I received two letters from readers concerning a column I wrote on the history of the Chevelle SS. I noted that in 1967, the Chevelle SS did not offer the 396/375-horse engine option. One letter correcting me was from a business owner who deals in Chevelle parts and a second from a reader who was nice enough to send me a printed option list from 1967, indicating the L78 375 horse 396 did exist.
How my “L78 option not available” quote came to pass is an experience I remember to this day…and it’s a personal one and hopefully one worth sharing.
I had a good friend in high school named Anthony “Ted” Dauito. Like me, Ted was a car crazy, drag racing loving individual who had everything going for him. He was a smart, good looking guy, and had all the nice girlfriends and so on. He also had a “don’t get on the wrong side of” reputation that if Ted liked you, you knew it and if he didn’t you also knew it.
To prove Ted was a true friend, I’ve got to explain what happened at our 8th grade graduation party held at another friend’s house. Before the party, I asked Ted to please not give me any friendly back of head smacks. These smacks were a south Jersey custom many of the kids did to their buddies in that era. As eighth graders, we guys were fully aware that all the girls would be at the party and I didn’t want Ted smacking the back of my head and messing up my greased back, West Side Story inspired hair.
Well, the party gets underway and Ted comes up and gives me that big smack in the back of my head. Looking more like Alfalfa now than a West Side Story guy, I’m really mad. Physically, I was one of the smallest guys in my class and Ted was bigger and stronger. So, I picked up a 45 RPM record that I was about to put on the record changer and threw that record as hard as I could directly Ted. Unaware of aerodynamics at the time, the record straightened itself out in mid air and hit Ted directly in the forehead.
The blood started gushing out.
At this point, I’m in panic mode as all the kids are there and, having seen how Ted took care of other guys for way less (this means he roughed them up) I’m now fully aware that I’m going to be punched in the face in front of my entire class.
After partygoers gave Ted a few napkins to administer to the blood running down his face, Ted walks quickly in my direction where I’m now standing stiff with fear. However, instead of punching the daylights out of me, Ted gives me a hug and whispers an apology for smacking me in the head and promises never to do it again. I know this has nothing to do with collector cars, but it sure solidified our friendship from that day on. That’s what I remember most about Ted Dauito. He was my real friend and one who loved cars and racing.
Anyway, it’s now 1966 and Ted is the proud recipient of a brand new 1966 Chevelle SS396. It was a 4-speed, 325-horse version that was purchased right off the lot at our local Chevrolet dealer. His was one of probably 15 or so new ’66 Chevelles that roamed Vineland’s two-mile long, four lane wide “avenue” where most of us spent every night cruising and hanging out.
It was just like American Graffiti. It was a big deal and the car manufacturers were selling these new muscle cars like hotcakes. (See attached ad).
Ted’s Chevelle wasn’t one of the faster cars around mainly because the SS that year was available with a 360-horse version or the ultimate L78 396/375. (See attached ad). His 325 just didn’t cut it.
Not surprisingly, street racing was real big in South Jersey, and our weekly late night races attracted hundreds of people all over the place and big money drag races. Ted raced a lot and also attended the first ever 1965 Super Stock Magazine Nationals, held at York US 30 in Pennsylvania and now known as The Woodstock of Drag Racing. Following this event, Ted was 100-percnt sold on organized drag racing and told me to teach him everything I knew and that we were going to go big time drag racing when he got out of school.
In the meantime, Ted wanted to make his Chevelle faster. I explained his Chevelle was not going to be competitive in the big money races unless we put some serious money into an engine and driveline upgrade, but it would be better to get a new ride. Fortunately, Ted came from a family of means, so it was decided he would just go ahead and order a new 1967 Chevelle SS396 with the 375 horse engine and start from there.
I remember it was a late August afternoon when off we went to the Chevy dealer to price out a new 1967 SS396/375. To our surprise, the salesman told us the 375 engine was not available for ’67. I asked him to double check, and he told us the 325 and 350 horse options were the only ones listed. (See attached ad).
This is how I remembered the ’67 SS396 did not offer the 375 L78. So, Ted and I were just going to wait and although Ted was a Chevy guy, we discussed the ’67 Dodge RT 426 Hemi, which would be the ultimate option that I hoped Ted would lean towards. It was an exciting time for us, especially now talking a 426 Hemi.
A few days later on Sept. 6, 1966, 18-year-old Anthony “Ted” Dauito was killed drag racing on the highway. He lost control after a front tire blowout and his Chevelle rolled on its left side into a wooded area. He was racing another Chevelle SS396 on a highway near Norma, New Jersey, and died at the scene at 1:40 a.m.
The news of his death spread, and it was the first time anything like this happened in my life. Gone were the plans, fun times, hopes and dreams all snuffed out in an instant.
I want to thank readers Roger Ausley of Ausley’s Chevelle Parts in Graham, N.C. and Cliff Stalker, a New Englander who reads my columns in The Cape Cod Times in Massachusetts. Both noted that Chevrolet produced 612 L78 375-horse Chevelles in 1967, but they weren’t available until after May 1.
This column is dedicated to the memory of my friend, Anthony “Ted” Dauito and serves as another reminder of the dangers of street racing.