Chevy Muscle Cars - Rare V-8 Performance History

1962 Marked Chevrolet's 50th Production Anniversary

Doug Marion Aug 1, 2008 0 Comment(s)
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The year 1962 marked Chevrolet's 50th production anniversary. To many, the full-size '62s were the best looking ever, rivaling the '57, but in a bigger, bolder way. You could get one of two optional high-performance 409 big-block engines in any full-size Chevy: 380 horsepower with an "E" series (650 cfm) Carter four-barrel carb, or 409 horsepower with two "D" series (500 cfm each) Carter AFB carbs. The only difference in the engines was the induction.

In all, 15,062 '62 409 engines were assembled at the Tonawanda Engine Plant, and 8,909 of them were shipped to respective big car assembly plants for new vehicle installation. The remaining 6,153 went to the GM Parts Distribution Center for shipment to dealership parts departments. The RPO 580 380-horsepower 409 cost $320.65, while the RPO 587 409-horsepower 409 cost $376.65.

Check this out: A total of 99,311 Super Sport Impalas were sold. Evidently, those 453 '61 SS models really made an impression! As for Corvette, a record number-14,531-were sold. The Vette 300hp 327 (3,294) cost $53.80 extra, the 340hp 327 (4,412) cost $107.80 extra, and the 360hp fuel-injected 327 (1,918) cost $484.20 extra. The new 327 was ordered in 240,909 full-size cars. By year-end, '62 big car sales increased 230,031 over 1961 to 1,424,008.

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As seen in this official '62 380hp 409 factory photo, the Carter AFB fuel inlet was moved from the left rear (1961) to the right front. From 1958-1962, knowing that serious racers would install tubular headers, Chevrolet chose to go cheap on their exhaust manifolds. On a 409 competition engine, the addition of headers was worth an additional 100 horsepower.

With 142 409s selling the year before, Chevrolet was not particularly expecting this kind of sales increase to 15,062 in 1962. The competition did not sell nearly as many high-performance big-blocks as Chevrolet did. How many four-speed full-size Chevys were sold in 1962? Exactly 25,448. That's a bunch. Three-speed? An unbelievable 338,695. Add another 16,795 with "overdrive."

'62 Z-11 409 Engine Race Parts/Cars
A good example of future things to come were the '62 COPO Z-11 engine parts for the 409. The original 18 sets of heads had much larger rectangular ports. We saw these ports again in 1965 on the new Mark IV semi-hemi, L78 425hp 396 big-block engines. To say that Chevrolet engineers were up to speed on these ports a full three years ahead of RPO production is simply stating the truth. The Z-11 heads were such that 409 valve covers would not quite fit. The Z-11 heads and valve covers had squared corners, while the RPO 409 heads were rounded.

The high-rise aluminum intake manifold was a two-piece assembly. The bottom was a valley cover and the top was the actual manifold. Yes, there was a single four-barrel manifold floating around, but most were twin four-barrel. The carbs were standard-issue 409. The pistons had a 12.5:1 compression ratio. The cam was big on lift and fairly short on duration. As a result, the Z-11 had a powerful midrange and good top end.

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We snapped this photo in 1986 of Tom and Linda Jacobson's "Old Blue" 409 Biscayne. With a Z-11 top half, it won the '65 AHRA Nationals at Bill Heilscher's Green Valley Race City in Hurst, Tex., with an 11.50/125-mph time. The car was raced brand new by Butch Leal of Tulare, Calif., otherwise known as the "California Flash."

Chevy II FX V-8 Kits
This story is mainly about rare performance engines, but the following data is applicable. A lot of Chevy high-performance engineers wanted to see a V-8 offered in the new '62 Chevy II, but it was not to be until 1964. No matter. They pressed on and engineered a kit so any owner or dealership could do a V-8 swap, either a small-block or big-block 409. They presented all the data to the NHRA for competition in A/FX, B/FX, and C/FX (Factory Experimental). Some racers campaigned a two-door Chevy II, some a four-door, and others a station wagon. We have seen 283, 327, and 409 engines in Chevy IIs.

Not much more was said/stated/announced by the factory. New car RPO sales were much more profitable, and the working press and media seemed to like the big car drag wars more than Chevy IIs, Falcons, and Tempests. Some of these FX cars are still around today. We have the complete factory FX list of part numbers, but space does not allow us to print it here.

By the end of the year, these "FX" Chevy IIs mostly ran in the high 11s. So did Don Gist's legal '62 fuel-injected A/SP Corvette (he was a Florida winter-home neighbor of Harley Earl) and most of the Z-11-equipped 409 big cars.

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One of the fastest 409s on the East Coast from 1962 to date is campaigned by the popular and affable Ronnie Evans. The car was recently upscaled to match-race trim. Evans lives 30 miles from nationally known 409 and Z-11 racer of note and SUPER CHEVY Hall of Famer Bill Jenkins.

