Chevrolet Chevelle – Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review - Muscle Car

Chevrolet Chevelle – Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review

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Written by Elise

30th September 2020

Chevrolet Chevelle – Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review
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Chevrolet Chevelle – Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review

By Charlotte Iggulden


Of French or American origin, ‘Chevelle’ is generally agreed to mean ‘bold and beautiful.’

The Chevelle Super Sport or SS variant (1964-77), was Chevrolet’s answer to the muscle car wars in the 60s-early 70s. 

Today, the SS is coveted by classic car collectors. In 2013, a rare 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 LS6 coupe earned $1.15 million at Mecum (where the status of World’s Most Expensive Car get regularly redistributed), making it one of the most expensive muscle cars ever sold.

With rumours circulating about its reintroduction in 2020/2021, it seems appropriate to review the Chevy Chevelle in its model years.

History and Background


The early 1960s were fiercely competitive between General Motors (GM), Chrysler, and Ford. Due to a growing economy, the automobile giants aimed their small to mid sized passenger cars at the influential ‘baby boomers.’ 

GM, owner of Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac, had banned midsized cars having an engine displacement exceeding 330 cubic inches (cid). More powerful engines were reserved for the Impala or Corvette.

In 1963 however, Pontiac started a mini revolt by creating the GTO. Arguably the first muscle car, the 389cid was capable of 348hp at 4900 rpm.

Undeterred, Chevrolet remained loyal to small-block power. 

Introduced in 1963 with an A-body platform and 115-inch wheelbase, the ’64 Chevelle was designed to compete with Ford’s Fairlane. It became one of GM’s most successful automobiles, with over 300,000 sales in ‘64. Throughout its lifetime, the Chevelle came in coupes, convertibles, four-door hardtops, two-four door station wagons, and the El Camino

The Chevelle SS marked Chevrolet’s entrance into the muscle car arena. Early ‘64/65 models had a Malibu SS badge on their rear quarter panel. In ‘65, the $162 SS package was available on the two-door hardtop and convertible body style.

'69 Chevy Chevelle SS 396 - LeMans Blue / Parchment Interior
Credit: 1969 CHEVROLET CHEVELLE SS 396. Photo rights to Old Cars site.

Its 327 cid engine, although excellent, was unintimidating and insufficient to compete with the heavyweight GTO and Skylark Gran Sport.

Chevrolet’s new strategy was to create a more powerful, big-block V8 engine: the ‘Rat’ or ‘Turbo-Jet,’ with 396 cubic inch displacement and 375 hp.

Introduced mid ’65, the Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu SS 396 upstaged the ‘66 Mopar Street Hemi.

Chevrolet gradually improved its ‘64-67 Chevelles to achieve the best power-to-weight ratio for the street and ¼ mile drag race performance, epitomised in the highest-powered production engine ever made, at the peak of the muscle car era in 1970: the 454 LS6.



The 1964 Chevrolet Chevelle SS had a 283 or 327 V8, but its small size, power and durability were ideal for hot-rodders, muscle cars, drag racing and circuits. The 283 was an impressive feat of engineering, producing one hp per cubic inch. As the saying goes, ‘there’s no replacement for displacement.’

The ‘65 SS 327 engine was a hydraulic-lifter version of the Corvette’s 365 bhp 327. 

The ‘65-68 SS’s all had 396cid, after which it was optional. Smaller than 400, they were considered big-blocks due to the valve size and cylinder layout, capable of lots of horsepower. Being lighter made them faster. 

The 1965 Chevelle Malibu SS 396 sported a limited-edition Z-16 performance package ($1501) for just 200 Malibu SS hardtops and one convertible, totalling $4100. The engine was another hydraulic lifter Corvette variant, with 375 hp at 5600 rpm and 420 torque at 3600 rpm. Weighing 3600 lbs, it reached 60mph in 6 seconds, with a 14.66 second ¼ mile time at 99.8 mph, which was fast for 1965. With 58% of weight over its front axle, it had poor handling and wallowed through corners.

In early ’66, Chevy introduced the L78 396. An updated Z-16, it now had solid lifters, new exhaust manifolds, 427 cid valve heads and 375 bhp. 100 lbs heavier, the SS had become a true muscle car. Its ¼ mile time was 0.24 secs faster at 100mph. Despite not having the best handling or brakes, it delivered thrills at an affordable price.

The ‘67 SS 396 had front disc brakes, improved, lower-profile tires, better handling, grip and steering. However, its 3700lb weight meant lower horsepower and a 15.3 second ¼ mile time at 94 mph. 17,176 cars were produced. 1967-69 396’s took 6.5 seconds to reach 60mph. 

Credit: 1969 CHEVROLET CHEVELLE SS 396. Photo rights to Car Domain.

The ‘68 SS 396 was also available as a 327 Malibu. The ’66 L78 returned, resulting in the quickest ¼ mile time of any Chevelle yet: 14.5 seconds at 100 mph. The suspension was still soft, with an inadequate chassis to carry the Rat motor, making it inaccurate and noisy. Many buyers preferred the 327 as it had less weight, making it nicer to drive around tight curves. 4751 were produced.

With no base 300 series in ‘69, the 396 was optional, costing $347 and only 400 produced. Its performance matched the ‘68. The strongest four-speed was offered or Rock-Crusher manual, plus Turbo Hydra-Matic. More than 9,000 L78s were sold, with weight-saving aluminium heads. Few muscle cars responded so well to small modifications.

