THE ORIGIN OF THE CHEVY CHEVELLE
The Chevelle was part of Chevrolet’s mid-sized line of cars. It was built on a body-on-frame platform known internally as the “A-Body”, a chassis shared with a wide range of other mid-sized cars from GM’s three other bread-and-butter divisions. Introduced in the 1964 model year, the Chevy Chevelle was built in several body styles: Coupe, Sedan, Convertible, Station Wagon, and even as the half-car/half-pickup El Camino. It proved to be one of Chevy’s most successful nameplates. The Malibu was the name given to the top-of-the-line Chevelle, as in ‘Chevelle Malibu’. The Super Sport, or SS option became available in the introductory 1964 model year.
1964 Chevelle SS (with custom wheels)
THE 1st-GENERATION CHEVELLE, 1964-1967
Cars had been growing steadily since 1958, getting longer, wider and heavier. People noticed. Chevrolet intended their new mid-sized car to be roughly the size of the 1955-57 Chevys, and in fact they shared the same 115-inch wheelbase. It was also meant to do battle with Ford’s popular mid-sized Fairlane line. During the course of the 1st-generation, the 5 body main body style produced (2-door Hardtops called “Sport Coupe”; Convertibles, 4-door Sedans, 4-door Wagons and the El Camino), they also threw in a 4-door Hardtop (postless) called Sport Sedan (1966-72 only), and a 2-door Station Wagon for the ’64-’65 300-series (the base model).
1965 Chevelle SS (with custom wheels)
CHEVELLE SUPER SPORT ARRIVES
With the success of Pontiac’s mid-sized 1964 GTO, a new formula was established: Big Engine + Small Car = Muscle Car. Chevy launched its bid into the mid-sized Muscle Car Wars with its new Chevelle. Badged “Malibu SS” for the first two years, the $162 Super Sport option package was available only on Sport Coupes (2-door hardtops), and Convertibles. It included wheels, tires and hubcaps from the Impala SS, bucket seats, a floor console with floor-mounted shifter, a special 4-gauge instrument cluster, and special interior and exterior brightwork and SS emblems.
1966 Chevelle SS (with custom wheels)
1st-GEN CHEVELLE ENGINE OPTIONS
The ’64 Chevelle SS came standard with a 220hp 283 V8 with 4-barrel (in another interesting similarity to the Tri-5 Chevys, this is the exact same horsepower rating for the 1957 283 V8 with Power Pak option). However as it turned out, Chevy was already starting in a hole when compared to the 325hp 389 V8 in the ’64 GTO (with 348hp optional), or the 310hp 330 V8 in the new Olds 442. By mid-1964, Chevy was offering 250hp and 300hp versions of its 327 V8 and by 1965, the L79 option got you a 350hp 327. Big block power in the form of the new 396 V8 (formerly known as the Mystery Motor) arrived so late in the 1965 model year that only 201 ‘65s were built with the 396. By 1966, the Chevelle SS396 was well on its way to becoming the world’s best-selling Muscle Car.
1967 Chevelle SS Convertible (with custom wheels)
CHEVY CHEVELLE SS 396
By 1966, there were few small block V8s in the Chevy Chevelle SS. From now on, it was big block power all the way and the name changed to “Chevelle SS396”. Later, when the 454 became an option, there were both the SS396 and the SS454. For the 1966 model year Chevy offered two 396 V8s, the L34 with 360hp and the L79 with 375hp. The 1st-generation of Chevy Chevelle ended with the 1967 model year, having established itself very quickly as a major player in the Muscle Car Wars now raging on all fronts.
1968 Chevelle SS (with custom wheels)
2nd-GENERATION CHEVY CHEVELLE, 1968-1972
The new-for-’68 Chevy Chevelle sported a much more rounder, smoother body shape than the boxy 1st-gen cars. The new Chevelle’s wheelbase on all but the sedans and wagons was shortened from 115 inches to 112, but the track was widened front and rear. All Chevelle SS’s had hideaway windshield wipers, the trim got the black-out, and a special hood with 2 “power bulges”. Some got stripes. The new SS396 option came standard with the 325hp Turbo-Jet 396 V8, with 350hp and 375hp versions optional. Cosmetic changes to the 1969 were minimal, primarily in the front and rear facias.
