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Cruisin': The Chevelle SS 396
In Feb. 13 Issue
Russell County News
By Ron Cowell, Columnist

Do you remember your first brand new car? I got to thinking about mine the other day and the bug hit me. I thought for a while I wanted another 1969 Chevelle 396 Convertible, but my wife soon convinced me that I didn't need another old car. That didn't stop the old brain from working and remembering that Red Convertible with the ralley wheels setting in front of my apartment. I got to thinking that we have never talked about the Chevelle at all and this would be a good week to do it.

The Chevelle Super Sport represented Chevrolet's entry into the muscle car battle. Early 1964 and 1965 Chevelles had a Malibu SS badge on the rear quarter panel. After 1965, the Malibu SS badging disappeared except for those sold in Canada.

The Chevelle SS which became a regular series of its own in 1966 called the SS396, was the high performance version and had its own line of engines and performance equipment. The performance engines available included 396 V8s  rated at 325, 350 and 375 hp respectively. The SS396 series only lasted three years from 1966 through 1968 before being relegated to an option status just like air conditioning or a radio.

The 1966 and 1967 model years also saw the limited run of the 'strut back' two-door sport coupe with its own model number, 17, as opposed to model number 37 used on previous and later two-door sport coupes.

The 1968 model year was the first and only year of the SS396 El Camino with its own series/model identification of 13880. Almost all the goodies, the big block engine, suspension, transmission options, of the SS396 could be ordered on the 1966 and 1967 El Camino.  Sadly, the SS396 series El Camino was not available until the 1968 model year.  

The 300 Deluxe and the Malibu in 1969, and only the Malibu from 1970 to 1972 SS option could be ordered in the El Camino.

Two prototype Z16 Chevelles were built at the Baltimore plant and all regular production Z16 Chevelles were built at the Kansas City plant. Whether these two prototypes and the one reported convertible are included in this 201 figure isn't known. The one convertible was reportedly special built for Chevy General Manager Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen but is commonly called the 201st Z16 Chevelle and is commonly understood to have been destroyed. The original Z16 convertible supposedly surfaced in Art Astor's famous auto collection but has been proven to be a fake.

The Z-16 option included a 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 Z-16 standard big-block 396 Turbo-Jet V8 came only with the Muncie wide-ratio four-speed manual transmission. The rear of the Z-16 had a unique black and chrome trim panel which framed untrimmed Chevelle 300-style taillights. Malibu and Malibu SS models had bright metal trim attached to the lenses.

For Chevelle enthusiasts who wanted a high-performance mid-sized car but with a hot small-block V8, all Chevelle models in 1965 were available with a 350-horsepower 327-cubic-inch V8 in 1965.

That same engine was also offered in downrated form at 325 hp in all 1967 and 1968 models not including of course the SS396 which was tied solely to the 396 engines.

1966 saw a complete restyle of the Chevelle on the old frame. The new body reflected the "Coke bottle" body shape that became the fad for American cars in the mid-1960s. Bulging rear fender lines and a "flying buttress" roofline where the rear window was recessed into the "C" pillar, were highlights of the '66 hardtops, shared with other GM "A" body models. The SS396 became a separate model, and the only Super Sport available. It was produced as a regular production model, and quite a few were sold. 1967 saw a slight restyle of the '66 body, but an entire host of new safety equipment became standard that year, making the '67 a much safer car to be in, in the event of a collision. The SS396 continued as the only Super Sport model, in both Sport Coupe and Convertible body styles.

For 1968, a new body style emphasized the "Coke bottle" look even more, and a semi-fastback roofline for hardtop coupes became extremely popular. New Federal safety-mandated equipment included side marker lights on each fender, as well as shoulder belts for outboard front seat occupants on cars built after December 1, 1967. This explains why some '68s had shoulder belts, and some early-production cars didn't have them. All '68s had anchors for the belts, however. Manaul transmission cars got GM's "Air Injection Reactor smog pump, which added complexity under the hood.

For the 1969 model year, the SS396 series was dropped and the Super Sport became a performance option.

In 1969 the SS option could be ordered on the 300 Deluxe 2-door Sport Coupe and 2-door sedan as well as the Malibu 2-door Sport Coupe, convertible, and El Camino. All '69 Chevelles also got a new locking steering column, one year ahead of the Federal requirement. Headrests, required for all cars sold in the US after January 1, 1969, were installed on all '69 GM cars.  

Cars sold before the law went to effect had the option of deleting them. In 1970 the SS option was limited to the Malibu series 2-door Sport Coupe, convertible, and El Camino. In both 1969 and 1970 the SS option included the 396/402 as the base engine keeping the option alive as a performance-oriented choice.

This changed in 1971 when the SS option could be ordered with any optional V8 and became more of a dress-up option than a performance option.

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