The Chevrolet Chevelle is a mid-sized automobile produced by the Chevrolet division of General Motors in three generations for the 1964 through 1977 model years. Part of the GM A-Body platform, the Chevelle was one of Chevrolet's most successful nameplates. Body styles include coupes, sedans, convertibles and station wagons. Super Sport versions were produced through the 1973 model year, and Lagunas from 1973 through 1976. After a three year absence, the El Camino was reintroduced as part of the new Chevelle lineup. The Chevelle also provided the platform for the Monte Carlo introduced in 1970. The Malibu, the top of the line model through 1972, replaced the Chevelle nameplate for the redesigned, downsized 1978 models.
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 1955-57 models. Enthusiasts were quick to notice that the Chevelle’s 115-inch (2,900 mm) wheelbase was the same as that of the 1955-57 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 (through 1972). A two-door station wagon was available in 1964 and 1965 in the base 300 series. Various wagons were sold with exclusive nameplates: Greenbrier, Concours, and Concours Estate. Six-cylinder and V-8 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.
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 was a vinyl bucket-seat interior that 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 V-8 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 V-8 to create the 325 horsepower (242 kW) Pontiac GTO, followed quickly by the 310-horse 330-cube-inch Oldsmobile Cutlass 442. That was all it took for Chevy to break GMs 326-cubic-inch ceiling for intermediate-car engines. Starting in mid-1964, the Chevelle could be ordered with the division’s 327-cubic-inch V-8, 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. Of those original Z-16s, some 75 still exist and are accounted for.
The Chevelle SS 396 became a regular series of its own in 1966.(style numbers 817 and 867 that year), was the high performance version and had its own line of engines and performance equipment. SS 396 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 396 CID V8s – rated at 325 hp (242 kW), 350 hp (260 kW), and 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 through 1968 before being relegated to an option package. The 1966 and 1967 model years were the only 2 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 nor 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. Starting in January 1967, the Chevelle SS396 took over, the same model as in the U.S.
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; it has been proven to be a fake.
In any case, extremely low production and ferocious performance for Z16-equipped Chevelles means that this is one of the rarest, most coveted Chevrolets ever produced. Of the few that remain, prices run in six figures. Although some regular '65 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.
Source: Mecum Auctions and Wikipedia, 2011