Around the time Hayden Proffitt won SS/S Eliminator at the '62 U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park, a guy named Gary Usher was flogging his 348 and helping write songs for his buddy Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys in Hawthorne, California. Usher was a top songwriter who really wanted to own a 409. Lore has it that he and Wilson went out one evening and Usher began stringing together phrases such as, "I'm gonna save my pennies and save my dimes, giddy-up, giddy-up 409!" Wilson then added his two cents' worth (pun intended), and in two months (around Halloween time when the '63 Chevys were out) the song "409" came out as a flip-side to the Beach Boys' hit tune "Surfin' Safari." The rush of revs you hear on the single was actually Usher's 348 Chevy, which was supposedly recorded in front of Wilson's house.

1963-Hang On!
As sensational as 1962 was, 1963 was Chevrolet's best bang and then biggest bust year-ever. Almost 100,000 more big car V-8 two-door Chevys were sold (471,114). Some nine Mark I 427 Mystery Motor Chevys hit the super speedways early on. Something like 38 engines were built. The 50 Z-11 427 Impala drag cars hit the dragstrips. Five Grand Sport lightweight Corvettes outran the Cobras. A 427 Mystery Motor Corvette saw action with two legends sharing driving duties: Mickey Thompson and Junior Johnson. Lastly, a brand-new Sting Ray was introduced in both fastback and convertible forms.

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I don't have my "Chevy Charger" '62 409 SS drag car anymore, but I still have my shirt. When running stiff competition at Midwest UDRA and NADS regional events, you had to wear your game face and look the part.

But then GM followed the '57 AMA antiracing edict and pulled the plug. Cars were mostly sold off, and many racers and race teams who made their living in motorsports signed on with other brands-many forever.

A record 21,267 409s sold, including 10,586 Turbo Jet torque monsters-the 340-horsepower L33. The 10,681 '63 solid lifter 409s outsold '62 409s by 17 percent. How many '63 Chevys had a four-speed manual gearbox? About 44,000. That's 916 per each lower 48 state. No other big car could compare.

The Z-11 was Chevrolet's first and last big-block, full-size "race car." Although it was referred to for its official build code, "Z11," no one other than a dealership could order one. Replacement parts could only be had with the vehicle's identification number and proof of ownership. Research by noted authorities Rusty Symmes and Rag Redy indicates 50 engines and 20 short-blocks were built at Tonawanda.

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John Mounts began collecting '63 Z-11 and Mystery Motor parts back in the 1970s. He also owns three untouched Chevy originals: a '59 335hp 348, four-speed El Camino, an L72 '68 Impala SS, and a '70 LS6 454. Seen here is a complete '63 427 Mystery Motor. The short-block came from Michigan, where it had evidently been a factory dyno-test engine, and the heads came from one of Ray Fox's crew.

The bench seat Impala body featured an aluminum front end, bumpers and brackets, fan shroud, and more. The bored and stroked 409 block had 12.5:1 compression pistons, and the heads had big-block-type rectangle ports. The dual-quad high-rise manifold was two-piece. The Impala's base price was $2,774. The Z-11 option cost $1,237.40. That totals around $4,000 plus tax. This was a hefty sum in 1963. For what the factory accomplished in such a short period of time, the Z-11 427-cubic-inch 409 ranks right at the top.

The '63 "Mystery Motor" 427 set the performance world on fire. Early on, it won a number of NASCAR pole positions, including Daytona, where Junior Johnson and others ran as much as 10 mph faster than the competition during qualifying. It was said to have put out about 650 horsepower. When GM pulled the plug, racers continued on as long as they had parts. Some returned to a 409 powerplant.

1964-A Styling Year, Plus The New Chevelle
When you talk about the '58-64 X-frame Chevys, the '64 Impala SS was voted decades ago as the classiest/sexiest of the group. Chevrolet stylists created a super upscale interior, and the SS body was laden with polished aluminum trim. A Super Sport convertible with simulated wire wheel covers was indeed the cat's meow. The '64 big car was the biggest of its era and visually the squarest, too. Not particularly aerodynamic, its two-door V-8s nonetheless outsold the previous year by 52,103.

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Hayden Proffitt grew up in Texas and won thousands of races in Chevys from 1956 to early 1963, including SS/S Eliminator at the '62 U.S. Nationals. Fellow Texan Delmer McAfee constructed this clone back in 1988 for Proffitt to drive down the Texas Motorplex dragstrip after being inducted into the SUPER CHEVY Magazine Hall of Fame.

The "Super Sport" Impala became a model code in 1964 instead of just an option. The "1847" hardtop sold a staggering 257,208, and the "1867" convertible sold 50,279. Overall 409 sales dropped about 50 percent, but tilt steering sales almost tripled. Air-conditioning sales were also up about 50 percent over the previous year.

The awesome Chevelle made its introduction in 1964, and it certainly cut into potential big car sales. Enthusiasts gravitated to it because of its smaller dimensions, sportiness, V-8/four-speed availability, and price. Most of us had grown up with Chevy big cars and Corvettes. Now there was a new, affordable player-the Chevelle.

