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MUSCLE CAR REVISITEDMicrosoft Word Document

(Chevrolet Photo)

The Chevelle Super Sport Was the Best Selling Muscle Car
Joe Moore

  The All- American muscle car.  It may not have been the first recognized muscle car, but the Chevelle Super sport is, with a doubt, the most popular mid-sized muscle sedan of the era.  Go any to any general car show, and you  most certainly can be guaranteed to see one of  the grand coupes waiting for your viewing.  No wonder the Chevelle has become such a favorite today.  

    Making its debut in the fall of 1963 , it was a contender to the Ford Fairlane, which had jump-started the mid-sized car market two years earlier.   The Chevelle was aimed at the mid-class working family, who didn't need or could not afford a full-size car, yet wanted the basic comforts of the big sedan.  It was the success of the Impala Super Sport package, that  debuted two years earlier, that caused Chevrolet designers to dream up the Chevelle Super Sport.  Corporate brass at that time did not believe that there was a need for a "sporty type car", they felt that if a buyer wanted a sports car there was the Corvette.  They didn't see the need for a sporty family sedan.  The Impala SS package proved to be a popular item, and  most of the same items that made Impala a Super Sport, found their way onto the new Chevelle.

The 1964 Chevelle was aimed at the Ford Fairlane, and was Chevrolet's entry into the intermediate market. (Chevrolet Photo)
   Made a full-out model, it was dubbed Malibu Super Sport.  It contained all the niceties of the Malibu, plus sporty items like full foam all vinyl bucket seats, special side trim along the beltline, special tri-spoke Super Sport wheel covers, and SS badges on the rear quarter panels. Like its big sister, the Impala SS, the Malibu SS offered only two body styles- a two door hardtop or a convertible.   

   Beauty was only skin deep, and the new Super Sport lacked the power in its punch.  Standard was either a six cylinder, or a 283-ci 2-bbl V-8, rated at 195-hp. At first, the only optional V-8 was a 4-bbl version that was rated at 220-hp.   The emergence of the GTO had Chevrolet officials scratching their heads.  They had missed the impact that a factory muscle car would have on the public.  And now, because of corporate rules that stated no more then 350-ci could be installed in an intermediate model, they could not install their killer 409 powerplant.  Pontiac got around that rule by stating the GTO was an option package and not a model.  If the SS had been just a package on the Malibu line, then the 409-ci might have found its way into the Chevelle.  Imagine what a 425-hp version would have been like.   Instead, Chevrolet borrowed from the Corvette and added two 327-ci  powerplants to the line-up after December 1964.  One was a mild version rated at 250-hp, but the other churned out 300-hp, due to special heads, carburetors, and fine tuning.

    The year of 1965 would bring forth only minor changes.  The front was give a new grille and hood.  The front fenders were changed to accommodate the new grille, and the tail end was cleaned up.   The Malibu Super Sport continued to be offered as a two door hardtop and convertible.  Powerplants were a carbon copy of the 1964 versions, with the exception of two additions.  One addition was the high powered RPO L79 Corvette powerplant, rated at 350-hp.  The storm trooper could power the Chevelle just as fast the GTO, and in many cases would actually out-perform the Pontiac, just by the fact that  the Chevelle was lighter and more well-balanced.  However, buyers were blinded by cubic inches. 389-ci in the GTO just sounded faster than 327-ci in the Chevrolet.   With the removal of the cubic inch limitation, which was now bumped up to 400-ci, at the first of the year Chevrolet carefully shoe-horned their all new power plant, the 396-ci big block, into the fender wells of the 1965 Chevelle. Named Malibu Super Sport 396, it is more commonly know by its option code,"Z16," today.  Reportedly only 201 were built, and were used mostly as a tool for drawing customers into the showrooms.  The Z16 required a special frame and suspension to tolerate  the heavy powerplant.  Rated at 375-hp, it down-graded from 425-hp to hide its true output.

    The year of 1966 was to see big changes for the Chevelle.  Losing it's baby cuteness, the new Chevelle was longer with sexier lines.  It's add width also helped in the addition of the 396-ci powerplant. The standard motivation of the Super Sport was now simply know as the SS 396.  The name change was done for marketing value. Malibu Super Sport was too long,  and  was  too closely associated with the frumpy Malibu, which dad might be driving.  The 1960's was a time of revolution, and kids wanted nothing to be associated with the parents.  

   Taking their cues from the leader of the pack, the GTO, the SS 396 featured twin blisters, that simulated hood scoops, on the hood.    The grille was blacked out and an SS 396 medallion was used for identification.   Engine call outs were placed on the front fenders, and the Super Sport name was spelled out on the rear quarters.    The Chevelle name and an SS 396 medallion were placed on the rear end of the car between the tail lamps.            

