Cars We Remember column: 15 years of Chevrolet high performance
Q: Greg, I love the articles about the Muscle Cars from the 1950s-70s. I also like the designers, too, who made such beautiful cars. Can you give us a list of Chevrolets that you feel are the best both from a power and looks standpoint!
Keep up the nostalgia car articles as I look forward to them every week either online or in the Owego Pennysaver.
- John C., Waverly, New York
A: John I’m going to name the Chevy muscle cars that impressed me the most from the 1950s to the 1970s in order of appearance.
1957 Chevrolet BelAir: Featuring the first Chevy overhead valve V8 that appeared in 1955 and by 1957 grew to 283 inches, this car just might be the most popular Chevy of the decade. Good looks aside, 1957 was also the first year Chevy attained the one horsepower per cubic inch magic with the Duntov solid lifter cam, fuel injected 283 that came in at 283 horsepower. A second non-fuel injected 283 solid lifter version with dual quad four barrels developed 270 horsepower. And at the drags? There were ’57 Chevys all over the place.
1958 Chevy Impala 348 Tri-Power: A beautiful machine that could keep up with just about any hot car on the road, it was bigger and heavier than the ’57 it replaced and featured three Carter two barrels with maximum output of 360 horses. This is the first real muscle car I ever got a ride in thanks to my late friend’s brother, namely Cloud Volpe from Vineland, New Jersey.
1962 Chevrolet 409: With midsize muscle a few years away, the full size Chevys in 1962 included Biscayne, BelAir and Impala that all offered the powerful “W” head 409 in two versions. The first 409 came in an 11-1 compression, single four barrel with solid lifters and 380 horses. The second 409 was the most popular that everyone wanted, namely the 409 horsepower dual quad setup. To this day, she’s still real fine.
1964 Chevy II: Most consumers who purchased the early year Chevy II’s were looking for economy and low prices. These compacts were available with six-cylinder engines and even a small four-cylinder. However, in 1964, someone at Chevy decided to drop a 283 V8 in the engine bay and they were very popular at the drags. Anyone who ever hopped up a 283 (like me) knew that when you add a Duntov solid lifter cam, have a noted cylinder head machinist (Tony Ruberti, Vineland New Jersey) do your heads and then add a Holley four barrel and a new Borg-Warner T-10 4-speed with a 3:73 gear instead of a 3.36, something good happens at the drags, IE 13.2-second quarter mile times from a little 283. (And mine was in a heavy, full size 1963 Impala - my very first car that ran a best quarter mile time of 15.65 at 86 mph).
1965 Chevelle SS: With a 327 that puts out 365 horsepower, it was one hot property and scourge to those who thought their 1966 396 with 325 horses would beat anything around. Later, a limited run of Chevelle Z16s with a 396/375 made the ’65 Chevelle a very in demand high-dollar muscle car. Only 201 Z16 Chevelle SS versions were ever built and the Z16 396/375 is not a solid lifter L78 motor as it came with a hydraulic cam.
1965 Corvette 396: This the first and only year a 396 appeared in the Corvette. This L78 code 396 was rated at 425 horsepower and the same engine as used in the L78 Chevelles starting in 1966 and rated at 375 horsepower. (Insurance guidelines) Starting in 1967, if it was a Corvette it was now powered by a 427 while by 1970, a 454 was the norm making up to 425 horses. By 1974, the 454 was all “smogged” up and delivered just 270 horses.
1966 Chevy II: Another sleeper when equipped with the correct engine, the ’66 Chevy II was similar to the ’65 Chevelle as a small-block 327 with 350 horsepower made it a serious muscle car. The 350 horse engine code is called the L79 and when purchased in Nova SS hardtop dress, it is still one of the best looking muscle cars from the Chevy design team that decade.
1968 Camaro Z28: One of the truly hot ones from Chevy, the Z28 had a Muncie four-speed, high revving 302 V8 with solid lifter cam and either one or two four- barrel carbs. This car set the stage for unique “Z” cars, and to this day commands big bucks at the auctions. Built for Trans Am road racing against Mustang, Challenger, Barracuda, Javelin and Pontiac, Roger Penske prepared Z28s and won two Trans Am championships along the way with driver Mark Donohue.
1969 Camaro SS 396-375: Granted this big-block monster was a bit heavy in the front and didn’t handle anywhere near the Z28, but if you were going in a straight line few cars around would get to the quarter-mile ahead of you. With a quick shifting driver, 4.10 gears and some aftermarket bolt-ons, 12-second quarter miles were right around the corner. (I know as I had one)
1969 Corvette 427: Even though more expensive but rare 427s like the all-aluminum ZL1 edition of Chevrolet’s famous 427-L88 were available, the 427/435 horse Tri-Power is still an in demand Corvette. Many were cruising the boulevards back then, unaware that by the year 2020 their 427/435 Corvettes would be worth six figures at Mecum and Barrett Jackson Auctions.
1970 Chevelle SS454: Chevy was looking for a way to keep their classic Chevelle SS atop the muscle car sales race and to do it they took the 396, added a 4-inch stroke crankshaft and a 4.25 inch bore and presto … the LS6 454 putting out 450 horsepower. With this new 454, the Chevelle now went from zero to 60 in 5.4 seconds and raced the quarter mile in 13.81 seconds on narrow street tires. With proper bolt on parts and slicks, low 11-second quarter miles came easy.
There you have it John, and thanks for your letter and kind words.
Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and Gannett Co. Inc. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840.