Chevrolet Chevelle Generation 1
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4
The Chevelle was intended to compete with the Ford Fairlane, and to return to the Chevrolet lineup a model similar in size and concept to the popular 1955
models. Enthusiasts were quick to notice that the Chevelle’s 115-inch (2,900 mm) wheelbase was the same as that of the 1955
Chevy. Two-door hardtop coupes, and convertibles, four-door sedans, and four-door station wagons were offered throughout the entire run.
In line with other Chevrolet series, the two-door hardtops were called Sport coupes. Four-door hardtops, dubbed Sport Sedans, were available (1966
). A two-door station wagon was available in 1964
in the base 300 series. Various wagons were sold with exclusive nameplates: Greenbrier, Concours, and Concours Estate. Six-cylinder and V8 power was offered across the board. The Chevelle was the basis for the Beaumont, a re-trimmed model sold only in Canada by Pontiac dealers through 1969
The Chevelle SS represented Chevrolet's entry into the muscle car battle. Early 1964 and 1965
Chevelles had a Malibu SS badge on the rear quarter panel. Chevelles with the mid-1965 Z16 option priced at US$1,501 in 1965
, had the emblem on the front fender, as well as distinct in-house style numbers, 737 for the hardtop, 767 for the convertible. The $162 Super Sport package was available on the upscale Malibu two-door hardtop and convertible models, the option added special exterior brightwork with SS emblems and the 14-inch full-disc wheel covers from the Impala SS.
Inside, the vinyl bucket-seat interior featured a floor console for models equipped with the optional Muncie aluminum four-speed-manual or Powerglide two-speed automatic
instead of the standard three-speed manual. Malibu SS also got a four-gauge cluster in place of engine warning lights, and a dash-mounted tachometer was optional. The available 283-cubic-inch four-barrel V8 engine rated at 220-horsepower was the same rating as the 1957
Chevy Power-Pak 283 engine.
While the 1964 Malibu SS may have recalled past glories, the future was available over at Pontiac. There, Chevelle’s Pontiac Tempest corporate cousin had a 389-cubic-inch V8 to create the 325 horsepower (242 kW) Pontiac GTO, followed quickly by the 310-horse 330-cubic-inch Oldsmobile Cutlass 442. That was all it took for Chevy to break GMs 330-cubic-inch ceiling for intermediate-car engines.
Starting in mid-1964, the Chevelle could be ordered with the division’s 327-cubic-inch V8, in either 250 or 300 hp (224 kW). Both used a four-barrel carb and 10.5:1 compression, and could hold their own against 289 Ford Fairlane and 273 Plymouth Barracudas. But muscle fans would demand more, and get it. For 1965, Chevrolet also offered the 350-hp 327 V8 as Regular Production Option (RPO) L79. Still, for those “sensible” buyers, the Chevelle was appealing, and Chevy built 294,160 this first year, including 76,860 SS models. After 1965, the Malibu SS badging disappeared except for those sold in Canada. Only 201 Malibu SS396 big-block-equipped cars were produced in 1965 with most being built between mid March and mid April. Of those original Z-16s, some 75 still exist and are accounted for.
The Chevelle SS396 became a series of its own in 1966
with series/style numbers 13817 and 13867. SS396 sport coupes and convertibles used the same Malibu sport coupe and convertible bodies with reinforced frames and revised front suspension: higher-rate springs, recalibrated shocks, and thicker front stabilizer bar, but with different exterior trim. They also had simulated hood scoops, red-stripe tires, and bright trim moldings. The performance engines available included three, 396 CID V8s – the standard, rated at 325 hp (242 kW), an optional 360 hp (270 kW), and an optional 375 hp (280 kW), respectively (the mid-horsepower 396 was rated at 360 hp (270 kW) for 1966 only and 350 hp (260 kW) thereafter). The SS396 series lasted from 1966
before being relegated to an option package in 1969
. The 1966
model years were the only two years of the 'strut back' 2-door sport coupe with its own style number, 17.
