At the pinnacle of the American muscle car era, Chevrolet dropped the A-bomb on the competition: 454 cubic-inches, 450-horspower, 500 lb-ft of torque. It was the LS6 version of the 1970 Chevelle SS454.
There were two SS454 Chevelles that year, the 360-horse LS5, and God’s own supercar, the omnipotent LS6. With a solid-lifter cam, Holley four-barrel and aluminum intake, the LS6 was the end-all, be all factory performer from Chevrolet. Test results varied from a best of 13.2 at 106 (Super Stock & Drag Illustrated) and 13.44 at 108 (Hot Rod) with four-speeds to 13.8 with an automatic (Motor Trend)—remember, this was in bone-stock trim on F70-14 bias-ply tires! Except for a couple of big-block Corvettes and specialty machines from the likes of Yenko and Baldwin-Motion, nothing else with a Bow Tie ever came close in the quarter-mile.
Thanks to the folks at Auctions America, we had a chance to spend an afternoon driving a genuine Chevrolet LS6 Chevelle. The car is going to its Fort Lauderdale auction on March 14-16, and the Auctions America team wanted to know if we wanted to have a turn behind the wheel before it went across the block.
Quicker than you could say, “Shut Down,” we were rolling across Florida towards their headquarters in Stuart, just north of Fort Lauderdale. What greeted us that day was the Misty Turquoise LS6 you see here. With the black stripes and black vinyl top, it was an unusual combination, but we liked it. Were we ordering it new, we wouldn’t have ordered the vinyl top, but that’s how it rolled off the assembly line.
Like many an LS6 Chevelle, this was a pretty basic machine. There was no power steering, though it did have power brakes. Console? None. The “infotainment system” consisted of an AM radio, Muncie four-speed, and watching the Cowl Induction hood flapper open each time we buried the throttle. And that was often.
The LS6’s legend has grown each day since the last one was built. What surprised us most was just how docile it was. Pump the gas, turn the key, and it started right up. It idled fairly smoothly for what it was, and with stock mufflers and exhaust manifolds it was remarkably quiet inside. Even the M-22 Rock Crusher four-speed made less noise than most people remember. Keep in mind that while most LS6 Chevelles ended up as modified street machines or racecars, when new they had to meet GM’s strict standards for driveability and reliability, not to mention the government’s regulations for noise. As such, they were remarkably tractable, despite their awe-inspiring capabilities. I could imagine this being my daily driver during the Nixon years.
This particular Chevrolet SS454 LS6 Chevelle was an older restoration and had a couple of minor flaws, hence Auctions America predicts it will sell in the $45-55,000 range. That’s about half of what one would expect to pay for a recent high-dollar, frame-off resto. This could be the bargain of the year, in our opinion. This is an LS6 Chevelle in real-world, driver condition. It can be enjoyed on the street without the fear of stone chips. It’s a great investment, but one that can be power-shifted.
While the LS6 had fresh gas in the tank, it hadn’t been driven in a while—something quite common in high-dollar collector cars. The more miles we added, the better it felt. A couple of 6,200-rpm pulls helped clean the plugs, and the 454 felt stronger and stronger as the day wore on. Despite it being 80 degrees outside, the big, iron Rat under the hood never went over 210 degrees while idling in traffic, which is the normal operating temp. When cruising, it held a steady 180 or so.
As for the manual steering, it’d been a while since we drove an old muscle car without power assist. At speed it felt great—good feel and direct—but at slow speeds it was a real workout. Worth the tradeoff? If you didn’t do a lot of parallel parking back in the day, you’d have never missed it. The front disc brakes were a tad on the touchy side, most definitely over-assisted. The Hurst shifter was everything its reputation would have you believe. Quick, short throws—impossible to miss a gear.
And what magic rowing that shifter was. As it said in the ancient Hot Rod road test, the LS6 seemed happiest being shifted at 6,100 or 6,200 rpm. Stepping on the throttle at anything over an idle melted the BFGoodrich radials. Sidestepping the clutch at 3000 put you back in the seat and had the tail end of the Chevelle sliding east-west, while the Posi and 500 lb-ft of torque had the car rushing north. Ones the tires hooked, the acceleration was steady and strong, right into second and third gear.
Owing to the dual-purpose nature of the machine, the ride quality of the Chevrolet Chevelle was an absolute pleasure. It’s no wonder GM sold millions of A-bodies every year from its various divisions. Even with the SS suspension, this car rode superbly. It was flat in corners, yet never remotely harsh. This example was also rattle-free. There was a ton of room for five adults and a giant trunk to haul their belongings. With the windows up, the cockpit was remarkably quiet.
The LS6 Chevelle was the ultimate performance car in an era rife with them. Refined is rarely a word associated with this breed, but I have to say in 100-percent stock trim, it’s a word I could use. I would see it running mid-13s off the showroom floor, then 11s with open headers, slicks and typical modifications from back in the day.
What a machine. What a day.