Chevelle—it’s the bread-and-butter muscle car from GM’s bread-and-butter brand. The mid-size Chevrolet is the fourth-most insured car on Hagerty’s policies by make and model. That’s at least a little bit surprising, isn’t it? You haven’t been able to buy a new Chevelle in 46 years. You haven’t been able to buy a fast one for even longer. Yet they’re always in demand, still relevant in the hobby, and have cross-generational appeal. Few defunct badges in the muscle car world carry as much cachet as C-H-E-V-E-L-L-E.
Changes for this mid-size Chevy over its 14-year life were rarely dramatic, and often more evolution than revolution. Because of this, as well as all the body styles, trims, and engines available, telling one from the other can be a little tricky at times. These subtle differences can have a huge impact on performance and price, though: the cheapest first generation (1964-67) Chevelles in the Hagerty Price Guide don’t even crack ten grand in #2 (Excellent) condition, but the most expensive ones can be worth 15 times as much.
From the standpoints of styling and speed, the car’s apex was probably 1970, at the height of the muscle car wars. Mention a classic Chevelle in conversation and most will probably conjure a ’70 Sport Coupe with bright paint, contrasting stripes on the hood, and a honking LS5 or LS6 454-cubic inch V-8 rumbling underneath them.
Or maybe that’s just what this writer thinks. For Mike Walsh, who graduated high school in 1967, his ’67 SS 396 that he restored with his son is all the Chevelle one would ever need. He’ll probably never sell his Marina Blue big-block, and after spending a few hours with it, it’s easy to understand why.
Debuting in 1964, the Chevelle was Chevy’s pitch to the burgeoning mid-size segment. Touted by ads as “The Quick-Size Chevelle for the Driving Man,” it slotted in above the Corvair and Chevy II but under the full-sized Impala. Looks were handsome if a tad conservative, with a straightforward three-box design and fashionable four-headlight setup. Although the “first muscle car” honorarium is often bestowed on its A-body platform-mate, the Pontiac Tempest GTO, the Chevelle was pretty quick on the scene with various 283- and 327-cid V-8s and Super Sport models with “Malibu SS” badges on the rear quarter panel. Though the 396-cubic inch V-8 was an incredibly rare option in 1965, the SS 396 rolled out in 1966 as its own more comprehensive, muscle-oriented trim level (or series, in Chevrolet-speak).
That was also the year for the Chevelle’s first big facelift, with new sheet metal almost top to bottom. The fenders cut forward towards the headlights for a more aggressive, motion-implying front end, while the fenders got rounder and bulged at each end for the “Coke bottle” styling that became all the rage for American muscle in the second half of the ‘60s. The bulging hood scoops didn’t do anything functional but they looked the part, and the roof on coupe models swept back more gracefully than on the ’65.
The SS 396 was the hottest model offered, and came in three different outputs with a few available transmissions. All engines were, you guessed it, 396 cubic inches. Starting with the 325hp L35, buyers could move up to the 360-hp L34 that sported a more aggressive cam, or the 375-hp L78 that had solid lifters, 11:1 compression, rectangular-port heads, and an aluminum intake manifold. A 3-speed manual, close- or wide-ratio 4-speed, and Powerglide automatic were available.
You’ll need a Chevelle spotter to tell a ’67 apart from a ’66: The chrome lip along the front got thinner, the hood gained a power bulge toward the windshield, and the rear end was restyled with standard backup lights. But under the skin there were two significant updates. The stout three-speed TH400 automatic, beloved by drag racers and hot rodders, joined the transmission lineup as an extra-cost option. Disc brakes also became available for the first time as a $79 option, as GM finally realized that even the optional sintered-metallic drums weren’t up to the task of stopping their big-block bruiser.
Walsh’s Chevelle is from the first generation’s final and arguably best-looking year. It’s a 350-hp L34, 4-speed with a Positraction limited-slip rear end. There’s nothing shouty about it—the in-your-face scoops, decals, and various decorative appendages that would embody peak muscle car were still a few years out. This ’67 is straightforward mid-‘60s muscle with understated angles and bulges. Indeed, that’s part of the appeal of the Chevelle. Is it sexy? Not exactly. But it sure is handsome.