1970 Chevy Chevelle SS 396 with Cowl Induction hood
2nd-GEN CHEVY CHEVELLE GETS A RESKIN
While the basic chassis remained unchanged, FOR 1970 the entire body was reskinned with all new sheet metal, giving it a squarer, more muscular shape. The SS now got a “power dome” hood, with one large bulge instead of 2 smaller ones. There was also a new interior. 1971 and ’72 shared the same sheetmetal, again with with new front and rear facias. The ’70 has four headlights, while the ’71 and ’72 have two, and this is the easiest way to tell them apart.
THE LEGEND OF THE LS6
Some new engines were offered for 1970. RPO Z25 brought a new SS396 that actually displaced 402 cubic inches making 330hp. But the big news was RPO Z15, the mighty SS454 available in two flavors: LS5 with 360hp, and the ground-shaking, earthquake-inducing LS6 with 450hp. One can’t underemphasize the significance of the LS6. There are just a handful of true Mega-Motors from this era: Ford’s 427 Side-Oiler, the 426 Hemi, the Corvette L88…and the LS6. If the small block was “The Mouse that Roared”, hence the small block’s nickname “The Mouse Motor”, then the big block must be a rat, a might big rat, hence the nickname “Rat Motor”. The LS6, further nicknamed the “454 Rat”, at 450hp, it was its ultimate manifestation. And just in time too, as 1970 turned out to be the peak of the first Great American Muscle Car Era (we’re in the Second one right now). From 1971 on, rising gas prices, increase pressure from insurance companies, and government-mandated smog equipment crippled performance and horsepower dropped steadily, year-by-year well into the 1980s, when technology finally began to catch up. The LS6 was a 1970-only option, gone by ’71 when the only 454 was the 360hp LS5 (still a helluva motor). In 1970, an LS6-equipped Chevelle SS454 could burn through the quarter mile in the low-12’s at 112mph +. That’s seriously fast, even today. The 450 claimed horsepower was actually grossly underestimated by Chevrolet for ‘political reasons’, and was probably more like 500hp. Both the SS396 and the SS454 were available with working “Cowl Induction” for even more power.
1971 Chevy Chevelle SS 454 with Cowl Induction hood.
CHEVY CHEVELLE SS GOES WEAK
By 1972, the highest-rated engine you could get in a Chevelle SS only made 270hp. Of course, horsepower was now being quoted in “net” form, not “gross” as before. Some say they were just as fast, but somehow they didn’t seem to be. There was no longer an SS454 option, the 396 was the biggest engine available, the last big block to be offered in a Chevelle, and the last year for Cowl Induction. By the time the body style changed again in 1973, ushering in the 3rd-generation, there were no more Chevelle SS and the Muscle Car Era was over. So, we won’t be addressing any Chevelles later than the 1972 model year.
1972 Chevy Chevelle SS 396 with Cowl Induction hood
1966 Chevy El Camino
CHEVY CHEVELLE MORPHS INTO EL CAMINO
The El Camino had been built on Chevy’s full-size chassis for 1959 and 1960 in response to Ford’s Ranchero, released in 1957. But by the time Chevy came out with their own version, Ford had downsized theirs onto the compact Falcon platform. Once again, Chevy was caught flat-footed and abandoned the project until 1964, when a suitable platform became available in the new 1964 Chevy Chevelle. The El Camino had the front end of the Chevelle, including the front clip, windshield, cowl and doors, and the rear end of a small pickup truck. It was an immediate hit, albeit in relatively low numbers for the day. The SS option was also available on the El Camino, and as the 60s progressed, then gave way to the 70s, you could get a seriously-fast El Camino SS396 or SS454, even, in the 1970 model year, with a 450hp LS6.
A slightly longer, reshaped body. No more 283 V8s. Now three 327s are available, including the 350hp 327 out of the Corvette. Very late in the year, the first 201 big block Chevelle SS’s were built with the new 396.
Last year of the 1st-generation, the sheetmetal carries over from ’66, but with new front & rear facia & those cool wrap-around tail lights. 375hp engine dropped for part of the year, making them rare.
A new body skin, a new interior, and a new engine: the 454. Even the 396 swelled to 402 cubic inches. But the big news was the awesome 450hp LS6! It would do low-12’s in the quarter mile right off the showroom floor.