Chevy Chevelle SS396
After Chevrolet introduced their small-block V8 in 1955, they were virtually unchallenged on the street. That was until 1964, when the 389 cubic-inch GTO appeared. At that time, GM corporate policy stated intermediate-cars could not have engines larger than 330 cubic inches. but it did not seem to apply on options. Pontiac got around the rules by promoting the 389-equipped Tempest as a special-option model.
Back in the Chevy camp, the 1964 Chevelle was offered with either a 283 and 327 small-block engine. After Oldsmobile offered a 400-cid 442 and Buick a 401-cid Gran Sport in early 1965, that was all it took for Chevy to break GM's policy for A-body series engines. The new 396-cid big-block motor, scheduled for release in full-size Chevys and Corvettes, would be offered in the Chevelle with the Super Sport package. Because the motor was starting production late in the season, it was decided to make a very limited run of SS396 Chevelles. The special equipment option code was RPO (regular production order) Z16.
Option Code Z16
In mid-1965, Chevelle buyers who chose option code Z16 got a two-door Malibu coupe body with a boxed convertible frame, narrowed rear axle and brake assemblies from the Impala, and modified suspension including anti-roll bars front and rear. Interior features included front bucket seats with floor console and shifter, 6,000-rpm tach, and 160-mph speedo. Steering was power-assist, and virtually all other Chevelle comfort and convenience options were available.
Z16 SS396 Engine
The Z16 396 big-block was a hydraulic-lifter version of the L78 Corvette engine. Compression ratio was 11:1. Power output of the 4-bbl motor was purposely under-rated at 375-horsepower, and most enthusiasts agree it was nearer 450-hp. The Z16 option came only with the Muncie M20 wide-ratio four-speed manual transmission.
Chevelles with the Z16 option had SS emblems on the front fenders behind the wheel opening, and 396 Turbo-Jet insignias on front fenders ahead of the wheel opening. The rear tail panel had a unique black and chrome trim panel framing untrimmed Chevelle 300-style taillights (Malibu and Malibu SS models had bright metal lens trim). Just 201 Z16 SS396 cars were produced in 1965, using style numbers 737 for the hardtop and 767 for the convertible.
1966 Chevelle SS396
In 1966, the Chevelle SS396 became a series of its own, using series/style numbers 13817 and 13867. The SS name was switched to SS396 to highlight the 396 cubic-inch engine, and the 283 and 327 cubic-inch engines were no longer offered with the SS package. Suspension upgrades included higher-rate springs, recalibrated shocks, and thicker front sway bar. The base SS396 big-block was rated at 325-horsepower, with 360 and 375-horsepower engines optional.
An exterior restyle for 1966 Chevelles included smoother contours, new grille and bumper treatment, curved side windows. bulging rear fender lines, and a "flying buttress" roofline. Exterior trim on SS396 models featured simulated hood scoops, red-stripe tires, and bright trim moldings. Most of these trim parts are still available.
1967 Chevelle SS396
For 1967, the 325-hp 396 engine was standard, optional was the 350 or 375-horsepower versions. All Chevelle models this year received styling upgrades, including wraparound tail-lamps and standard backup lights. Front disc brakes were available for the first time, and a new dual master cylinder brake system incorporated a warning light. The 375-hp engine was originally dropped from the options list, returning later in the year.
1968 Chevelle SS396
A redesigned Chevelle exterior emphasized the 'Coke bottle' look, with a semi-fastback roofline for hardtop coupes. SS396 models featured a blacked-out grille with SS396 badges and domed hood. After December 1, 1967, new Federal safety-mandated equipment included side marker lights on each fender, and under the hood, manual transmission cars received an A.I.R. (Air Injection Reactor) smog pump.
The Chevelle SS396 series lasted three years. Starting in 1969, the Super Sport package once again became a performance option. The big-block V8 was offered optionally on any of the Chevelle SS models until 1973, which included the Malibu two-door Sport Coupe, 300 Deluxe 2-door Sport Coupe, convertible and El Camino.