That word wouldn’t have always described this particular Chevelle, however. It was a $1000 hulk when Mike’s son Chris bought it in the mid-2000s, with not much left from the firewall forward. Chris’ plans to gift it to his dad moved forward a bit when the storage situation suddenly changed. “He just called me up one day and said ‘hey, are you gonna be home Saturday?’” Mike remembers. “Then he says, ‘good, just want to make sure you’re there when I bring her by.’ I thought he was bringing home a girl.”
The car had obviously led a hard life, but research revealed it was a genuine SS 396. Although the Walsh’s stable includes a Buick restomod, a C6 Corvette track car, and a handful of other modified machines, they aimed to keep the Chevelle classic and mostly correct. It was originally finished in Royal Plum, a rare shade, but neither Mike nor Chris cared for it, so Mike picked Marina Blue with black vinyl roof instead. It’s a clean choice that shows off the car’s lines well. The Rally wheels and beefy Radial T/As don’t look bad, either. The original, unused plates from 1967, which are available and legal on classics in Texas, are another nice touch.
Speaking of the vinyl roof, it’s practically the only job this father-son pair didn’t tackle. From mechanicals to paint, they did nearly everything themselves to bring the car back to factory specs. The effort stretched out several years, as these things tend to do when you’re restoring something in your spare time and not to pay the bills. Mike is retired now, but was still working when Chris surprised him with the car. They’ve made minor tweaks and improvements since they finished it, but is always ready to drive and enjoy. This Chevelle lives up to the original SS396 ads that promised “a severe compulsion to go driving.”
The roomy interior has the usual bucket seats, and they afford a commanding view, though the upright position is not quite what you’d describe as “Super Sport[y]”. Other than the sheer number of cubic inches combusting in front of you, nothing else about the car feels particularly big or beefy. This is a mid-size, after all.
Another thing the old ads promise is that the SS 396 “maneuvers like magic.” Perhaps that was the case in the ’60s, but certainly not by the standards of, say, anything after 1980 or so. That charmingly thin, almost delicate steering wheel, the kind you only get in a car made long before airbags, takes a lot of input before the car actually turns. It gives little in the way of feedback, and you more float through a turn than power around it. If you’ve ever driven a hefty American car from the ‘50s or ‘60s, though, none of this is unfamiliar stuff. And it’s never the steering wheel that’s the star of this show, anyway. It’s the thundering bits under the hood.
This SS 396 makes it easy to see why people pay up for a big block. It’s got all the noise and burble of any good pushrod V-8, but also shoves you in the back with the kind of thrust that is still a hoot even through twenty-first century eyes. The old suspension and primitive perimeter frame underneath you only amplify that feeling—between the buoyant ride and the torque for days, it’s a piece of work in the best possible way. The Muncie 4-speed is a good one, smooth and predictable in its shifts, and the clutch is only mildly heavy. This car is great for cruising, and stomping on it when you get the urge.
The Walshes use their Chevelle exactly how most other owners use theirs—casual driving and the occasional car show. That there’s a big world of others doing the same is a big part of the appeal. The exclusivity of a rare, unusual, or extremely pricey car is nice for some, but there’s a real draw to the sense of community, leagues-deep knowledge base, endless resources, and easy parts availability that come with every Chevelle. With over 72,000 Chevelle SS 396s built in 1966 and more than 62,000 in 1967, they’re not hard to find, but they have pretty much always been cool. And cool is always in demand, which is partly why clean examples tend to fetch prices consistent with rarer muscle cars and other common but perennially in-demand favorites like Corvettes and high-spec Mustangs. The #2 (Excellent) value in the Hagerty Price Guide for a ’67 SS 396 L34 Sport Coupe is $66,900, and the #3 (Good) value is $57,200. The equipment and condition of the Walsh’s car put it somewhere in the middle.
Another big part of the appeal is versatility. With 1.6 million first-gen Chevelles built, trims ran the gamut from bare bones to near-luxury, engines ranged from stodgy sixes to monster V-8s, and body styles from sunny-day convertibles to utilitarian station wagons. The engine bay is big enough to accommodate a variety of classic or modern powertrains, and the aftermarket for Chevelles is bigger than almost any car we can think of that’s no longer in production.
And since so many people either own one, used to own one, or know somebody who owns one, driving a Chevelle means you’ll never run out of enthusiasts to share stories with. After my day with the Walshes and their SS 396, I was reminded that that’s a big part of why we’re here, and why we keep cars like the Chevelle alive.
