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'67 Smokey Yunick Chevelle
This was the vehicle that sat on the pole for the '67 Daytona 500 and it actually looked like a '66. Sure, it had numerous rules infractions that Smokey had to address, but to him they were not violations. Mere interpretations is more like it. There were actually two Chevelles, but the first one was totaled. The second one, the "15/16" Chevelle is the stuff of legend. The frame was completely custom made, which in and of itself made the car illegal. It had a Smokey-designed three-link rear suspension with a Watt's link, which was completely radical for a stock car of this vintage. Its springs were mounted behind the rear axle, and its shocks were close to the wheels and were vertically rather than diagonally mounted. The roof kicked up above the rear window, thus directing air over the small rear spoiler on the trunk lid. The car was not really 15/16 but appeared smaller because the hood and front bumper were tucked in and tight for improved aerodynamics. According to our sister publication, Circle Track magazine, the body "was hung in a shape that was not strictly according to stock dimensions." At the rear, Smokey closed in the area under the fuel tank and extended the flat surface to the rear bumper to further improve aerodynamics.
'06 Corvette ZO6
When the C6 ZO6 came out, Chevrolet advertised that it would go 198 mph. Advertised it. Put it right out there for God and the government to see, and it came at a price that was only slightly higher than a fully-optioned convertible. As soon as it was released, it was the quickest, fastest, most powerful Corvette ever. In the hands of an experienced driver, it could run the quarter-mile in 11.2-11.6 seconds at 124 mph, significantly better than the previous-generation ZO6. It had unique bodywork (some of it made from carbon-fiber) and a fixed roof. Its 427.5-inch LS7 engine used a dry-sump oiling system, pressed-in cylinder wall liners, and made an amazing 505 net horsepower, the most powerful Corvette engine in history to that point. Its handling was amazing and Chevy continues to improve it. For 2012, it gets Michelin tires and optional carbon ceramic brakes.
1968-'69 Penske-Donohue Trans-Am Camaros
From its beginning in 1966 to the late-'60s, everyone who was anyone competed in the Sports Car Club of America's Trans American Sedan Series, better known today as "Trans-Am." From Curtis Turner and David Pearson from NASCAR to Parnelli Jones and Dan Gurney, Trans-Am had the top drivers competing in racecars that were truly like their road-going counterparts. There were two classes, Under 2.0 Liters and Over 2.0 Liters, with the latter having a 5.0-liter displacement limit. It was in this area that Roger Penske and Mark Donohue competed in the new Z/28 starting in '67. Despite not getting a car until January, the pair went on to win three races that year. In '68, they won 10 of the 13 races (and eight in a row at one point) to give Chevy the manufacturer's title. In '69, the cross-ram, dual-quad-equipped Z/28 won exactly half of the series' 12 events and inspired controversy everywhere it went. It wore a vinyl top in the first part of the season, its competitors claimed, because it was left in the acid bath too long and the roof was wrinkled. Driver Ed Leslie claimed the Camaro's front bumper was made of aluminum. Regardless, it was never penalized for cheating by the SCCA, and Chevrolet had its second-consecutive Trans-Am title in '69, beating Ford's all-new Boss 302 Mustangs. After this, Penske and Donohue switched to AMC, a fatal blow to Chevy's Trans-Am efforts.
'56 Pikes Peak "Goat" Sedan
After a record-setting sales year in '55, Chevy's advertising agency came up with the idea of breaking the sedan record for the Pikes Peak hillclimb in the new, more powerful '56. In a camouflaged '56 four-door nicknamed "Goat," Zora Arkus-Duntov charged up the 12.42-mile dirt and gravel road of the mountain. By the time he reached the top, Zora and the "Goat" had broken the old record by more than two minutes (the new mark was 17 minutes, 24.05 seconds). He then returned to the base of Pikes Peak to try and better the time in a camo'd two-door model (nicknamed "McCoy"), but Duntov claimed he was utterly spent after the nerve-wracking first run and "only" managed a time of 17.41.05, which was still nearly two minutes better than the old mark of 19:25.70. Both of these car featured stock suspensions.
