Be sure to check out the test drive videos of these 1967 beauties in action!
Let’s go back in time. It’s the fall of ’66, and you’re ready to buy your first brand-new car. You’re a dedicated Chevrolet man. You finally have a decent job, some cash in the bank, and want to trade-in your used ’60 Bel Air. You want eight cylinders, some style, and maybe—just maybe—a bit of muscle.
You’re off to the local Chevy dealer. Your dad’s been shopping there for years, and they’ve always taken good care of him. Heck, your grandfather bought the Bel Air you’re driving now from them the year before he died. You’re a third-generation customer.
The new ’67 models are in the showroom, and there are so many decisions to be made. You’ve been dreaming of this day for years. All that time spent reading about new cars in Motor Trend and Hot Rod when your mom said you should have been studying. But the reality is, you got your diploma, a good job, and all that hard work is about to turn into Detroit iron.
As you step inside, you’re dazzled by the kaleidoscope of color and chrome. All your favorites are there, in vivid, brilliant hues, accented by acres of chrome and stainless. You are snapped back to reality as a salesman pats you on the back and asks your name. He’s a little older than you, maybe 5 or 10 years older, but as he addresses you, you feel like you can trust him. His hair is just a little longer than that of the rest of the staff, many of whom have probably been pushing sheetmetal here for decades.
“How are you?” he asks. “My name’s Bill. What’ll it be today?”
You respond that you just don’t know yet. You’ve seen that new Mustang fighter Chevy calls Camaro, and you’ve lusted after Corvettes ever since “Route 66” hit the airways, but there’s the allure of the hot SS Chevelles.
“If you’re into performance, you might want to try this Impala here,” Bill states, pointing to the gold-on-gold sport coupe outside. At first you’re aghast. That’s not a performance model, you point out. It’s not, he says, but he’s got a hot SS coming with the 396 porcupine engine. It’s due later that week.
You reluctantly agree to take it for a spin. It’s got an automatic trans, power steering, and a bench seat. It’s several steps above what you drove in with, but it’s too large. You want to step down in size—a lot. You don’t care how much horsepower that 396 makes; this is a lot of steel to move and you want something sportier.
The Real World:
Impala Sport Coupe
Like all the cars in this story, the ’67 Impala you see here belongs to Jim and Rick Schmidt, the owners of National Parts Depot, based in Ocala, Florida. It only had 1,640 miles on the odometer when your author climbed behind the wheel for this story. It’s not an SS, it doesn’t have bucket seats, or a large engine. But what it does have is an honest goodness that is as apparent today as it was to the car buying public in 1967.
The build date is the fifth week of June, and it rolled out of the Janesville, Wisconsin, assembly plant. The simple sport coupe still wears its original Grenada Gold paint and gold cloth and vinyl bench seat. There are not of lot of options, as was the norm back then. Air conditioning was still considered an expensive luxury to many of the blue-collar folks who bought Impalas year after year, and this one does not have it. Among its few extras are the two-speed Powerglide transmission, an AM radio, and power steering. That’s pretty much it. Power comes from a 283 two-barrel V-8 with 195 horsepower.
The ’67 is a pretty sleek automobile, a natural evolution of the ’65-’66 models. Considered slightly over-styled by some, the front and rear fenders have an arch to them that was probably influenced by the ’63-67 Corvette. As was the style in the mid-to-late ’60s, the two-door hardtop wears a stylish fastback roof. The trunk is enormous and the engine bay looks like it could hold another motor.
As I open the door, you can’t miss that distinctive GM interior scent. It’s faint, but it’s still there. Sliding behind the wheel, I’m instantly transported back to my youth, a simpler time for sure. The three-spoke steering wheel is a bit of a sporty touch, as are the three large round dials in front of the driver (l-r: fuel gauge, speedometer, clock). There’s no question that these fullsize Chevys could accommodate a family of six. There’s definitely room for three across seating—in comfort. The only quirk is rear seat legroom. It’s hard to fathom that a vehicle this long could have enough legroom for someone perhaps 5-foot, 7-inches tall, maybe 5-8. I guess if your children were older, you could opt for the four-door and get more space back there.
I pump the gas once, turn the key, and the 283 instantly fires and holds a high idle. Yes, the choke works just fine. Once there’s a little heat in the engine, I kicked the throttle and drop the idle down. Credit Larry Galyean, the Car Collection Coordinator at NPD. He has this car (and all the others) running like it was built last week.
I put the ’glide in reverse, back it out of its space in the warehouse, then pull it into Drive and head out. At first the old bias plies are little flat on one side from sitting. They make themselves known in the cockpit, but after a mile or so, they warm up and return to normal. To use a cliché, it runs like a champ. It’s no speedster, but the 283 pulls strong and true to freeway speeds. There’s no hesitation whatsoever. With the numerically-low rear gearing, you could cruise this car on today’s highways at 75 mph without putting a strain on the 283.
