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Chevy Muscle Car - Top Ten

Big-Block Production Cars

Dakota Wentz Jul 1, 2006

Just about every night, I go home and rot my brain away in front of the TV. As I scroll through the TV Guide, I always notice there's a "Top Ten" show scheduled; you know, "Top Ten Rock Songs," "Top Ten Ways To Sit On Your Butt" "Top Ten 100 Places To Visit," or my favorite, "Top Ten Top Ten." The whole "Top (whatever you want it to be)" has become such a hit that I'm pretty sure VH1 has made it mandatory to show a Top Ten show every other hour! All the hype makes one think.

Has our society broken down into a system of numbers and measurement where we NEED to know the numerical ranking of any given random topic? It certainly seems so. For some reason or another, if you throw things into a ranked list, mouths begin to salivate, knees jitter, and hind tails perk up. Then, once Number One is announced, we yell and scream at the TV, as if it's a person capable of communication, about how Number One is a bad choice! We decided to hop on the bandwagon and make up our own Top Ten list here at Super Chevy.

We have put together a list of the Top Ten GM big-block production cars. They're in no sequential order, other than the fact that they all made the list. But the truth is, there's a ton of bitchin' big-block cars out there. Sadly, however, a "Top Ten" list can only consist of that particular number, and therefore, we had to narrow it down. If you see a red flag here, or feel we left something out, feel free to shoot us an e-mail ( and let us know. Unlike the TV, we can answer back!

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'65 Chevelle Z-16
In 1965, when Chevrolet introduced the new lineup of Chevelles, it was clear that the Chevelle was a force to be reckoned with. The new L79 350hp 327 V-8 had enough power to keep anyone coming back for more. However, behind closed doors there was a storm-a-brewin'. What Chevrolet concocted upped the ante in the musclecar world, and really put the Chevelle on the map. The option was known as the Regular Production Order (RPO) Z-16, more commonly known as the Chevelle Z-16. The Z-16 package outfitted the Chevelle with an L37 396 big-block that cranked out 375 hp at 5,600 rpm and 420 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm. For those of you who like to read between the lines, you may have noticed the 396 only boasted 25 more horsepower than the L79 327. To make it easy, that's only on paper, not the street.

It's rumored the motor was seriously underrated. Every Z-16 was equipped with a Muncie four-speed, and you could get it in three colors: tuxedo black, regal red, and crocus yellow; the vinyl top was optional. The Z-16 had special die-cast trim and emblems on the rear, and the Malibu SS emblems were moved to the fenders. To beef up the underpinnings Chevrolet built the car around a stronger convertible frame which featured rear reinforcements and two extra body mounts. Other features included 11-inch drums, power-assisted brakes, control arms, and more. At that point in time, the Z-16 was as close to a bona fide production drag car that GM has ever put out.

Chevrolet never intended on producing mass numbers of the Z-16 option due to the fact they wouldn't be able to produce the volume, in fact they didn't even advertise the option. Many Z-16s were given away to race winners, movie stars, or used as dealership promotional vehicles to develop an image for the Chevelle. However with a car like this, it's hard to keep a secret, and the word was out. When the ball dropped on Time Square in 2006, there were 201 Z-16 Chevelles out there-200 hardtops, and one convertible built for GM executive, Bunkie Knudsen

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'67 Corvette L88
If you were ordering a new Corvette in 1967 and saw that the L71 427 engine was rated at 435 hp, and the L88 was only a 430hp engine, why would you order the L88? Simple-so you could have the fastest Corvette in town! But then there's the fact that maybe its because it was an aluminum block, cost twice as much as the L71, and was about 100 more horses powerful than its ratings. Of course, not everyone knew that, and Chevy kept its mouth shut. But for anyone who got to hear one run, they knew there was more than meets the eye. Nowadays, if you're lucky enough to own one of only 20 L88s ever produced, be prepared to live the good life.

