From the late 1950s onward, Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago, Illinois, built a reputation as one of the country’s go-to dealers for high performance parts, and later, turnkey cars. When the Camaro debuted in 1967, Nickey claimed to be the first to drop a 427 V-8 between its fenders, and into the 1970s did a brisk business in selling modified Camaros (and other Chevy models). When Nickey Chevrolet became Keystone Chevrolet in December of 1973, the production of modified cars at the dealership ceased; next month, a 1974 Nickey Stage III Camaro, believed to be the last one built by Nickey Chevrolet, will cross the auction block in Indianapolis.
To be clear, Nickey Chevrolet ceased building high-performance cars in December of 1973, but at the same time Nickey Chicago opened its doors. Started by former Nickey Chevrolet vice president Al Seelig and former dealership parts manager Don Swiatek, Nickey Chicago continued to sell parts, tuning services and complete cars until the business shut down a second time in 1977. Even this wasn’t the end of the Nickey name; about the time that Chevrolet revived the Camaro in 2010, Stefano Bimbi reopened Nickey Chicago, specializing in modifications to the latest generation of Chevrolet Camaros.
The original owner of the yellow 1974 Camaro carrying VIN 1S87K4N128358 had read about Nickey’s performance modifications, and wanted a car of his own for high-speed highway cruising. Ordered in Type LT trim, the car was delivered to Nickey Chevrolet on November 17, 1973, and the conversion took place immediately after. As GM was no longer supplying assembled L88 V-8s by this point in time, Nickey ordered an L88 short block and the components required to build the engine in house.
As delivered, the Nickey Stage III Camaro’s 427-cu.in. V-8 came with cast iron heads for durability, instead of L88′s usual aluminum castings; 12.5:1 compression; and a Holley 4053 780 cfm carburetor perched atop an LS6 intake manifold. Given the car’s road-centric mission, it was ordered with 3.23 gearing in the Positraction rear, which would have been a suboptimal setup for dragstrip use but probably yielded slightly better fuel economy. The original owner held on to the Nickey Camaro for the next
16 six years before selling the car to Rocco Lucente around 1980.
Lucente reportedly drove the car for a few months before parking it in the basement garage of his mother’s house and pulling the engine, intent on making a few revisions to improve driveablility. Other projects took priority, and the car sat disassembled for the next 28 years, until Lucente’s mother forced the issue. Placed for sale locally, the car was found by Stefano Bimbi, the man behind Nickey Chicago’s latest rebirth, who quickly cut a deal for the Camaro and soon after sold the car to Mike Guarise.
Guarise sent the Camaro to Muscle Car Designs for a complete restoration and build to “Day Two” specifications. Making it quicker off the line, 4.56 gearing was added to the 10-bolt Positraction rear, a set of Lakewood traction bars were installed and air-adjustable Gabriel Hi-Jacker shocks were fitted. Inside, the carpeting was replaced, but most of the remaining interior parts are said to be original.
Shown at the 2013 Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals, the Camaro scored 999 out of a possible 1,000 points, enough to capture the award for the Best Chevrolet in the Modified class. As for proof that this was the last Camaro put together at Nickey Chevrolet before the operation moved to Nickey Chicago, that’s a bit tougher to come by. Still, the car has been certified as a genuine Nickey build, and the date of the 427 conversion makes it highly unlikely that any further Stage III cars were assembled after this. Given the car’s show-ready condition, 33,000 original miles and place in muscle car history, Mecum is predicting a selling price between $135,000 and $175,000 when the car crosses the stage in Indianapolis on May 16.
1974 Nickey Stage III Camaro. Photos by David Newhardt, courtesy Mecum Auctions.