The bias plies make their presence known again in corners. They are just overmatched by the weight of the vehicle and their antique design. Even a simple right turn at speeds under 20 mph and you can feel (and hear) them straining. The steering, on the other hand, is a delightful combination of lightness at low speeds, with a bit of feedback at road speeds. While it’s not sports car tight or firm like a new car, it’s not one-finger light, like an old Mopar. It’s just right.
After a few minutes you can understand why Chevy used to sell its fullsize automobiles by well over a million units a year. They did everything in their mission statement well. While Impalas typically lacked the extravagant accouterments you’d find in a Buick or Cadillac, they delivered a ride that was supremely comfortable, with mass, style, and reliability you’d expect in a far more expensive car. They delivered unsurpassed value in the segment, which is most likely why the Chevy faithful bought one after the other for decades. I can imagine the original owner of this Impala leaving the dealership, his chest swelled with pride. He probably couldn’t wait to show it off to his friends and family. I felt proud just sitting in it at a traffic light.
“It’s just incredible to drive,” noted owner Rick Schmidt. “Everything operates just like it should. It’s a time capsule. I get a lot of joy having it like it was as a new car.”
Back inside the dealership, you ask Bill where all the SS Camaros are. “Sold out. Every SS350 goes out of here as soon as it comes in,” he replies. “The good news is I’m taking orders now on the hottest one yet—there’s a SS396 available now with up to 375-horsepower.
That gets your attention. You’d read about it in Cars, one of the East Coast magazines. The prospect of a 375-horse Camaro with those fancy hideaway headlights has your pulse racing. Add a four-speed and 3.73 gears and you can be the king of the drive-in. There’s a base V-8 Camaro Sport Coupe outside that you can drive. That’s what you do. You’ve not been in one of these new Camaros yet, but if you like it, maybe there’s enough life left in Gramp’s old Bel Air that you can order one and wait for it to arrive. As you walk outside, you go past a Camaro with stripes, but it’s only got a 302 under the hood. Pass-a-dena. Must be something for chicks, you think to yourself.
The Real World:
Camaro V-8 Sport Coupe
This base V-8 F-body came to NPD from the original owner, an older gentleman who retired to Florida. He added the Rally wheels and decklid spoiler over the course of the car’s lifetime “to sport it up,” but the original hubcaps came with the vehicle when NPD acquired it. It’s been repainted once in the factory Mountain Green, and the top’s been been replaced, but according to Rick, “it wasn’t a lot of money and the deluxe interior was in great condition.” Other than the cosmetics, it’s all-original with 68,622 miles. Remarkably, it has the same build date as the Impala (June, fifth week), though it was born in the Norwood, Ohio, plant.
Power comes from a 327 two-barrel that makes 210 horsepower. Like the Impala, it uses a Powerglide to transfer ponies to the rear. In this era when seemingly every first-gen Camaro you see is an SS396 or 427 COPO clone, this represents what most Camaros actully were back in the ’60s. While you could order a fire-breathing hot rod with a big-block, four-speed and numerically high gears, most were simple, fun-to-drive runabouts like our test example.
“It’s not a big power car, not a big-block,” says Rick. What turned him on about it was, “the intrinsic quality of the car itself,” adding, “Being a little 327 car, most have been crunched, converted to drag cars, or heavily modified.”
Not this one. While the paint isn’t perfect, the rest of the body is. Options are few: power steering, AM radio, Powerglide and deluxe interior. About that interior: Wow. It’s pristine. To use Rick’s phrase, it’s a time capsule. Everything about it is so simplistic. Those who complain the fifth-gen Camaro’s interior is plain should spend an afternoon in here. It looks like it took three minutes to sketch it out. Both old and new are remarkably similar in design, though the new car has much softer surfaces. Visibility is definitely better in a first-gen, as the roof on the 2010-up cars definitely feels chopped by comparison.
In front of the driver are a speedometer, odometer, some idiot lights, and a fuel gauge—and precious little else. There’s a lot of chrome and brightwork throughout the cockpit to give it a more expensive feel and the three-spoke wheel is sporty enough, with its side spokes at the proper 9-and-3 position. The optional console and floor shifter give you extra flash and more utility.
As was the case with the Impala, you set the choke with your foot, turned the key, and the 327 is instantly humming. This is exactly how they ran when new and the folks at NPD are to be commended for maintaining their classics to the extent where they function like brand new vehicles, even though they rely on 1960s technology. Everything is set to the factory specifications.
