Chevelle SS history: The Z16 and 1968 specifics

Greg Zyla
Q: Greg, can you tell me a little about the Chevelle and its history up to 1970 and also how many 1968 Chevelle models were produced, overall? Which 1968 is most valuable? Which Chevelle would you like to own? Thanks, Ed L., San Antonio, Texas.
A: Glad to help, Ed. The Chevelle debuted in 1964 when Chevrolet decided to add a midsize to its car lineup that included Corvette, Corvair, Chevy II and the full size Biscayne, Belair and Impala models.
The new Chevelles were available in base 300, more amenities Malibu and the performance Malibu Super Sport (SS), the latter which would take on a persona of its own during the muscle car era. The highest horsepower SS available in ‘64 was a 300 horse 327, and it moved along quite well.
With the GTO making major inroads in the muscle car era at GM’s Pontiac headquarters, Chevy got serious and offered a 350-horse 327 SS in the Chevelle line, which when equipped with a four speed and proper gearing, was quite the quarter-mile performer. Still, better things arrived at mid-year when the very first SS396 appeared with a new L37 code 375 horse engine under the hood. These first big-block SS396 Chevelles are today very expensive as only 201 were built under a Z16 option code. These Chevelles featured Z16 specific beefed up suspensions, better brakes and heavy duty rear end.
Further, the Z16 Chevelle’s 375 horse L37 V8 differs from the L78 396 that developed 425 horses under the hood of the Corvette that same year. This came thanks to Z16’s hydraulic cam and 10.25 compression ratio versus Corvette’s higher lift solid lifter cam and 11.0 compression. Many think the Z16 came with the famous L78 code engines, but it did not. Today, it is reported that just 65 of the 201 original Z16s are accounted for.
By 1966, the muscle car craze boomed as 72,000 SS396 Chevelles were built with either 325, 360 or 375 horses available, the later now an official L78 version. The boulevards were filled with them, and even though the ’65 is the rare gem, owning a ’66 Chevelle SS396 is nothing to scoff at.
In 1967, 63.000 more Chevelle SS396s were sold with either 325 or 350 horsepower packages. I feel the drop in sales came about thanks to the other GM brands like Pontiac GTO, Buick Gran Sport and Olds 442 taking a decent share of the GM muscle car pie. Notable is that 1967 was a year that the L78 375 horse design was not available on the SS396 which I never could figure out.
Which brings us to 1968.
To answer your question, a total of 365,800 1968 Chevelle 300s and Malibus were produced and another 60,499 SS 396 coupes and 2,286 SS 396 Convertibles were assembled. When you add all this up, out of the 383,085 Chevelles built, less than one-percent (.059) were convertibles. Thus, the Chevelle Malibu SS396 convertible will attract the most dollars as per rarity in today’s market. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of the 1968 Chevelle’s looks nor have I ever been a convertible lover.
In 1966, the SS convertible numbered 2,984, and in 1967, it was 3,033. Thus, the 1968 SS Convertible is the rarest of the 66-67-68 Chevelles. The L78 option 396-375 horsepower version that returned in 1968 to the engine lineup is worth the most as currently a 1968 SS396/375 convertible is listed at a high retail of $104,000 tanks to the 45-percent increase the L78 adds to the price.
In 1969, Chevelle made nice changes to the rear taillight motif (which SS396 fans didn’t like in 1968) and the front end was given an upgrade that resulted in another great looking Chevelle SS396. In 1970, things got even better with a nice facelift enhancement up front and rear design upgrade treatments. Total Chevelle sales were 454,400 in 1969 and 403,855 in 1970 including station wagons.
Now with all this said, I would be the first in line NOT to turn down a good deal on a well taken care of ’68 Chevelle SS396, especially with the L78 option. I’m just trying to answer your question as to the specifics of the 1968 model, and its positives and negatives. In my opinion, the 1968 Chevelle exterior was the least popular as from 1964 through 1970, all Chevelles were judged by outward appearance as drivelines were so similar.
My personal favorite if a Z16 is not available? It has to be a 1970 SS454 LS6 thank you, red with black stripes but I’m not picky.
Thanks for your question, Ed.
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