   Powering the Super Sport was your choice of three versions of the 396-ci big block.  Standard was a 325-hp version, next up the scale was the L34 version that pumped out 360 ponies, and the top of the line was the RPO L78 that was rated at 375-hp. With mechanical lifters, it was available only with a four-speed transmission and no air conditioning.  It was these limitations that would hurt the sales of the powerful powerplant, and make it the most desirable of the three today.

    The grille was restyled with more predominant horizontal  bars that were spaced in between the quad headlamps, but because this design was carried over on to the headlamp bezels, it appeared to span the entire width of the car.    The Super Sport's grille was accented in black and had no provision for a bow tie medallion at the top; instead an SS 396 badge was used in the center of the grille.  The sides of the car were highlighted with a more predominate design line that was placed below the mid-line level of the car.  The Super Sport name was still carried on the rear quarters, but was restyled and now had an off-set look.    The rear of the car was very clean with a single SS 396 nameplate in the center.  The white inset letters and red inset numbers were highlighted by the blacked out rear panel between the wrap-around tail lamps.  Powerplants were the same as they were  in 1966, except that the 360-hp version was now rated at 350-hp.

  The year 1968 would bring a complete restyle. This was a design that would become base for the all-time favorite Chevelle.  The lines were smooth and flowing as if it had been designed with running water.  The black accented grill cut back slightly into the fenders, which were long and rounded.  A design line followed the grille, cut back, and flowed the entire length of the lower portion of the car.  The tail lamps were thin and slightly wrapped around the ends of the quarter panels.   The most dramatic lines of the coupe and hardtop was the roof.  The semi-fastback design seem to visually flow into the rear deck lid when viewed in profile.  When viewed from the rear, you could see that this was accomplished by the concave back glass.  Identification was carried on the grille, rear end and front fenders.  Some of the all-time coolest engine callouts  were placed on the 1968 Chevelle, they were integrated into the front side marker lights.  Engine choices were the same as they were the year before.  

The 1969 Chevelle Super Sport is regarded as one of the best looking models of all time. (Chevrolet Photo)

   One of the most popular Chevelles is the 1969 model.  It was just a refinement of the 1968 model. The grille was changed to a plastic unit that was accented in flat black paint. The change gave the car a fresher look.  The hood, with its twin dome and  simulated air vents, was kept.  The body sides were nearly the same as the year before, but the side lamps were made smaller, and the engine call-outs were deleted.  The SS 396 name was still carried on the front fenders.    It was the tail end of the car that received a make over.  The tail lamps were made larger and were more visible. Spanning between the tail lamps was a black accent trim panel  with the SS 396 nameplate in the center.  A"Chevelle by Chevrolet" script was placed on the right-hand of the deck lid.  

  Before 1969 all Chevelle Super Sports were true models, meaning that they used special VIN models codes to designate them.  Begining in 1969, the SS was reduced to an option package. It was available on any two Malibus, Custom El Camino, and the pillar coupe Chevelle 300 deluxe model.   The coupe was an attempt to butt into the market that the budget Road Runner/Super Bee model made the year before.  Chevrolet would find this market hard to crack, and the pillar coupe would prove disapointing, although Chevrolet would have no real contender for this market until 1971 with the introduction of the Heavy Chevy, and later the 1971 SS 350.

   As part of the option package was the engine line up, which was the same as before with the same displacements and out puts for the first part of the year.  Due to restriction and remodifications  the 396-ci powerplant was over-bored and actually measured 402-ci.  However, the displacement had become more than just an engine, it had became the name of the car.  The name SS 402 just didn't have the impact that SS 396 did, so even though the displacement was changed, the name was not.

  The all time favorite Chevelle is the 1970 model.  Using the same basic coke-bottle design that was established in 1968, the 1970 Chevelle just added a more muscular image.  The grille was given a more aggressive look that dominated the center of the car.   It appeared to be two separate sections with the SS logo in the center.   The hood was wider, cleaner, and featured a center domed section. With the optional cowl induction system, for the first time the Chevelle had a functional hood scoop.   This system use special valves that sensed the throttle position, and when needed, a flapper door at the base of the hood would open up and direct fresh air into the carburetor.  Though it was never rated, this option added about 25 more horses to the standard rating.  

   Sides of the car were cleaner and free from necessary design lines , and featured louvers over the rear side marker lights.  The rear of the car was highlighted by a large bumper that featured a rubber pad with white inlaid SS lettering, and  rectangular shaped inset tail lamps.  

The all time favorite Chevelle. The 1970 SS 454 with cowl induction. (Chevrolet- Photo)
   To make matters even more confusing were the powerplants.  Standard power was the 402-ci 4-bbl. Now rated at 330-hp, it was a down-rated version of the 350-hp of  the year before.  However,  Chevrolet now referred to this powerplant as a 400-ci, not a 402-ci which was what it actually measured.  But Chevrolet never referred to this powerplant as a 400-ci on the car. Instead, they still used 396 markers on the front fenders.  This was done for marketing reasons; the SS 396 had become the name of the car.  To make it even more confusing was the 400-ci small block, which actually measured 400-ci,but was used only on the Monte Carlo line. It is listed as being available in the Chevelle line, as the Monte Carlo is in fact a stretched Chevelle.  It is simple to remember, if it has a two barrel carburetor it is the small-block, and if it has a 4-bbl it is a big block.

