Q: I enjoyed your recent car articles and am now 65 years old. Back in the 1960s, it was a great time to own a performance car, and I owned a 1968 Camaro RS SS that I bought it from a guy in Worchester, MA. It had been specifically ordered as a "stop light special" because back then it was a big deal to have the "fastest car at the stop light."
Originally, the Camaro was a 396 big block with 375 horsepower and a rock crusher 4-speed with 4.88 gears. It also came from the factory with one extra leaf spring on the right side (passenger). It was the fastest car in Worcester at one point.
When I went to buy it, though, the guy had switched out the engine, transmission and rear gears for a regular 327 to save money. My question is this. Did the 1968 Camaro RS SS 396 engine have aluminum heads? Of course this is just curiosity on my part.
Even with the 327, it turned out to be a nice car and of course looked every bit the strong performer and sounded wonderful. But, with the 327, it was a pussycat in reality. Do you know any of the history of the Camaro with the 396/375 setup?
Keep up the good articles on older cars. Jeff Furber, Massachusetts
A: Jeff, thanks for the nice words and you came to the right guy to ask about that 396/375, as I personally owned one. Mine was a 1968 RS SS that I bought used with 5,000 miles on it from a Ford dealer.
The engine in my car was the L78 code 375 horsepower 396 engine, which came with cast iron heads, aluminum intake and dual inlet Holley carburetor. It had a flat tappet cam, rock crusher M-22 four speed and a 4.10 rear. The cost of this option I believe was $500.30 at the time. A total of just 4,575 Camaro SS L78's were built of the near 28,000 Camaro SS's delivered that year, both big and small block.
As for the aluminum heads, the answer is yes. In 1968, you could order the L89 375 horsepower 396 option, which added the aluminum heads. The L89 option was $868, and only 272 were ever built. Thus, yours could have been one, and a very rare one at that.
Today, a pristine L89 1968 Camaro will probably start at $80K at a Mecum auction, while the L78 will probably start at $50K. In the past, an L89 1969 Camaro Indy Pace Car ragtop sold for $153,000 at Mecum.
Too bad we didn't see the future coming, or we'd still have them in our garages.