Most of Chevrolet-America did not drag race, so the AMA antiracing edicts of 1957 and 1963 meant nothing to them. Neither did the oncoming demise of the 409. Chevrolet-America was given a brand-new love in 1964, the Chevelle. It was well-built, did not wheelhop on launch, looked great, and was affordable to the working person. Chevrolet's enthusiast base was growing by leaps and bounds every day.

The New Rpo L65 365HP 327
Chevy engineers continued to develop the Corvette 327 throughout 1962 and 1963. In 1964, a screaming RPO L76, 365hp 327 was offered in the Corvette and almost in the Chevelle. It cost $129.15 extra. Its camshaft was the new Duntov "30-30" (0.480-inch lift, 300 degrees duration). The big port heads featured 2.02- and 1.60-inch-diameter valves. The intake manifold was more top end oriented, and the carb was a puny 585-cfm Holley four-barrel with a single fuel inlet.

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When the '63 Z-11 427/409 Impala came out in early 1963, it and its engine sure didn't look like much. That cowl induction air cleaner completely covered up a pair of Carter AFB carbs and a tall two-piece intake manifold. The Z-11 put out in excess of 500 horsepower. By year-end, '63 Z-11 Impalas ran mid-to-high 11s at 120-125 mph. It was Chevrolet's first and last full-size drag car.

Even with this small carb, the engine was a terror. With the big-box Rochester fuel injection (RPO L8 /$538), the engine was rated at 375 horsepower-the most ever in a small-block Chevy. It made big power to 7,000 rpm. Sales in '64 Corvettes were 7,171 and 1,325, respectively. In '65 Corvettes, they were 5,011 and 771. Nothing on the street could touch either engine-until th e L78, 425hp 396 big-block engine arrived. Then it was a toss-up.

Why no L65 in the Chevelle? It was a "go" right up to seemingly the last day. Then it was cancelled. Why? Many reasons: It would have been a huge hit and wiped the GTO off the performance map. The engine plant may not have been able to keep up. It could have easily given "Corvette-like" straight-line performance. We also kept hearing that Chevrolet did not want any of its other models to rival the Corvette in performance.

The factory was also planning a new 396 Super Sport for model year 1965, so why worry about an even faster '64 327 Chevelle? Yikes. Guys from coast to coast were pissed for about a week. When they regained their senses, they realized they could order a 283/four-speed Chevelle. The transmission and rear end were the same. They could then buy a new L65 crate engine for $239 and get headers, a blowup-proof clutch assembly, and a bigger Holley carb for a few hundred dollars more. With 283 flags on the front fenders, look out!

In 1965, about five miles from where I lived, there was a white '64 Chevelle two-door post 327 street racer. A cat named Tony Christian was involved. Man did he ever have a good-looking sister! Tony went on to become one of America's most storied Chevy drag racers. I was undefeated at Union Grove in 1965 in my C/S 409, and in 1966 in my C/S L79 Chevy II. Tony was undefeated at Union Grove in 1968 in his black '57 C/Gas Bel Air. His car was the very first there to pull the front wheels off the ground on launch. Great guy.

The 409 was in production less than five months, and on February 1, it was replaced with the Mark IV, semi-Hemi, 396 big-block. Total 409 production was 2,828 (2,086 L33, 340hp and 742 L31, 400 hp). The RPO L78, 425hp 396 was ordered in 1,838 big cars and 2,157 Corvettes. The fuelie Corvette sales totaled only 771, and it was also replaced by the potent 396.

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The '64-65 365hp 327 was a Corvette-only engine. But it came within an eyelash of being offered in the '64 Chevelle. With 2.02 heads, a solid-lifter 30-30 cam, and 11.0:1 compression, the engine ran strong to 7,000 rpm. Few could run with one on the street or strip.

This was also the inaugural year for the RPO L79, 350hp 327 in the Chevelle, El Camino, and Corvette. Sales ultimately totaled 6,021 in the Chevelle and El Camino and 4,716 in the Corvette. Another 5,011 Corvettes were sold with the torrid RPO L76, 365-horsepower 327 V-8.

Lastly, late in the year, 319 '65 Chevy IIs were ordered and sold with the RPO L74, 300hp 327 V-8. Add another 324 with the 250hp 327. Finally, let us never forget the 201 limited-production RPO Z16 Malibu SS powered by the new L78 375hp 396. In a word: unbeatable. Was there anything that could run with any or all of these performance Chevys in 1965? Zip.

For the record, the total number of '61-'65 409-powered cars sold was 43,629. This was outstanding for the times. Divide that total by 4.2 years of production, and 10,388 were sold annually on average. Compare this figure to any other yearly engine run from 1956-1970. Total '63-'65 Corvette fuelie car production was 4,706.

In 1965, the total number of Chevrolet Muncie four-speed transmissions in new cars, including the Chevy II, Chevelle, and Corvette, was 124,700. Wish you were there!


The Chevy 409 big block engines were not available until 1962 when Chevrolet had its 50th production anniversary.
Doug Marion Aug 1, 2008


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