This story is factory official Chevelle history at its best. It begins in mid-1964, when Chevrolet was planning the introduction of its brand-new Mark IV 396 engine, initially slated for Chevy's full-size cars and the Corvette.
The high-performance intermediate car market began with the introduction of the '64 GTO, but this story pre-dates that, and shows the Bow Tie division was ready for action in the swinging '60s. Chevrolet executives thought a special high-performance 396 Chevelle SS would help throw a bright light on the Mark IV engine, and its stylish intermediate. Initial Mark-series engine testing began prior to the 1963 Daytona 500, and showed the engine was a world-beater with huge potential.
The factory memos in this story are dated between September 11, 1964 and March 23, 1965. We also have a few undated official Z-16 information sheets, and a list of which dealerships the first 20 Z-16s were allocated to. The remaining 180 Z16 shipping documents are lost/unknown.
We saw our first Z-16, a yellow beauty back in February, 1965, when the author was employed at Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago. It was built for press and VIP reviews. Dan Blocker of Bonanza TV show fame bought it the very next day. Chevrolet sent a fleet of prototype cars, pickups and semi-trucks to Nickey in order to hold a special weekend Bonanza festival. Select staff worked this weekend, playing host to the public and midwest media.
Ultimately, the Z-16 was written up in over 80 magazines and untold newspapers as a "scalded cat," a "rocket ship on wheels" and "the fastest five-passenger car in America."
Loaded with special equipment, including a 160 mph speedo, oh how we wished it would have been a readily available, full production vehicle! Tens of thousands were forced to wait some six months for the '66 SS 396.
The very first Z-16 in Super Chevy goes back to the December 1981 issue. We featured Z-16 number 17, ordered by Clippinger Chevrolet in Covina, California. It was a genuine, mint original owned by Ron Houk, and was the same car tested by SC's sister publication, Popular Hot Rodding (Super Chevy did not commence until 1973).
Today, there are said to be over 60 legit Z-16s still alive and running. The '65 Chevelle SS is as good looking today as it was brand new.