On The Street
Long before "LS" came to signify a high-performance, fuel-injected aluminum small-block, the designation was affixed to big-blocks, in our case, this 240-net horse 402. While it was not the fire-breather it was before GM dropped the hammer on compression, it was no stone either. It was, after all, a Mark IV engine, meaning its potential was nearly limitless. And as a daily driver, it offered gobs of torque, low maintenance and silky smooth driveability.
We were reminded of this as we tooled around in it at our test facility. The power was always there—and though it was down nearly 200 ponies to our Grand Sport, we never minded. It delivered the goods seamlessly. We fantasized about what it would have been like ordering it, then picking this car up new from Bill Allen Chevy back in the day, about the pride we'd have felt showing it off to our friends for the first time, about the thrill we'd have gotten taking our dates out in it, or cruising the local hot spots.
Realistically, although it was 40 years old, this was a close as we'd ever get to driving a brand-new 1972 SS396. It was rattle-free and the doors closed solidly. The engine purred the way it was intended for the upcoming low-octane unleaded fuel it was designed to guzzle. I got light-headed every time I started it. This dream was real.
The pictures and the timers don't lie—grip was definitely not Vette-like. It was nearly 13 seconds slower through the autocross than the GS. And you know what? We do not care. It manners were as fine as English royalty. On the skidpad, its limits were understandably low, but it reached them progressively and the big beast was easy to control at the limit.
The only problem encountered was caused by the ethanol-laden California fuel. Sometime during third autocross run, some sludge left by the ethanol's evaporation got to the Quadrajet. All that tossing around and (relatively) high g-forces sent something from the fuel tank up through the to the carb. This limited us to two good runs on the autocross. Mark took the car home, cleaned out the carb (there was a bunch of junk in it) and fuel tank. It's been fine since.
Driving this Chevelle and the other cars in our Challenge proved two things. One, the aftermarket knows how to make our classics handle. Two, while these older Chevy may not handle like modern sports cars, they are a delight nonetheless. This one's a keeper.
|1972 Chevelle SS396, with F41 heavy-duy suspension|
|Skid Pad: CW 0.69g, CCW 0.76g; Average 0.74g|
|Slalom: Best 38.7 mph; Average of three runs, 38.2 mph|
|Autocross: Best 1.03.8; Average of three runs 1.08.64|
|2013 Corvette Grand Sport|
|Skid Pad: CW 0.98g, CCW 0.99g; Average 0.99g|
|Slalom: Best 48.5 mph; Average of five runs 46.9 mph|
|Autocross: Best 51.05; Average of five runs 51.58|