In 1964 Chevrolet launched a new midline model – the Chevelle – which was destined to be a great success for parent General Motors. It also provided an opportunity to gatecrash the burgeoning muscle-car market, ignited by the concurrent appearance of the Pontiac GTO.
Chevy’s attention-grabbing riposte – codenamed Z16 – was the storming Chevelle Malibu SS 396 that appeared in early 1965. The SS stood for Super Sport and the 396 for a new big-block engine that would give this medium-sized car sensational performance. Just 201 were made (including one now-vanished custom convertible) and they catapulted the Chevelle SS to the forefront of muscle car production.
In 1966, Chevrolet cashed in with the Chevelle SS 396 becoming a distinct series in its own right. This sports coupe was equipped with tuned engine options and special features like enhanced suspension, transmission and brakes to handle that serious high performance capability.
But the Chevelle SS 396’s distinct identity would last for just three years, though all the goodies that made up the SS package were henceforth available as an option. This deal had already been offered on the ’66 and ’67 El Camino, but the formal El Camino SS 396 was available for one year only, 1968.
That exclusive SS badge still guaranteed grunt after the Chevelle SS 396 series was discontinued, but times they were a-changing. The 1970s saw the American auto industry start to ease back from over-the-top performance cars, with many engines being detuned to run on low-lead fuel.
In 1973, General Motors marques underwent an across-the-board revamp so – though the name remained the same – that year’s Chevelle was effectively a new model. The SS custom option lingered on, though it no longer indicated the raw power of previous incarnations, and the Chevelle itself reached the end of the line in 1977
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1965 (until 1968)
6.5 I (396 cid) V8
Top speed of 120 mph (193 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) In 6.6 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
From 1970 GM dropped a rule banning engines larger than 400 cid from mid-sized cars, and the SS package first acquired a 6.6 litre (402 cid) option, then a truly monstrous 7.4 litre (454 cid) power plant that cemented the Chevelle’s reputation as an awesome muscle car.