The Chevelle first entered the muscle car market in 1964 with the Malibu SS model with a 250-hp L30 or 300-hp L74 engine. Life started simple for the 1964 Chevelle as the lowest-priced of General Motor’s four new A-body models that year. A variety of models were offered with the top-of-the-line ’64 Chevelle Malibu SS two-door hardtop and convertible. The Super Sport package included bucket seats, a console and SS badges. The 1965 Z16 Chevelle was a wolf in sheep’s clothing that appeared as an awesome muscle car in the style of the first Pontiac GTO with a big-block 396. Chevrolet even chose not to advertise this hot car at first since production was so extremely limited. Every Z16 came out as a Chevelle Malinu SS Sports Coupe (Fisher Body Style 13837. The 375-hp 396 was the L37 engine option.
The hot-performing 1966 Chevelle SS 396 was a Chevelle – not a Malibu. The ’66 was basically a no-frills muscle car with three different 396 engine options and a reasonable sticker price. Like other Chevelles, the SS models – coupe and ragtops – had a new cigar-shaped body with lean-forward front fenders. The ’66 Chevelle SS kit also included twin simulated hood air intakes, ribbed color-accented sill and rear fender lower moldings, a blacked-out style SS396 grille, black rear cover accents, “Super Sport” script plates on the rear fenders. Specific wheel covers were included along with red-line tires. Top option in the SS 396 lineup was the RPO L78 motor.
The price for the 1967 Chevelle SS396 coupe jumped to $2,825 and the convertible by the same increase to $3,033. Production actually fell slightly to just over 63,000. The 325-hp RPO L35 engine was carried over again as the base choice in ’67. The redesigned 1968 Chevelle ran as good as it looked with a new roof-line, front fenders and taillight arrangements. Front and rear tire tread widths were also up to 59 inches, an increase of a whole inch. Other SS features included F70 x 14 wide-oval red-strip tires, body accent stripes, a special twin-domed hood with simulated air-intake, “SS” badges, vinyl upholstery and heavy-duty three-speed transmission with floor-mounted gear shifter.
For the 1969 model year a Chevy buyer could turn a Chevelle into an SS396 for only $440 more. Chevrolet Motor Division made no basic change in the design or configuration of its mid-size muscle car. The ’69 Chevelle interior featured a black steering wheel and steering column, a steering wheels shroud with a black accented center area and a horn-blowing tab, an “SS” steering wheel center emblem, an SS 396 nameplate on the instrument panel and door sidewalls. Less than 400 of the 427 cars were made and most went to Don Yenko Chevrolet.
The 1970 Chevelle had a wider, more sculpted appearance. A horizontally-split grille and blended dual headlights. The standard version of the 396 V8 for ’70 was coded RPO L34 and sported a modest boost in displacement to a 402. But by now the SS396 was rapidly becoming a classic in the muscle car world and was no longer the fastest in town. More cubic inches under the hood was the simple solution! So Chevy announced they’d be releasing a new 454 cubic inch V8 big-block for the Chevelle as an SS454 and is considered by many to be the absolute pinnacle of raw muscle car power. This monster motor was available as an 360-hp LS5 and for a little extra you could get the awesome LS6 engine. The LS6 was a super high-performance engine featuring four-bolt main bearings, modular iron bearing caps, heavy-duty connecting rods, big-diameter exhaust valves and a solid-lifter cam-shaft.
Though the muscle car era was winding down by 1971, the 454 engine option was still wildly popular in the Chevelle SS. Chevelle models received modeling changes to the front end in ’71 with the parking lights being moved to the fender tips. The RPO Z15 SS package sold for $357 and included power brakes with disc brakes in the front, a special suspension, functional hood-lock pins, SS badges on the hood, rear deck and fenders. Only just over 5,000 convertible models were built in 1971.
There were very few differences between the 1972 Chevelle and the models of the previos year. It wasn’t quite as mean anymore but its net 270-hp rating wasn’t anything to laugh at. The only real design feature that stood out as new were the single-unit front turn signals and side markers instead of the former stacked lenses. ’72 really marked the end of powerful, menacing Chevelles.
The Chevelle completed a major design update for 1973 and the next year saw the 1974 Chevelle Laguna S3 replace the SS model of previous generations with the ’74 Malibu Classic topping-out the line. The 1975 Laguna S-3 came out as a 1/2-year model with shaed of NASCAR in it. In 1976 the Chevelle became a real “four-eyes” as the stacked-quad headlights came standard in place of the former single round formation. The Chevelle came to a somewhat humble end in 1977 as the Chevelle SE with a 350 engine the best you could buy, though 1978 saw the Malibu still available to the car-buying masses despite lacking much of the character and brute muscle of the Chevelle’s former glory years.
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