'70 Chevelle LS6
Hailed as the pinnacle of the Chevelle craze is the '70 LS6 454 Chevelle. Not only did Chevy redesign certain aspects of the exterior for the new model year, they debuted the LS6 Chevelle, which is one of the fastest and nastiest Rat-powered cars of all time. The LS6 454 was conservatively rated at 450 hp with a ground shaking 500 lb-ft of torque. The new 454 marked the first time since 1965 that a displacement engine option in a Chevelle was available above and beyond the 396. Besides an 800-cfm Holley carburetor and aluminum low-rise intake manifold, the LS6-powered cars featured a fully functional cowl-induction hood that helped increase the pony count.

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The modified hood meant two things: consumers were going to get the D88 sport stripe kit, which added a pair of hood and decklid stripes. Secondly, two NASCAR-style hood pins would hold down the hood. The 454 could be backed by either a M-40 Turbo Hydramatic 400 auto or the M-22 "Rock Crusher" Muncie four-speed. The Chevelles were also given the F41 suspension package that added a heavier front and rear stabilizer bar, as well as stiffer springs and shocks. For consumers looking to order a Chevelle with the LS6 454 option, it cost a mere $263.30.

However, on top of that came a $503.45 cost of the RPO Z-15 SS454 option and $147.45 for the cowl-induction hood. When all was said and done, the LS6 454 Chevelle sticker price was right there with a base model Corvette! Because of that, only 4,475 LS6 454-powered hardtops and convertible Chevelles were built. But considering the car was capable of turning in quarter-mile times in the low 13s at over 110 mph, I'd say it was worth the money!

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'69 Camaro ZL1
When it comes to Camaros, everyone has their own opinions and favorites. But we don't think there's a Chevy fan out there who won't say the ZL1 is at the top of their list. Legendary Chevy dealer, Fred Gibb, originally concocted the car. Big in the racing scene, he wanted a Camaro that was bigger and badder than the rest that could compete in the NHRA Super Stock drag classes.

What exactly did Gibb envision? He wanted General Motors to suit up the new '69 Camaros with their all aluminum 427 big-block. Fred Gibb and Vince Piggins at GM developed the plans for the car, and eventually GM gave it their stamp of approval. GM agreed to build what they dubbed the COPO 9560 option, but there was one glitch to fill. In order for the car to legally compete in the NHRA class, GM had to build at least 50 cars that would be made available to the public. Without hesitation, Gibb bought 50 of them! On December 31, 1968, 22 degrees below zero, the first two ZL1 Camaros arrived. It was so cold that neither car would start! Some would say this was only a sign of things to come. The other 48 arrived in March of 1969 at Fred Gibb Chevrolet.

The problem now was that GM originally estimated the stripped-down Camaro packin' 427 ci to cost around $4,900, which turned out not to be the case. When the first cars arrived the sticker price was $7,269, nearly three times as much as a stock V-8 '69 Camaro! The motor alone was $4,160. As you can imagine, not many people were capable of bustin' out the checkbook and buying one of the ultra-rare ZL1s. In fact, the cars were practically impossible to sell because of the asking price. Fred Gibb pleaded this case with GM until they agreed to take back some of the cars and redistribute them to other dealerships. In the meantime, other dealerships around the country put in orders for ZL1 Camaros. Those dealerships too soon found out what Fred Gibb already knew, the cars are "sale proof." Because the cars were pretty much "off limits" many ZL1 cars got there hearts, the aluminum 427, ripped out and replaced.

Dealerships dropped in cheaper 396s and iron block 427s. And since the cars were completely stripped, ZL1 cars were as stock as stock gets, dealerships added graphics and mag wheels to the cars just to get them to appeal to the public! In total, 69 ZL1s were built; 50 of them for creator, Fred Gibb, and 19 were ordered throughout the '69 production year through other high-performance dealers. The ironic part of the story is the fact that in its day the ZL1 wasn't a big seller, yet in today's market it is the most sought after Camaro.