Data Dive: No, Chevelles aren’t just “boomer cars”
You’d think a 1960s muscle car with a badge that disappeared nearly fifty years ago would hold little interest to younger collectors. That would be incorrect. Although Baby Boomers do account for a slightly higher-than-average share of those calling us for insurance on them, interest among Gen–Xers and Millennials is strong. That widespread interest helps explain why values have steadily risen in the past decade.
I always loved the Chevelles. I had a 68 with the 396 and 4 speed that I purchased in 1970 when I was 19. I didn’t keep it long as I just got in too much trouble with it. I was fast and I proved it at every stop light. Wish I had it now
“Starting with the 325hp L35, buyers could move up to the 360-hp L34 that sported a more aggressive cam, or the 375-hp L78 that had solid lifters, 11:1 compression, rectangular-port heads, and an aluminum intake manifold.”
Hmmm, wondering if the 375hp L78 with solid lifters and 11:1 compression was the inspiration for the infamous LT1’s engine in the ’70 Z/28 Camaro? LT1 being a 350, instead of a 396 though. 😉
when it comes to speed a ‘as much power as you could get ‘ 70’ is probably faster than the 67, although it sure looks like the chevelle gained a few pounds over those years. when it comes to styling ,and partly because of the look of that added heft , i prefer the 67. i’ve never understood the drool for those later years or maybe there are just too many damn ss badges cowl induction blah blah blah running around. i’ve grown fonder and fonder of the grocery getter look. coronets and the like. i had a 68 fairlane 500 ( factory steve mcqueen highland green ) and it had a looks-like-a-car vibe. sometimes i think the designers need to pin young kids ‘draw a car ‘ pencil drawings to their studio walls and be inspired to simplify. ‘ form follows function’
I remember that, when I was in my late twenties, a good friend asked me if I would do the front drum brakes on his recently acquired ’66 Malibu SS with the 396 engine. The car was the same color blue as the example ’67 that you used for your article. Funny, but in the day I wasn’t stunned by the opportunity to actually touch what would become an American icon. He had just graduated from college and had finally returned the ’64 Comet Caliente that I had loaned him when he got out of school. He was a member of the Army Reserve and had saved me from the Vietnam War by getting me into his unit. The draft board had begun trying to induct me as soon as I graduated. Anyway, I relined his front drum brakes (imagine not having discs on a beast that powerful) out of gratitude.
The ’70 is too busy for me. I vastly prefer the ’67.
Great story, very nice photos!
I own a fully restored, numbers matching 70 SS396 4-speed car with lots of nice options. I bought it rough about 15 years ago and restored it. At the time, I was looking for either a 70 or a 67. Nothing says classic muscle car quite as clearly as these two years of Chevelles. When I take it to a car show, everyone has a story about one they owned or a buddy owned. Add in they were well built cars and a ready supply of parts, they are the poster child for late 60’s muscle.
If you’re a contrary type and want to try the That Guy approach, those “primitive perimeters” are pretty stable frames. There are lots of spring and shock setups available to lower that front a tad . Improve the brakes, build up a small block to save a hundred or two pounds, and you have a “road race Chevelle.” If you know how to drive a front engine V8, you’ll surprise an awful lot of pony-car and sport sedan presumers.
I really do like them, but I only bought one, I was fortunate enough to own a 1970, documented, original paint, rust free Fathom Blue 454 LS5 4-speed, 29,000 original miles, black fabric bench seat, black interior, one of 57 built at Oshawa with the Z15 option. I sold it to a collector in St Louis, as far as I know the car is still in that general area ( he sold it to a close friend that wanted it, and bought it after he had inherited some decent money) As always on a rare Chevelle I made a decent profit but I should have kept it, this was a little before the true value of Survivor Cars, Sigh…
Nice color and build. I’d happily take the ’67 here.
I still cannot factor in the additional value for originality. I have asked this several times. For instance, what percentage would one add if the Chevelle is original paint, chrome, trim, interior, and drive-train (’70 LS-5) 25K on the odometer and tons of documentation. I own it 50+ years. There should be (add ??? %) for originality and low documented miles. I wonder if M-22 would add value. I would think so. I would love to know as I want it insured for it’s honest value.
I’ve owned my bare bones straight six ’67 for 30 years. It went to prom and graduation with me and now totes my kids around on outings. It’s bone stock, simple to maintain and still my favorite car. From every angle Chevy nailed the styling on the ’67 sport coupe. It’s not just the SS cars that are enjoyed by enthusiasts, the often derided six makes for an economical, low stress ownership experience.