Chevelle SS396 (1966-1968)

Article by Mark Trotta

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 Pontiac GTO appeared.

Chevelle SS396

At that time, General Motors had a corporate policy which 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 a 389-equipped GTO as a "special-option" Tempest model.

Back in the Chevy camp, the 1964 Chevelle was offered with either a 283ci or 327ci 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 Chevy big-block motor, at 396 cubic-inches, was scheduled for release in full-size Chevy's and Corvettes in 1965. It would be also be offered in the Chevelle with the Super Sport package.

Since the motor was starting production late in the season, it was decided to make a very limited run of SS396 Chevelle's. The special equipment option code was RPO (regular production order) Z16.

Option Code Z16

Chevelle buyers who chose the Z16 option code in mid-1965 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 tachometer, and 160-mph speedometer. Steering was power-assist, and virtually all other Chevelle comfort and convenience options were available.

1965 Chevelle SS396 Z16 engine

Z16 Engine

The Z16 396ci big-block was a hydraulic-lifter version of the L78 Corvette engine. Compression ratio was 11:1. Power output of four-barrel carbureted motor was purposely under-rated at 375-horsepower -- most enthusiasts agree it was nearer 450-hp. The Z16 option came only with the Muncie M20 wide-ratio four-speed manual transmission.

SS396 emblem

Chevelle's 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.

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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.

1966 Chevelle SS396 ad

An exterior restyle for 1966 Chevelle's 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.

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Front disc brakes were now available, 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.

Emissions And Safety Standards

After December 1, 1967, new Federal safety-mandated equipment required side marker lights on each fender. Under the hood, manual transmission cars received an air pump.

Chevelle SS396

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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 now 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.


Chevy SS Option

Designed to showcase the 409 engine, the first Super Sport option was offered on 1961 Chevy Impalas in very limited numbers. These early models featured heavy-duty suspension, sintered metallic brake linings, and the 360 horsepower 409-cid engine. Even with 4.56 rear gears, these first year SS's easily tapped out the 120-mph speedometer.

The Super Sport package was available on five Impala body styles, the most popular being the Sport Coupe. Five different engine/trans combos were offered, ranging from a 305-horsepower 348 engine on up to the 4-barrel 360-hp 409.

From 1961 through 1976, Chevrolet offered SS options on their Impala, Malibu, Chevy II, Nova, Camaro, Monte Carlo, and El Camino models.