'55 Chevy Two-Lane Blacktop/American Graffiti
How many cars can say they've been the star of not one, but two motion pictures? The '55 from American Graffiti (left) and Two-Lane Blacktop can. The big-block-powered two-door sedan first starred alongside musicians James Taylor and Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys in Blacktop as a primered street racer with a gutted interior and one-piece tilt nose. It was refinished for Graffiti, given period-correct chrome-reverse rims and an evil black paintjob. Piloted by a then-unknown Harrison Ford, it gave John Milner all he could handle before crashing in the climatic next-to-last scene. When Graffiti came out in '73, most of America was still in the throes of muscle car fever. This nasty '55 introduced the classic Tri-Five hot rod to a new generation of enthusiasts and inspired mania among old timers, many who had to get another after seeing these flicks.
The original Chevy A-body makes this list not on the basis of its prowess as a performance vehicle, but for its inherent goodness as an automobile and being the first of its kind. Hundreds of thousands of people bought these for their virtues (large interior and trunk, smaller than fullsize body, competitive base price). The Chevelle SS was just a trim package with bucket seats and a console, and it had a six-cylinder engine standard--hardly the stuff dreams are made of. Certain customers, however, did discover that the optional 283s and midyear intro 327/300-horse engine could make the Chevelle a decent performer.
427 COPO Camaro
In the late '50s and into the '60s, Chevy flirted with (and even exceeded) having 50-percent market share, incomprehensible today. GM's strict adherence to the AMA's no-racing edict after 1963, and the Ralph Nader/Corvair debacle, had a lot of unwelcome eyes staring at GM. This meant while Ford was selling 428 Mustangs and Dodge and Plymouth were producing 440-powered Darts and Barracudas, respectively, the Camaro had to make do with "only" 396 cubic inches. Through the Central Office Production Order codes (and with the help of insiders like Vince Piggins), savvy dealers found they could order 427/425-horse L72 Camaros in limited numbers. Whatever was left of the Mustang's performance reputation was immediately turned to dust by these Camaros.
Junior Johnson’s ’59 Chevy
This is the car they said would fly—literally. People believed (and continue) to think that the controversial batwing Chevys of ’59 would go airborn if the wind hit them right. Time has proven that this is nothing more than urban legend, and that the car’s aero package was actually pretty good. Junior Johnson, however, proved it in practice, winning the 1960 Daytona 500 in a ’59 with 348 power under the hood. His average speed was 124.70 and no, the tires never left the ground. More importantly, it was in this car that Johnson discovered (or invented) the art of drafting. That alone earns it a place in the top half of this list.
Jimmie Johnson's Impala SS
In the ever-competitive and xenophobic world of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, Johnson and his Impala have not gotten the recognition they deserve. Most Chevy fans still put Dale Earnhardt on a pedestal, and Dale Jr. has an army of fanatical followers despite a career that has been marginally successful at best. Twenty years down the road, however, perhaps Johnson's five consecutive Sprint Cup titles in the NASCAR Impala will earn the recognition for what it is: perhaps the greatest achievement in the history of motorsports.
'57 Corvette with fuel injection
The first major revision to the Corvette came with an all-new body in 1956, but it was the 283/283 fuel-injected engine that was the proverbial shot heard 'round the world. Suddenly the two-seater went from being a fun sportabout with decent handling to a real muscle machine. Yes, there was a 250-horse fuelie motor available, but few noticed. With the high-output engine, 4.11 gears and a competent driver, they were capable of mid-to-high 14-second quarter-mile times at 95 mph--staggering in an era when most other performance cars struggled to crack the 16-second bracket. In the early '90s, Zora Arkus-Duntov told Editor Campisano that the 283 actually made 290 horsepower (its rating in 1958), but Chevy went with 283/283--1 hp per cubic inch--for promotional purposes.
