Performance has been synonymous with Chevrolet since 1955 when the hallowed small-block was introduced. With the advent of the W-block in 1958 and, subsequently, 1961's 409, Chevrolet was in bloom. And when the muscle car era peaked in 1970, Chevrolet was there with the top dog in the industry--the 454/450 LS6. If you visited the Muscle Car & Corvette Nationals (MCACN) on November 19-20, 2011 in suburban Chicago, you would have been able to view Chevrolet's performance history in all its glory.
When it comes to the 1950s, nothing carried the Chevrolet performance banner better than the Corvette. From its humble beginnings as a six-cylinder roadster to a fuel-injected sports car, the Corvette evolved into a vehicle that was able to take all comers. At MCACN, you'd get that and a whole lot more: Split Windows, Mark IV big-blocks, L88s, six LS6 1971 Vettes . . . you get the idea.
But don't think that Bel Airs and their lesser '50s brethren were ignored. The '55 Chevy is the one that started it all, and their plentiful presence led gearheads to stuff whatever between their frame rails. The MCACN had a nice mix of stock and modified, culminating in a rare 1968 SS427.
The Chevy II and Nova was introduced to be a conventional companion to the import-fighting Corvair. A V-8 soon became available, reaching its peak with the 1966 L79 327 in '66. Supposedly, only six were built for '67. One of them, a turquoise Super Sport restored to concours status, was at MCACN. But, the next year, the 396 became available. Fred Gibb Chevrolet out of La Harpe, Illinois, ordered 50 Super Sports equipped with the L78 and automatic transmission through the COPO channel and created a legend because the 396/375 was only available with a four-speed. Mrs. Gibb was on hand with one of 'em.
Chevrolet's torch-bearer muscle car era was the Chevelle. First introduced in 1964, things got more interesting the following year with the Z16 Chevelle equipped with the L37 396. The most desirable Chevelles are the COPO 427 cars from 1969 (Yenko and otherwise) and the 1970 LS6 SS454, but the most significant Chevelle at MCACN may just be the 1970 L78/L89 SS396. Alphabet confusing you all of a sudden? That's a L78 with aluminum heads--only 18 were built before the option was replaced by the LS6.
That's a pretty cool roster of performance history, no? So what if a dealership modified these cars into something like Dr. Frankenstein's creations? Think Yenko, Nickey, Motion Performance . . . the latter in particular had its own display with a dozen or so of Joel Rosen's creations that he did in conjunction with Baldwin Chevrolet. He was on hand along with Hi-Performance Cars editor Marty Schorr to chat about raising hell in Long Island long before Joey Bottafuoco thought about robbing the cradle. From campaigning a fuelie Vette to offering his own Vette street machines (witness the Maco Shark), Joel Rosen and Motion Performance knew how to go faster--how else could they offer a guarantee your Phase III Motion vehicle was capable of 11.50 @ 120 mph or your money back? Pay special attention to the Rally Green '69 Camaro and the black Chevelle, as they were both bought by the son of a Mexican politician and are part of the fascinating folklore of Baldwin-Motion.