For obvious reasons, the Camaro drives a lot smaller than the Impala. You can take it faster into a corner, but “faster” in this case is a relative term with those bias ply tires. The steering feel is almost identical to the bigger car, but the Camaro is more nimble. The handling is predictable even as the tires start breaking away. It definitely wants to push, but it’s fun to drive nonetheless. A set of modern radials would do wonders here. It’s definitely no Z/28, but it’s a perfect example of what someone looking for in a base ponycar would buy during the waning days of the Johnson administration. It’s simply fun to drive.
We’re happy to report the brakes are pretty sure. Pedal feel is good—very linear—even though there’s no power assist (or maybe because of it). It stops from speed in a straight line.
With a 327, it is certainly no drag racer, but with a two-barrel carb and single exhaust, it wasn’t designed to win races. It was engineered to be reliable, economical, and supply performance that was above and beyond that of the competition. In ’67, the base Camaro V-8 had 10 more horsepower, 38 more cubic inches, and 38 more lb-ft of torque than a comparable 289 2-bbl Mustang. Acceleration was brisk, though not breathtaking. We guessed low 18s in the quarter-mile, and in checking our archives, we were right. In the December ’66 issue, Motor Trend went 18.2 at 77 mph in a car with the identical powertrain.
That Camaro is pretty sweet, you have to admit. Even with the baby motor (well, except for the tiny 302), it’s pretty well sorted out. You are thinking of what it’d be like to spec this baby up with Rat power and a four-speed. You try to play it cool, but the salesman knows he’s got one on the line. He starts saying something about a two-month wait, though, which snaps you back to reality. That’s when you see them, side by side, a pair of Marina Blue Bow Ties. Your head just about explodes. On the left is an honest-to-goodness SS396 Chevelle ragtop, on the right a Marina Blue Corvette Sting Ray—with sidepipes no less.
You can feel the checkbook dancing around inside your sport coat pocket.
“Er, ah, how much for these two?” That’s what you say, stammering. “You know, what’s the price of each one?” The salesman runs inside and gets the keys to the Chevelle. It’s not a question of if he’s going to sell you a car—and he knows it. It’s just a matter of which one.
The Real World:
Chevelle SS396 Convertible
Compared to the 283 Impala and the 327 two-barrel Camaro, this SS396/350-horse Chevelle feels like Hercules unchained. Just step on the throttle a little and the bias ply tires start squealing—a testament to big-block torque and ancient tire technology. I loved driving this car. It’s definitely more my style.
The blue ragtop is a very unusual touch, but it’s correct for this car, according to the trim tag. Few remember that Chevy even offered a Medium Blue convertible top on Chevelles in ’67, and most of those probably ended up on white cars. This one looks rather unusual against the Marina Blue paint (and blue interior). It’s also one of the aspects that drew Rick to the A-body, even though he jokingly calls the SS396, “a cliché collectible.”
Backing up the 396 is an M-20 wide-ratio four-speed. The shifter just slips effortlessly from one gear to the next. It was an absolute joy to run the Rat up through the rpm range and then grab the next gear with absolute precision. The Chevelle still has the original factory T-lever for reverse. Remember how they rattled in the ’60s and ’70s? I was delighted to find this one still has those rattles in it. Some factory flaws shouldn’t be corrected.
A neat touch is the Audiovox FM converter bolted under the dash—that’s a real period piece. It’s a throwback to when FM was just becoming popular and a place for long hairs to listen to free-form rock radio.
I personally felt more comfortable in the midsize muscle car. It hooked me immediately. Definitely enjoyed throwing it around. It felt more substantial than the Camaro, but not to the point of being a distraction like the enormous Impala. It’s no Corvette in the corners, but it’s sure-footed. Power disc brakes give it a leg up on the other two cars in the stopping department.
The gauge cluster is definitely not as sporty as a GTO of the same vintage. The tach is like an afterthought off on the left side of the dash, and the sweeping speedometer is a little pedestrian for a car with such sporting intentions. Except for the three-spoke steering wheel, what you’re looking at inside is fairly plain, though the seats and door panels help dress things up quite a bit. No complaints about the seats, though. They were quite comfortable.
All the excitement is what’s happening under your right foot. I couldn’t get enough of the big-block. I don’t care if it wasn’t the King Kong 375-horse version. It put a smile on my face for days.
The Real World:
Corvette Sting Ray Coupe
“I just love that car,” was Rick’s take on the L79-powered coupe. “All my life I’ve wanted a Corvette with that roofline. Growing up as a kid, there was a red ’65 with sidepipes in my neighborhood. I always wanted one, but could not pull it off. I put it off year and year and that turned into decade after decade. This one belonged to Ford Heacock of Heacock Classic Car insurance. I knew it was a real L79 car.”