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'66 Chevelle L78
In 1966, the Chevelle was redesigned and reconfigured. The boxed look of the '64-'65 was thrown out, and the new body saw a more rounded and aerodynamic shape take form. After the shock and awe that the '65 Chevelle Z-16 left floating in the air, a redesigned body wasn't all that was on the list for the '66 model. The 283 and 327 motors that resided between the '64-'65 framerails were still an option, but now anyone who wanted a 396 motor in their Chevelle could have one.

GM offered several 396hp options with the L78 396 at the top of the performance ladder in an ROP Chevelle. Every SS396 Chevelle was given a stacked badge that read SS396 to show off the rat power underneath the hood. All in all, 74,137 (IS THIS THE CORRECT NUMBER?) Rat-powered Chevelles were sold in 1966; 3,099 of them had L78 power.

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'69 COPO Camaro
The best-known '69 COPO 9561 Camaros were sold by Yenko Chevrolet in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Don Yenko made a name for himself in previous years by taking GM production cars, such as Corvettes and Corvairs, and building them up. But when the '67 Camaro was unveiled, Yenko made his mark by dropping in iron block 427s in the F-body's and labeling them as "Yenko Super Cars," each one better known as an "SYC Camaro." Due to the time and resources it took to do the swaps, Yenko couldn't keep up with the demands. In 1969, Yenko convinced Chevy to do a production run of iron block 427 Camaros that cranked out 435 hp.

Chevy didn't list 427 motors under its dealership production order (RPO), but you could find the 427 under Chevy's COPO (Central Office Production Order) roof. Chevy labeled the '69 Camaros equipped with a 427 the COPO 9561. With the exception of the engine, ignition system, and front springs, the mechanics of the 9561 are the same as the 9560 ZL1 cars. Originally, Yenko placed the order, but other dealerships soon caught on. Unlike the ZL1 cars, the Yenko COPO 9561 Camaros were not only sold with the 427 engine, but a cosmetic package, as well. Yenko had special badges, trim, and a scooped hood that made his cars real eye catchers.

It's not exactly known what the production on the COPO 9561 Camaros is, but 201 cars were delivered to Yenko and sold with his package. There were other COPO 9561 cars built that went to other dealerships that were built without the Yenko package, but the quantity is uncertain.

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'69 COPO Chevelle
The year of 1969 is a milestone in big-block production cars. Included in the muscle wars is the '69 Chevelles. That year not only brought the birth of the ZL1 and COPO Camaros, but the Chevy's mid-size muscle, the Chevelle, also saw action in the COPO lineup. When the '69 Chevelles came out several 396 big-block cars with various horsepower ratings were available, but GM also offered Chevelle enthusiasts something with a little more punch than the current RPO packages. They called it the Chevelle COPO 9562.

It was hooked up with an L72 iron block 427 that was rated at 425 hp . . . yeah, O-K-you know these underrated motors seem to a reoccurring theme throughout these cars! Along with the super-sized Rat came power front disc brakes, a heavy-duty suspension, a heavy-duty radiator, 4.10 Posi-traction 12-bolt rear, and a Muncie four-speed. It's estimated that 323 Chevelle COPO 427s were built. For the most part, the Chevelles looked like bone-stock sleepers without badges or any other identifications of what lay beneath the hood.

It was a racer's dream come true; 99 out of the estimated 323 COPO 9562s shared a different fate. Yenko Chevrolet ordered 99 Chevelles, which got the Yenko treatment. The '69 Chevelle is the only one to ever receive the Yenko touch, and touch it they did. Instead of leaving the cars sitting there plain Jane, Yenko built the cars to be seen. Just like their Camaros, the Chevelles received emblems, graphics, a Stewart Warner tachometer, Atlas mag wheels, and whatever else the customer specified. Not a bad deal.

