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A Look Back At 1966 Bow Ties

Back In The Day: Look Out 1966

Doug Marion Jun 24, 2015
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In mid-1965 Chevrolet Motor Division began letting the “cat out of the bag” on what new would be coming soon for 1966. You see, 1965 was certainly no slouch for Chevrolet: an awesome Z16 Malibu SS 396 whet the appetites of every Chevelle and Bow Tie performance fan. The new 1965 Turbo-Jet 396 came in two setups: one for top-end horsepower and the other for smooth-idle and mid-range torque. We were told that 1966 would bring three horsepower ratings in the newly styled Chevelle Super Sport 396. A new Turbo-Fire 427 engine was an extra-cost option in the Corvette and fullsize passenger car.

For the 1966 Chevy II model, the factory upped the 250 and 300hp 327 offerings with 275 and 350-horsepower RPO engines. Not surprisingly, the RPO L79 350hp 327 outsold the RPO L30 275hp 327, 5,481 to 5,108. At year’s end, both sales totals were considered excellent for Chevy’s little pocket rocket.

On February 25, 1966, I placed my $100 deposit at my employer, Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago for a special-order, red-on-red, L79 327 Chevy II sport coupe. It was then produced at GM’s Willow Run Assembly Plant and delivered to Nickey Chevrolet on April 1. My “employee price” out-the-door was $2,398.50. The window sticker suggested retail price was $3,210.00.

I chose the L79 Chevy II for its superior power-to-weight ratio, its great looks, its hefty 12-bolt differential, and, of course, its low price. Having sold my ’62 SS 409 months before, I gave strong consideration on special-ordering a 1966 L72 427 Biscayne. The deal breaker was my 80-mile commute to/from the west side of Chicago at Nickey Chevrolet’s 4501 Irving Park Road location.

Total 1966 V-8 Chevelle sales ended up at 330,812, of which 75,245 were Super Sport 396s. As the very first Owner Relations manager at Nickey, my job was to call every cash customer of a new or used car plus service work to make sure they were pleased. This was a great way to get the scoop on what each buyer thought of their new or used car. Telephone answering machines were not yet invented, so to speak to the man of the house I had to call back in the evening.

In many of my past historical stories, I have repeatedly mentioned what people who could not afford a new Chevy bought instead, and did with their cars in a given year. In this story it would be anything 1965 or older. I knew a lot of 1963-’64 SS 409 owners who decided to buy a new 1966 Chevelle SS 396.

There were black-on-black and Marina Blue Chevelles everywhere – seemingly all with small wheel covers, which came as standard equipment. White, red, and gold Chevelles also sold in strong numbers. Total Chevelle sales in 1966 were 12 percent greater than 1965 (447,364 versus 397,750). Fullsize V-8 Chevys for both years were just over 1,300,000. Chevy II sales were 24 percent higher in 1966.

In the wild world of national drag racing, three Chevy IIs come to mind: Southern California’s Doug Thorley campaigned a 482ci bored and stroked 396 Chevy II match racer as did Blair’s Speed Shop’s Steve Bovan. Both ran solid 9.70s at 145 mph. In the Midwest and East, Dick Harrell’s injected 427 Chevy II was sponsored by Nickey Chevrolet and Bill Thomas Racing. His red ’66 ran wheels-up 9.50s at 140 mph like clockwork. The South’s Huston Platt ran unbelievable 8.90s and 9.00s at over 150 mph in his Enderle-injected, big-inch Chevy II.


This show-winning, black 1966 Chevy II Super Sport is the handiwork of southeast Iowa’s Robert Keller. We first spotted it a decade ago at the annual Fred Gibb Chevrolet Memorial Car Show in LaHarpe, Illinois.


The late Dick Harrell was awesome, launching wheels-up in a 9-second match race. Photo courtesy of Alan Gartzman.


Chicago’s Bill Skarupinski owns many Chevys, including this Chevy-Vette-Fest-winning, ’66 Corvette (with a ’67 427 hood). He was a lead mechanic at Nickey Chevrolet in the 1960s and built/modified many of their customer’s Chevys. They call him “Mr. Nickey.” He went on to own Bill’s Auto Service on Archer Avenue in Chicago. A super cool dude, he’s still going strong today.


What were early Chevy enthusiasts, including 409ers doing in 1966? A good example was Iowa’s Darwin Busch, who was taking home the gold at Cordova Dragway in his ’62 Bel Air.


Here’s my friend Jerry and his highly modified ’66 283/four-speed Malibu getting a Doug Marion super-tune. His engine had a M/T cross-ram intake manifold with two 400-cfm Carter AFB carbs. His cam was stout. Note his wheels, big tires, ladder bars, and chassis prep.


While attending a college function in Fairfield, Iowa, last fall, friend Ray Ham (on right) took me to Keller Automotive to meet Robert Keller. We then ventured to Keller’s home for a peek at his stellar, dual-quad ’66 Chevy II SS. Keller and his Deuce have been on multiple Hot Rod magazine Power Tours.


Southern California’s Tim Keys owns a very rare ’66 El Camino. Power comes from a 325hp, torquey big-block 396.


