By Patrick Smith
From the get-go in 1964, Chevelle was an intermediate size superstar. It handled everything from hauling supplies as a station wagon, to showing off in convertible Malibu spec or giving the gears to competitors in SS trim. With the tried and true small block V8 and snarling big block 396, Chevelles were hot and fast. They are excellent cars to enjoy the hobby as they're so adaptable. A fantastic parts supply makes restoring and maintenance easy. If you're looking at the classic Chevy A-body, here are some valuable tips to make sure you get one that's a keeper.
Year to Year Changes: The first generation Chevelle appeared in 1964 as a mid size full chassis car available in sedan, hardtop, convertible and station wagon bodies. A large range of engines from inline six to the 327 V8 was offered. The 1964 model is distinguished by its clean egg crate grille with four headlamps. The 1965 grille has a large horizontal divider joining the headlamp assemblies with a finned grille. This was the first year for a special SS396 Chevelle package.
The 1965 Chevelle has finned grille with center divider and a short, slab sided body.
The 1966 model introduced the second generation Chevelle with a longer svelte body with 'coke bottle' rear quarter panels. For 1966, the SS model has its own grille with black out treatment and 'SS 396' identification in the center. The regular Chevelle used a chromed grille. The 1967 Chevelle grille accentuated the front with broad egg crate styling and a wide bar across the top. The SS model added a badge in the center. From the back, the 1966 Chevelle used rectangular tail lamps while SS models added SS 396 id either in the center or to one side. Cars were made both ways that year. In 1967, the tail lamps had chrome horizontal fins.
The 1967 Malibu grille is chrome while the SS feature black accents.
This 1966 SS model has the offset rear deck logo and features the prominent 'Coke bottle' quarter panels. Car has optional bumper guards.
Engines & Drivetrains: Chevelles were available with everything from a straight six to the larger corporate big block engines as they became available. The preferred engines for collectors break into two distinct groups; the venerable small block V8 for casual hobbyists interested in cruising or car shows and the hairy 396 big blocks for the racing fans and 'investment car' buyers. You will find anything from a 283 to a 350 small block used in many restorations as the original engine may have been swapped out over the years. There were special high performance small blocks made such as the L79 and they rate highly among the cognoscenti, but the majority of novice shoppers are unaware of them. The only true drawback to a 283 is the frequent pairing of the two speed Powerglide transmission which limits performance somewhat. The magazine trade focus is on the 396 engines and these are the most desired powerplants.
Original small block cars are getting tough to find in good condition. This 283 has never been opened up.
Among big blocks, the base 1966 engine was a 325 hp version called L35. The mid level engine was a 350 hp called L34.The next one up was a 360 hp option called L78. In 1965 only the Chevelle SS came with one engine, the Z16 which was rated at 375 hp. For 1967, the 396 power teams remained the same. The transmission played a vital role in performance which is why the manual four speed Muncie is strongly preferred over an automatic. GM released an excellent heavy duty automatic called the TH400 in 1966. It's consistency in drag strip duty makes it almost as desirable as the four speed. Rear differentials also figure prominently in performance. The desired set up is the 12 bolt with Positraction. The very best set up would be a 12 bolt with Positraction, a low gear ratio and a Nodular Iron carrier. These were rare and usually found on cars with a hot engine such as an L78 or L79.