mustangs, factory-supercharged Thunderbirds, Corvettes and more! His awe-inspiring collection seems to culminate with two of the rarest and most desirable Camaros ever made: a gold 1969 Yenko Camaro and a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. The former was the product of Chevy-dealer-turned-aftermarket-tuner Don Yenko. The latter was Chevrolet’s answer for the serious drag racer who could append an extra $4,500 for an all-aluminum 427-cubic-inch engine option. Both are as powerful as they are rare.
Ernst sat down with us to answer a few questions and tell us more about his passion.
What was the first car in your collection?
In the mid-‘70s, I bought a 1930 Model A Ford. I always wanted one in high school, but I needed to save $150 for college.
At what point did this evolve from a garage at your home into a dedicated facility?
In the 1980s, I allocated space at my business to keep the growing collection safely stored. In 1991, we built a dedicated warehouse for the collection. It was around thirty cars at the time. We now have around 45 cars.
Tell us a little bit about the gold Yenko.
The gold car was the prototype for the ‘69 Yenko. Certain features of this car did not make it into the 1969 Yenko production models. I am the second owner, and I have professionally restored it twice. It was featured in the July 1969 issue of Super Stock and Drag Illustrated magazine. Ed Professional driver Ed Hedrick was able to run an 11.94 (quarter-mile time) in stock form.
Do you think the previous owner regrets parting with it?
I sent him photos I had taken after the restoration, but I never heard back from him, so I like to think they got lost in the mail!
What feature of the Yenko cars do you like most?
The performance. When the Yenko cars first hit the streets, I was drag racing a ‘65 Corvette. They consistently posted faster times (than the Corvette). They made winning look easy!
Besides the gold Yenko, what is your favorite car?
The ‘32 Packard V12 or the supercharged ‘57 T-bird.
Performance does seem to be the theme here. Was it a goal of yours to have the ultimate production versions of these cars or is it a coincidence?
I prefer to have the highest-performance model available. The ‘57 Chevy is fuel injected and the T-birds are supercharged. You get the idea!
With the quality of the restorations you have here, have you ever considered restoring and building cars as a business?
No, my employees are so meticulous that this could not be a profitable business!
Did you foresee that the ’69 Camaro would be the iconic collector car that it is today?
No, I just thought they had great styling and a multitude of performance options.
I know your cars are well documented, but what do you think about clones and recreation cars?
Let’s just say they are not for me.
Owning one of the original ZL1 Camaros is a real honor; do you see the 2012 ZL1 as a worthy successor?
It is a good continuation of the name and a nice move by Chevy.
Do you have anything special in your home garage?
I have my first ‘69 Yenko that I purchased in 1987. It is kept at the house for weekend cruises.
My daily driver is a 2008 black (Dodge) Challenger SRT8.
Are you done collecting, or is there always room for one more?
Certain cars will continue to be possible additions, but, more realistically, I need to be thinking about thinning the herd.
Thanks, Cliff, and happy motoring!
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