In the Feb. 1966 issue of Hot Rod magazine, technical editor Eric Dahlquist wrote that “Chevrolet has been kind of out of it for the last couple of years, as far as having their own hottest hot dog.” But all that was about to change with the introduction of the restyled 1966 Chevelle and its “semi-hemi, porcupine-top, 4.094 x 3.76-inch 396.”
“Those in the know can spot the ’66 SS396 from its earlier counterpart because there has been a concerted effort made so that they can,” he said, referring to the “style transformation as to resemble more closely the fullsize Chevy, which it does, most handsomely.” His test car had a black vinyl top over “a lower body color known as Aztec Bronze, reminiscent of something called Titian Red from the mid-’50s.” It also wore “a set of the optional mag-spoke hubcaps which, from anything beyond 20 feet, appear more real than what they’re imitating.”
At the time of his writing (in late 1965) engine choices for the Super Sport were an “either/or proposition—either the standard 325-pony package or the several-hands-higher 360.” He called it “just two brands of hair—long and longer. But not quite as long as last year, when the rated power pegged out at 375, and the machine had more of a blast effect. Why? Well, superficially at least, the ’66 cam timing is less exotic, for one thing. As for the upper level decision to retrench from last year, one can only guess that the original 396 just didn’t fill the bill as a machine that a great number of people would like to be married to for 36 payments. And after all, image or no, this is why the thing is on the market.”
Later in the model year Chevrolet would offer the 375hp L78 in the Chevelle, but at the end of 1965, the 360-horse L34 in Dahlquist’s tester was the top banana—or hottest hot dog, to use his food analogy.
Apparently it rained almost the entire time he had the Chevelle, because many of his driving impressions had to do with its wet-weather performance. Things dried out for Eric Rickman’s photo shoot, and for Dahlquist’s acceleration testing at San Fernando Raceway, though he experienced temperatures “down in the low 60s and a 30-mph headwind…not the most ideal racing conditions.” He had a heck of a time getting any traction out of the 7.75x14 Uniroyal Tiger Paws—his first run was a 16.30—so “the tires were burned through puddles of bleach for super cleaning and some liquid traction compound painted on.” That brought the e.t. down to 15.70 at 92 mph. “We realized that without the benefit of adequate dragging skins and a proper collector system, you can’t expect miracles, but the wind and cold track had something to do with it, too.”
When it was time to turn in the Chevelle, Dahlquist said the SS “was the type of vehicle we hated to part with. It has just the right measure of ride-handing and acceleration that would make it the nuts for all kinds of driving, especially long trips. It’s a fun car for today’s dull traffic, and if it helps relieve the tedium of travel, you can’t ask much more.”