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'68 COPO Novas
The rural Chevy dealership in La Harpe, Illinois, Fred Gibb Chevrolet, also left their mark on the Nova/Chevy II world. In 1967, an employee had a '67 Z/28 that was murdering at the track. It was then and there that Fred, "was bitten by the racing bug," says Fred's wife, Helen Gibbs. From that day on, Fred was constantly at the races studying the cars and drivers. Within the year Fred realized that Chevrolet was at a distinct disadvantage in the automatic classes. Fred decided that the problem laid in the fact that the '68 Nova's weren't available with the top-dog L78 396/375 motor and automatic trans.

Just like the ZL1 Camaros, Fred got in touch with Vince Piggins and arranged to order a big-block Camaro with the heavy-duty Turbo 400 trans which had a torque capacity of more than 400 lb-ft. It really was the only feasible option to back the 396/375. In order for the car to be legit, Gibb ordered 50 COPO 9738 Novas. Along with that came a heavy-duty radiator, 4.10-geared Posi-traction rearend, and a floor-mounted shifter with center console. Because the cars were intended for the strip, they were ordered with steel wheels, drum brakes, no radio, and bucket seats. The cars were only ordered in four colors: fathom blue, grecian green, matador red, and tripoli turquoise, with interior colors of either blue or black.

The COPO 9738s were a simple package with one thing in mind, to go fast. The cars retailed for $3,592.12, and were sold to people in the local area as well as out-of-towners who were "in the know." Some Novas were sold just like they were when they rolled off the transporters, however some were sent to Gibb's associate, Dick Harrell, in Kansas City. Harrell's shop prepped several Novas for racing, and some were equipped with a 427 engine. It's still a mystery as to how many cars Dick Harrell prepped, but under watchful eyes the total is somewhere around 20.

Unlike the Gibb sleeper COPOs, the Harrell cars were outfitted with a Sun tachometer and Corvette-like "Stinger hood." The following year Yenko came out with their COPO Novas. They built 37 L72 427 big-block Novas. The cars were capable of 0-60 times in four seconds and could pull quarter-mile times in the high 10s. Don Yenko was quoted as saying that the Nova crossbreeds were just plain, "lethal." Once thing's for sure-the deuce was loose.

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'67 Camaro L78
In 1964, Ford introduced the Mustang. It was more successful than anyone had ever imagined, even GM. In order to counterattack the popularity of the Mustang, Chevy devised a plan to put its own pony car into production. What they came up with was the streamlined '67 Camaro. Just like the Mustang's debut in '64, the Camaro shared the same respect and demand. When the Camaro was introduced to the public on September 26, 1966 (even though it technically was 1966, the Camaros were labeled as a '67 production vehicle) it came with more options than most people could fathom.

It had everything style, class, charisma. But there was still one thing missing-an RPO code for a big-block. A 295hp 350 was the best of the best. Even the destroked 327, better known as the DZ 302, designed to compete in the Sports Car Club of America wasn't available until January 1967. (On a side note, in case you're wondering why a 302, the SCCA didn't allow anything over 305 ci of displacement). In November, nearly two months after the Camaro's debut, big-block power was available. A Super Sport Camaro with the L35 396/325hp was one way to go, but for those who were ready to rock they went with the L78 396/375hp engine. The same engine that had been rated at 425 hp in the '65 Corvette! 1,138 buyers went with the roughly $500 L78 option. Which meant 1,138 Camaro owners were guaranteed to run 13s straight off the dealership lot.

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'69 Camaro 396/375 hp
For those in the know, and in the money, they aimed high and went with the COPO or ZL1 Camaro. But for the average Joe who walked into the dealership, he ordered off the RPO (Regular Production Order) menu. In 1969, there were four different big-block 396 options you could choose from: 396hp ratings started at 325, and ended at 375, which again was the L78 396/375-horse motor.

Just like the years before with the '67s and '68s, if you wanted the baddest Camaro off the lot, you ordered the L78 pacakge. The simplest way to put it would be that on any given day, you could get yourself in trouble with one of these. Besides the L78 option, '69 owners could also order an L89 396. It was essentially the same motor as the L78, except the L89 had aluminum heads on it. According to GM, the motors rating was the same as the L78, but we know what's really goin' on. . .wink, wink.



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