In Canada, sporty Chevelles continued to wear "Malibu SS" badges for the 1966
and early 1967
model years. These Chevelles were available with the same equipment as non-SS Malibu models in the U.S., and did not get the domed hood or the blackout front and rear treatment. Redline tires were not available on Canadian Chevelles in 1966
. A 1966
Malibu SS factory photo shows wheel covers on the car from the 1965 Impala
. The Canadian Malibu SS got its "SS" name from the "Sports Option" package under RPO A51 and was primarily a trim option. This A51 option came with bucket seats, a center console (except when the three-speed manual transmission was ordered), standard full wheel covers, and the ribbed rocker panel moldings. The "Malibu SS" emblems were carried over from the 1965
Malibu SS series. This Canadian option could be ordered with any six-cylinder or V8 engine available at the time. Starting in January 1967
, the Chevelle SS396 took over and became its own 138xx series, the same as in the U.S.
Chevelle Z16 SS396
Only 200 regular production 1965 Z16 Chevelles were built at the Kansas City plant. The Z16 option included the convertible boxed frame, a narrowed rear axle and brake assemblies from the contemporary Impala, heavy-duty suspension, plus virtually all Chevelle comfort and convenience options. The Z16 standard big-block 396 Turbo-Jet V8 came only with the Muncie wide-ratio four-speed manual transmission. The rear panel of the Z16 had unique black and chrome trim which framed untrimmed Chevelle 300-style taillights (Malibu and Malibu SS models had bright metal lens trim). The prototype Z16 Chevelle was built at the Baltimore plant.
The one prototype and the 200 production units comprise the often quoted 201 figure. One convertible was reportedly special built for Chevy General Manager Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen, but is understood to have been destroyed. This Z16 convertible supposedly surfaced in Art Astor's famous auto collection has been proven to be a fake. In any case, extremely low production and ferocious performance for Z16-equipped Chevelles means this is one of the rarest, most coveted Chevrolets ever produced. Of the few that remain, prices run in six figures. Although some regular 1965 Chevelle owners have attempted to fake the Z16, this is a most difficult task due to the unavailability of the unique Z16 equipment and trim, although much of the external trim pieces are now being reproduced in the aftermarket.
New Body 1966–1967
saw a complete restyle of the Chevelle on the previous frame that included smooth contours, a broad new grille and bumper treatment, and curved side windows. Bulging rear fender lines and a "flying buttress" roofline (tunneled into the "C" pillar) were highlights of the 1966
hardtops, shared with other GM "A" body models. The new body reflected the "Coke bottle" body shape that became the fad for American cars in the mid-1960s. A hardtop-styled Sport Sedan joined the Malibu series. Chevelles continued in 300, 300 Deluxe, and Malibu trim. Available engines were a 327-cubic-inch V8 instead of either of the sixes, or the mid-level option, a 220-horsepower 283-cubic-inch V8. Judicious attention to the options list could add a tachometer, mag-style wheel covers, and sintered-metallic brakes. Four-way power seats, a tissue dispenser, and cruise control were optional.
models got some styling tweaks that resulted in a longer, more straightforward appearance. Large wraparound taillamps went into a new rear end with standard backup lights. Otherwise, visible change was modest. "What you'll see inside," claimed the sales brochure for the 1967 Chevelle, "will probably bring on a severe compulsion to go driving." Front disc brakes
were available on all models, and a new dual master cylinder brake system incorporated a warning light. An entire host of new safety equipment became standard, including a collapsable steering column making the 1967
models safer cars. The SS396 continued as its own series with both sport coupe and convertible body styles.
The 375-horsepower 396-cubic-inch V8 was dropped from the options list until late in the model year and returned with little fanfare resulting in only 612 being sold. Buyers selected from no less than seven transmissions: two manual three-speeds, two manual four-speeds, an overdrive three-speed, and two automatics. The manual-shift feature of the Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission was touted in advertising. Options included Superlift air shock absorbers, Strato-ease headrests, and special instrumentation. Although Chevy's big news for 1967
was the introduction of the Camaro, Chevelle offered a more traditional sort of sportiness.