1965-1972 Chevrolet Chevelle SS - Buyer's Guide

By: Cliff Chambers

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This was Chevrolet's Goldilocks model - not too big like a full-size Chevy, not too compact like a Chevy II - just right

 

1965-1972 Chevrolet Chevelle SS

Chevrolet until 1963 had simply not bothered to build a 'mid-sized' car. Its dominance of the 'full-sized' market was legendary but then Ford developed a mid-sized Fairlane and Chrysler the Dodge Dart. Things got worse when Rambler which based its existence on smaller cars moved into third spot on US sales charts.

Chevrolet’s mid-sized Chevelle arrived in 1964 and was extremely successful at bridging the gap between the brand’s compact Chevy II and its full-sized cars. During its first year, almost 340,000 were sold and that was even before the market showed interest in performance versions.

For 1965 the Malibu SS took on a separate identity, with specification that included a unique version of the 327 cubic inch V8. For 1966 came another special version of the Super Sport with a 6.5-litre '396' engine, Wide Oval tyres and optional disc brakes. Also on the options list was four-speed manual transmission or two-speed Powerglide with 0-96km/h times below seven seconds.

| 2019 Market Review: Chevrolet Chevelle/Nova/El Camino 1964-78

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A major 1968 restyle delivered a lengthened wheelbase and new shape that slotted the Chevelle seamlessly in between the Camaro and Impala. More than 400,000 of the reshaped cars were sold, with some 57,600 of them being the SS396.

As concerns for safety grew and muscle cars like the SS396 went faster the brakes struggled to keep pace. First change for Chevelle came as sintered brake linings with greater resistance to fade, followed for 1969 by standard front disc brakes. By 1971 the 396 cubic inch V8 was no longer standard fare for SS buyers. A five-litre 307 took its place, although bigger engines could still be specified.

Heaviest hitter in the Chevelle range was the LS6 SS454 with a claimed 450bhp (335kW). Introduced in 1970 and surviving for just two years, these all had four-speed manual transmission and with a ‘stock’ rear axle ratio would thunder through the standing 400 metres in 13.2 seconds.

| Read next: 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS454 LS5

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Once huge horsepower and single-digit fuel guzzling became socially unacceptable, high-performance Chevelles joined other muscle machines in oblivion. However the Chevelle name lived on and with a new shape for 1973 and 5.7-litre V8 the basic engine, it remained successful. Total 1974 sales exceeded 91,000 and despite fuel shortages and price rises more than 64,000 of those were V8s.

Australia during the 1960s saw very few new Chevelles. Most in the current market are recent imports that weren't required to undergo value-sapping steering conversions and drive better as a consequence.

Historic registration schemes were a huge help, allowing LHD cars to be used under strict conditions for car-club events. Some that came here as personal or Diplomatic imports were also allowed to be fully registered in the ACT, Northern Territory and South Australia without conversion.

| Read next: Chevrolet Chevelle review

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Unless a car is very scarce specification (an LS6 for example) the difference in value between left or right hand drive has become negligible. Overall condition is the major concern, so is retaining original components and, if it's an SS, being painted the correct factory colour.

Average examples of the SS396 have reached $50,000 and cars with show potential can exceed $70,000.

VALUE RANGE: Chevrolet Chevelle  (SS396 Auto)

Fair: $25,000
Good: $48,000
Excellent: $70,000

(Note: exceptional cars will demand more)

BUYER'S CHECKLIST

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Body & chassis

Chevelles arriving after some years' exposure to icy North American winters will likely be exhibiting the effects so check the underside carefully for rust and hasty repairs. These include bodges like a replacement sill welded over the rusted original. SS Chevelles were characterised by vinyl roof covering in many colours and this has resulted in huge numbers being scrapped due to turret and rear pillar rust. Look at front and rear window surrounds, front mudguards and lower doors for bubbling. A US business that specialises in Chevelle can supply any section of sheet metal that is needed. Check freight and import costs which can make seemingly cheap parts very expensive. Exterior mouldings and new bumpers are available but replacing everything can run into thousands.

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Engine & transmission 

Various V8s were fitted to 1960s-70s Chevelles and none of them displays serious durability issues. Parts are also easily obtained and complete, reconditioned engines available locally cost less than $7000. Replacement may not be an option where the car has its original block and authenticity is important. Motors that haven't been rebuilt in a while will likely have oil leaks, however gaskets, crankshaft seals, piston rings, even new oil pans are affordable. Overheating is usually due to a worn water pump or clogged radiator and an engine that backfires may have a worn distributor. Automatic transmissions need to be checked if the have dirty fluid with a burned smell and display slurred upshifts.

Suspension & brakes

Decent components are critical to enjoyment and safety. Soft springs or amateur lowering jobs reduce clearance, especially beneath the long rear overhang, and create uncomfortable bouncing over bumps. New spring sets for all models are available locally for less than $600. A soft brake pedal points to faulty hydraulics so look at the master cylinder for low fluid level and the rear wheels for evidence of leaks. The parking brake should hold the car without needing excessive pressure and release easily.

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Interior & electrics

These cars are all 50 years old or close to it and age allied to neglect will cause trim to split and fade Replacing the seat coverings, dash-pad, door trims and carpets is the best way to smarten a tired car and complete trim kits can be found in the USA from US$2500. Replacing an SS steering wheel with a correct-pattern reproduction will cost the better part of A$800 so inspect carefully for cracks. Ensure that the electric windows aren’t sticking and the air-conditioner if fitted does blow cold air. Unless a car has been parked for a long time it should have already been converted to environmentally-friendly refrigerant.

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1965-1972 Chevrolet Chevelle SS

Number built: 197,500 (SS396 1968-70)
Body style: All-steel separate body/chassis, two and four-door sedan and wagon, two-door coupe and convertible
Engine: 5354cc, 5737cc, 6490cc overhead valve V8 with single downdraft carburettor
Power & torque: 278kW @ 5600rpm, 560Nm @ 3600rpm (1969-model 396)
Performance: 0-96km/h
6.5 seconds, 0-400m
14.5 seconds (396 auto)
Transmission: Three or four-speed manual, two or three speed automatic
Suspension: Independent with upper & lower control arms, coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar
(f) Live axle with coil springs, locating arms, telescopic shock absorbers (r)
Brakes: Drum or disc (f) drum (r) power assisted
Tyres: F70-14 crossply

From Unique Cars #435, January 2020

 

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