    Big news of 1970 was the removal of the 400-ci limitation on intermediate cars,  thus making way for the mammoth 454-ci powerplant.   It  came in two forms: the milder 360-hp version, and the tire-melting 450-hp version.  It is the latter of these that has become the hottest model today, and has cause many Chevelles to be converted into a LS6 model.

    Single headlamps and a new grille took some of the aggressive looks away from the 1971 Chevelle.  The front bumper was solid and more heavy-looking due to the fact that the front turn lamps were now integrated into the tips of the front fenders.   The grille featured a pattern of  multiple horizontal blades with a chrome molding across the center, along with the SS lettering.

     The rear of the car also lost some of its domineering qualities.  The rear bumper was filled in and supported  twin round shaped inset tail lamps on each side.  The inner tail lamps were integrated with the back up lights.     The rubber pad was deleted, and an SS emblem was placed in the center of the bumper.   The rest of the body sides were nearly a carbon copy of the 1970 model, except the nameplates.

   As a sign of times, of the blowing wind of change, the new SS package for 1971 no longer  included a power plant.   The SS package could be had on any optional V-8, including the 350-ci V-8.  This change required that only the  SS lettering was used on the front fenders, unless the 454 ci powerplant was used;  then both the letters and callouts were used.    

   Allowing the SS package to be ordered with a 350-ci in either a 2-bbl 245-hp or a 4-bbl version that was rated at 270-hp was believed to increase the model's sales, but it was over shadowed by the Heavy Chevy which offered the same thing for less dollars.  However, it made it fairly easy for the Super Sport to be forged in later years.   In addition to the 350's,the SS was available with a 400-ci (402-ci) 4-bbl rated at 300-hp, and a pair of 454-ci big blocks rated at 365-hp and the LS6 version rated at 425-hp.

    The year of 1972 was the last year of the classic Chevelle, and it would  be nearly a copy of the 1971 model.  The most noticeable changes would be the grille, which was now a three tier design, and the solid front turn lamps.  The SS model used a black painted grille with no chrome moldings, like the other Chevelle models. As before, the SS package did not include a powerplant and was available with the same engines as it was in 1971.   Horsepower ratings were falling fast,and the LS6 was no longer available.  It was as if the chapter of high performance in the book of automotive history was coming to a close.   The next chapter was entitled Big and Comfy. The Chevelle, and all its GM sister models, in  their later years the Chevelle would become a heavy weight that was more kin to the Monte Carlo, than the other way around, as it had been in the 1970-72 era.  Then ending it's life as a sub compact model along with it the SS nameplate.  In a world now of cookie cutter cars that have no personality, the Chevelle Super Sport sticks out like a good book, the type that you stretched out in a big comfy recliner with and read over and over again.  No wonder it is Americas favorite.   


   It was a natural when Chevrolet created their hybrid model, the El Camino, part car park truck, that it would follow the SS package.  If the SS package had made its debut sooner, there is no doubt that it would have appeared on the El Camino, at least the Impala part.   And when it was graduated to the Chevelle line in 1964, it seemed that  it should have been part of the Super Sport line up, but it took until the all new design appeared in 1968 that the El Camaino was offered in SS trim.

    Many wrongly think that 1966 was the first year that the SS package was offered on the El Camino.  Stating the fact that the 396-ci, which was only available in the Chevelle Super Sport line, was available in the El Camino.  While the 396-ci powerhouse up to and including the 375-hp version was available in the El Camino, The name Super Sport or any other trim such as hood blisters were offered on this model.  The reason the 396-ci powerplant found it's way into the El Camino, was the fact that Chevrolet viewed the El Camino as not a car, but a truck; the 396-ci V-8 was available in the truck line.   The reason the El Camino did not use the truck motor, which has less horsepower, was the fact that it was built in the same assembly plants that the Chevelle was, and the Chevelle did not use the truck motor.     It was the reaction to the hot rod truck that would cause  Chevrolet to build the truck in SS trim in 1968.

1968 was the only year for El Camino Super Sport as a model, after that the Super Sport was an optional model package. (Chevrolet Photo)

        Except for the pick up bed, and El Camino name plates, the SS truck was equipped pretty much like their car counter parts.  One of the most thrilling rides ever produced was the 1970 El Camino SS 454 with the LS6 package.  All that horse power with that light weight over the rear wheel created some major burn outs. However, the 1968-72 was a fairly good driver, it actually had a better weight ratio than the car.  Besides, it was the only SS who could haul plywood in 14 seconds.

1968- 5,190
1969- 6,700*
1970- 5,500*
1971- 4,250*
1972- 2,890*
*-Estimation only Records were not kept on SS models after 1968 as the SS was an option package.

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