A closer look at Keys’ 396 reveals very rare factory air conditioning. It also has power steering, power brakes, and A.I.R. (air injection reactor). His truck has rare wheel covers, too.


The L72 425hp 427 engine was available in fullsize Chevys and Corvettes. Many were sold over-the-counter as crate engines to anyone who wanted one. They pretty much bolted right in to older Chevy IIs, Chevelles, ’55-’57s, ’58-’64 big cars, and early Corvettes. Yikes!

This story includes a great action photo - sent to us by then Nickey Chevrolet speed shop Assistant Manager Alan Gartzman. During the week, Dick Harrell was the speed shop’s manager. Back then, Alan campaigned a new red ’66 L79 Chevy II sedan called Adam’s Apple with U.S. Law Marshall John Adams. When brand-new and untouched, Gartzman bested Lenny Krause of Chicago’s Grand Spaulding Dodge five straight times. I was there with other Nickey Chevrolet guys to witness. Lenny was “Mr. Norm’s” brother and was driving a brand-new 1966 Coronet 426 Street Hemi. Today, Alan Gartzman is retired and is living in Scottsdale, Arizona.

For the record, Harrell was known nationally as “Mr. Chevrolet” and “Mr. Reflexes.” Seldom did he get beat on the starting line. Hence, he was very hard to beat.

The quickest and fastest L79 ’66 Chevy II was Bill Jenkins’ “Grumpy’s Toy” running A/Stock out of Jenkins Competition in Pennsylvania. It ran unbelievable 11.60s at 119 mph.

For your review, we’ve listed some performance-related and popular 1966 RPOs. Chevys for 1966 lacked absolutely nothing. Let us not forget the luxurious 1966 fullsize Caprice. It sold a pretty astounding 210,515. Much more to come on “1966.” Stay tuned.


The only differences between a 325hp and a 350hp 396 were the camshaft profile and the carburetor.


This oval port head 396 represents all the 325 and 350hp engines that were owner-modified to-suit – sometimes even before the factory warranty expired. These 10.0:1-compression engines responded nicely to a big-lift/high-duration camshaft, aluminum high-rise intake manifold, headers, and basic carb and ignition mods. And if you knew anything about increasing your torque converter stall-speed, you were guaranteed to be a winner.


Southern California’s Dana Chevrolet had a service manager named Dick Guldstrand. He would shortly become legendary in Corvette chassis and braking prep. Here is a very rare L72 427 Chevelle SS – said to have been built and sold at Dana Chevrolet in 1966.


An untouched original, this Dana 427 was said to have been in storage locally for decades.

1966 RPOs Units Sold
1966 Big Car
L72 425 hp 427 1,856
L36 390 hp 427 3,287
M20 W. R. 4-spd 30,467
M21 C.R. 4-spd 1,595
M22 Rock Crusher 4-spd. 2
U16 Dash Tach 4,075
L72 425 hp 427 5,258
L30 390 hp 427 5,116
K66 Transistor Ign 7,146
C48 Less Heater 54
L79 350 hp 327 7,591
M20 W.R. 4-spd 10,837
M21 C.R. 4-spd 13,903
M22 Rock Crusher 4-spd. 15
Powerglide Trans. 2,401
36-Gal. Gas Tank 66
Off Road Exhaust 2,795
Knock-Off Wheels 1,194
Leather Seats 2,002
C48 Less Heater 7,861
L34 350 hp 396 24,811
L35 325 hp 396* 1,865
L78 375 hp 396 3,099
M20 W.R. 4-spd. 73,022
M21 C.R. 4-spd. 5,012
M22 Rock Crusher 4-spd. 12
M55 Trans Oil Cooler 28
U14 Gauges 32,436
U16 Tach 8,025
SS 396 Chevelle Cpe 47,944
SS 396 Chevelle Conv 3,859
*El Camino
Chevy II
CO8 Vinyl Top 605
C48 Less Heater 5,903
C60 Air Conditioning 8,294
G66 Rer Air Shocks 523
K66 Transistor Ign 426
L30 275 hp 327 5,108
L79 350 hp 327 5,481
M20 W.R. 4-spd 5,744
M21 C.R. 4-spd 4,303
H05 3.70:1 Ratio 2,621


Info on the real deal - framed and in-print.


This 1966 Impala 327 convertible had an owner who stood 7’6” tall. Try Mark Eaton, center of the NBA’s Utah Jazz basketball team. A Super Chevy reader in the 1980s and early 1990s, he stopped by to see if I knew where he could get a few items for his recently refurbished Impala. I soon found myself at his home in Salt Lake City taking photos and shooting hoops.


16. Here’s the Brown & Taylor Racing Team’s 1966 L78 375hp 396 Chevelle SS. In 1967 it was said to be the NHRA A/Stock national record holder. North Carolina was home then.


We were not surprised at how much excitement there was by this 1966, red-over-white, Impala SS 396 convertible at a major vehicle auction. It was sold at “no reserve.”


1966 SS Chevelles and Malibu sport coupes and sedans were popular in Marina Blue. Seems like many had the standard issue small hubcaps instead of RPO (Regular Production Option) fullsize wheel covers. Also note the redline, bias-ply tires.



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