After GM lifted their displacement ban, the ‘69 Chevelle COPO 427 was created to challenge NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) competition, like its Camaro counterpart. The COPO was a fierce Malibu coupe, not an SS. 323 were sold through Chevrolet, 99 were exclusive to Yenko Chevrolet, styled as ‘Super Yenkos’ in vinyl graphics. Weighing 3800 lbs, it was rated at 425 bhp, but closer to 450, with 460 ft-lbs torque at 4000 rpm. It went from 0-60 in 5.1 seconds, ¼ mile 13.3 secs at 108 mph.

Caption: 1967 Chevrolet Camaro
1967 Chevrolet Camaro

In 1970, the SS was, again, optional. As the 396, it had 350 bhp 402 cid v8. 

The new SS 454 included a 360 bhp hydraulic lifter called the LS5.

However, the LS6 had the highest horsepower rating of any production car engine before. It was drag-racing ready, with a 7.4 litre V8 454 cid made with aluminium pistons and forged steel connecting rods. The SS had attained the perfect power-to-weight ratio, at 4000 lbs and an advertised rating of 450 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque. However, true gross horsepower was estimated around 500. The SS had never been so quick, reaching 0-60 in 6.1 secs, with a 13.7-second ¼ mile at 103 mph. 4475 were produced, priced at $4930.

The 454 LS6 truly was one of the best street muscle car engines ever made.


Model Variations


The Chevelle was positioned between the Chevy II and Impala SS. The SS package originated with the 1961 Impala; the best chevy muscle cars carried the badge into the 1970s.

The highest-powered chevy so far, the ’61 409 cid Impala had an awkward power-to-weight ratio. Weighing less than a 1970 Chevelle SS, it had 360 hp, 7.8 second acceleration and 15.8 second ¼ mile time at 94 mph. 1966 Impala SS sales fell more than 50% due to buyers desiring midsized performance cars like the Chevelle SS 396.

The Chevelle underwent several design changes. The ‘65 Malibu SS 396 had a stouter, convertible-type frame and stronger suspension. Bucket seats and console were standard. After ‘65, the Malibu SS badge disappeared, except in Canada. The ’66 dimensions didn’t really change; the SS got a black grille, new hood and attractive but non-functional vents. Its design reflected the 1960s coke-bottle shape. The ‘67 SS had a non-functional, but good-looking power bulge.

1968-70 Chevelle models outsold every other true muscle car. Alongside its striking appearance, it was affordable and reliable. 

The ‘68 was restyled, with its coupe losing 3 inches of wheelbase. Most were hardtops and semi-fastback, like the Ford Mustang, with a distinctive long hood, short deck profile and high rear-quarter ‘kick-up.’

The ‘69 SS 396 was the most popular muscle car in America, with minor styling changes. Available as any two-door model, sport coupe, pickup, convertible, pillared coupe and sport coupe, it sold a record 86,307.

The ‘70s SS was an option package for hardtops and convertibles. Another restyle, the Chevelle SS had a handsome dashboard, a domed cowl induction hood to feed air into the engine, and optional fat dorsal stripes. It was elegant, despite its size and weight.

In 1971, car manufacturers were forced to reduce emission rates by cutting compression ratios and introducing low lead fuel. The insurance surcharge resulted in less power-to-weight ratios. The ‘71 SS 454 weighed 4000 lbs but produced 365 horsepower at 4800 rpm and 465 torque at 3200 rpm.

Complex engine modifications reduced performance, contributing to the muscle car’s demise. Small-blocks re-emerged. 1972 Chevrolet Chevelles sported the SS emblem all the way to 1977, but had far less horsepower, averaging between 365 hp-145 hp.

Discontinued in 1978, the Chevelle left a bright, burning flame that continues to this day.


Will Chevrolet Make a New Chevelle?

An initial design based on the SS appeared in 2003, suggesting a comeback to rival the Camaro. In 2013, Chevrolet filed for a Chevelle trademark name.

Although secretive, Chevrolet has admitted they are developing a concept version, to be revealed in 2021

Given its popularity, a new Chevelle car could be highly lucrative for the company.

Appearances in popular culture

When Russian criminals break into John Wick’s home, kill the puppy his late wife left him and steal his classic 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1, specialised former assassin Wick embarks on a vendetta. Needing a new ride, he borrows a forest green 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396 in the 2014 film and uses it in the sequel. The elegant yet powerful Chevelle is a worthy choice.

After the 2001 Fast and Furious film credits finish, Dominic Toretto drives his red 1970 Chevelle SS 396 across Baja, Mexico. His narration recalls the drag-strip: “I live my life a ¼ mile at a time. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.”

In the 2009 instalment, Toretto’s classic SS muscle car is painted grey and modified, exhibiting speed and power when winning a street race in Mexico against newer cars.



The Chevelle’s evolution to muscle car greatness was gradual. The ’68-70 models were the best chevy muscle cars in terms of performance and design. They had better power-to-weight ratios, great styling and reliability at an affordable price, outselling their competitors.

The SS 454 LS6 remains one of the undisputed ultimate muscle cars; no production engine ever had a higher horse-power rating.

There are still many 1969 to 1970 Chevelles for sale. While all are collectable, the SS 396, 454 and legendary LS6 remain the most valuable. 

Thanks to its cultural legacy, the Chevelle SS remains popular and we anticipate its return.

Author: Charlotte Iggulden

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