Not just an L79 car, but one with an M-20 four-speed, sidepipes and factory air—a big plus as these cars can get toasty warm inside if you plan on driving them a lot in warmer weather. And drive this one Rick does, more than any other car in the NPD collection.
“I drive it so much because it drives so nicely,” he insists. You can really toss it in corners.”
As much as I loved cruising in the Impala, Camaro and Chevelle, this Corvette—thanks to its more serious chassis, independent rear suspension and superior driving position—made the others feel almost ancient. It was that far advanced over every other domestic car on the road back ’67. It had to be like driving a space ship. The manual steering was a little cumbersome at low speeds, but was remarkably precise on the road. Yes, the steering wheel was skinny, but that was normal back then. The ride was superb and the grip five levels higher than its closest competitor. We wondered: How much did the NPD car’s redline radial tires help in this regard?
Shift action on the M-20 was even more precise than the Chevelle’s. If this were my car, I’d have been throwing powershifts with it all afternoon. As it were, I drove it hard but with respect. The Sting Ray rewarded every action with an equally positive reaction. The roar of the high-winding, 6,500 rpm small-block through the sidepipes was as intoxicating as any 18-year-old Scotch whiskey. The four-wheel disc brakes (11.75-inches all around) stopped the car in short order and repeatedly. The driving position was absolutely perfect, as was the view over those artfully sculpted fenders. A telescopic wheel was available in ’67, but this Vette didn’t have it. Can’t say I missed it much.
The controls were all within easy reach, though the A/C controls were a tad confusing. Marina blue with a blue interior is a very ’60s combination, and one we’d empty the 401k for today as long as it came in a ’67 Corvette. After spending 30 minutes behind the wheel of this example, it’s no surprise that collectors trip over themselves to buy them at auction. It’s obviously a landmark automobile.
Complaints? Well, you definitely need to watch your legs on those sidepipes, especially if you’re wearing shorts. Much as they would after a Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin concert, your ears are ringing after you exit a Corvette with sidepipes. Let’s face it: There’s nothing behind those covers but chambered pipe. And while this ringing may be negative, much like seeing your favorite band in concert at high volume, the sounds leave you euphoric.
If you’re searching one out, the biggest problem with any vintage Corvette is provenance. There are so many fake big-block and high-output small-block cars, you need as much paperwork as possible—and we’ve even heard of that being counterfeited. Caveat emptor, indeed.
After piloting both the Chevelle and the Corvette, you are torn. The power of both is definitely enough to get you noticed at Tubby’s Drive-In. The Sting Ray’s hot, but you hear there’s an all-new version coming in ’68.
The Impala’s out. Too big, too slow, too “establishment.” You are hot for the Camaro, but if you order one with the L78 big-block now, who knows when you’ll actually get it? Bill makes you a decent offer for your grandfather’s old Bel Air, especially considering it’s a six-cylinder car.
This is the moment of truth.
This is the biggest decision you’ve ever made without consulting your parents. Chevelle or Corvette? Convertible with room for five or a coupe that seats two. Once Bill runs the numbers, you come to an irrefutable conclusion.
Chevelle it is. Payments on the Vette would really stretch the budget, plus the insurance will be a lot higher. Your write out a deposit check, fill out some paperwork and head home one last time in the old Bel Air. Tomorrow evening, you’re picking up your brand-new, Marina Blue, SS396 Chevelle convertible. You won’t be able to sleep tonight
Conclusions In The Real World
A day like this comes along once in a lifetime. The opportunity for me to explore the idiosyncrasies of one classic automobile is a treat. To be able to sample four pristine examples that not only look (or are) original, but run the way GM intended is one for the bucket list. These cars are the state of the Chevrolet art, circa 1967. Obviously, NPD was missing a Nova, so there’s a hole in the story. Still everyone wants to know: Which was my favorite?
If money were no object, I’d say the Corvette because of the timeless styling, the way it drove, and the power from the high-strung small-block. Every time the car’s mechanical tach danced towards the redline, electricity shot up and down my spine. But they were expensive then, and even costlier now.
Throw economics into the mix, however, and I have to say the Chevelle was my hands-down choice. It had the muscle under the hood, the slick-shifting four-speed, plus enough room for my family and all our luggage. A trip to the beach with the top down would be a memorable, to say the least. Heck, a trip to the dry cleaners in this car would be reason to celebrate. It was that wonderful.
That’s not to say there was anything wrong with the Camaro or the Impala, but were this 1967 and I was married with children, no doubt about it—the Chevelle would be the car for me.
Special thanks to Derek Putnam of National Parts Depot, without whom this story could not have occurred. Not only did he set up the logistics, but he came early and stayed late to ensure I had everything I needed. Also, special thanks go out to Jim and Rick Schmidt of NPD, who graciously allowed me to not only drive these fine automobiles, but let their employees help me all day.