The most famous project car to ever hit the pages of a magazine, the all yellow '57 210 two-door sedan would show gearheads across America the latest and greatest speed parts the performance aftermarket had to offer, and how to install them for maximum benefit. For 50 years the car has been one of the most recognizable Tri-Fives and all-out hot rods, even gracing the silver screen in "The Hollywood Knights" and being driven by actor Tony Danza. It's had everything from small-blocks to blown big-blocks under the hood and its last makeover came from General Motors itself. That tells you what an icon its become.
For a long time, trucks were, well, trucks. Tools of utility and mechanical beasts of burden, they were usually Spartan vehicles with few options and rough riding suspensions. For those who wanted the utility of an open bed, but with a car's handling and looks, Chevy launched the El Camino in 1959, based on the full size platform. After two years it vanished from the lineup, but after seeing Ford's success with the Falcon-based Ranchero, Chevy relaunched the El Camino, but based on the new mid-size Chevelle/Malibu, and it was a sales success. Most desirable are the big-block models from 1968-'72, which have a near cult following.
'59 Chevy with fuel injection
The year 1959 would be the last that Chevy buyers could get the Rochester fuel injected small-block in anything but a Corvette and it came in two flavors: 250 horsepower with a hydraulic cam or 290 with a solid cam. But it was doomed by high cost and complexity to remain a low production option. With some of the new, bigger 348 W-series engines cranking out more horsepower for less than half the cost, the fuel injected engine was made exclusive to the Corvette, where the lightweight small-block was a more appropriate fit. Finding one of the outlandishly styled automobiles with factory fuel injection is impossibly hard, as they were incredibly rare even when new.
Dale Earnhardt Wrangler Monte Carlo
Epitomizing the new roaring success of NASCAR, the poster car of the '80s for Winston Cup was the yellow and blue Monte Carlo of "The Intimidator" Dale Earnhardt. Racing for Richard Childress, he piloted the Monte to numerous wins and his first of seven NASCAR Winston Cup Championships.
'97 Corvette LS1
GM engineers had been slaving over their computers to remake the Corvette from the ground up, and the '97 model started the new C5 series that surpassed all previous Corvettes for handling prowess. Along with a new platform, the '97 also ushered in a new generation of small block power, the Gen III LS1. Among the car's high-tech features was your choice of stick or automatic transaxle transmissions and hydroformed frame rails. With 346 cubic inches and 345 horsepower, the all aluminum engine was the perfect match for the new model, pushing performance to a level previously reserved for the C4 ZR-1.
Thanks to Chevrolet, Americans wouldn't be stuck with big, heavy, lack luster sedans that wallowed along roads like beached whales. It was small, nimble, and easily matched the handling of European competitors. Its revolutionary fiberglass body had a shape like no other car on the road and its appearance at the GM Motorama in 1953 inspired Chevy to release it just six months later, in June of that year. That first Vette was hamstrung in the marketplace by a lack of roll up windows, a leaky roof and was probably ahead of its time, but it was the original and it paved the way for all Corvettes that came after it.
'57 Black Widow
Chevy wanted to win bad on NASCAR's tracks in '57, so they directed their performance skunk works in Atlanta to take stripped down '57 Chevys, equip them with beefed up axles, front hubs and brakes, twin shocks per wheel, and the new 283 HP 283 small block to storm the Grand National series.
Dan Fletcher's "Checkmate" Super Stock '69 Camaro holds the distinct honor of having more wins than any NHRA drag car in history. Dan, a regular columnist for Super Chevy Magazine, has amassed a whopping 37 NHRA national event titles, over 20 NHRA divisional titles, (not to mention some IHRA wins), and two NHRA Super Stock World Championships--all in this car. Dan's Chevrolet was purchased new by his late father, Tom, in the fall of '69, however, few know it is an original Z/28 that has been raced since his dad drove it home from the now-defunct Taylor Chevrolet in Rochester, New York. Tom raced the car weekly in E/Modified Production with the 302 and later in C/MP with a 350. It was then converted it to a Super Stocker, and over the last decade has been powered by big-block and small-block engines. Dan estimates that he has earned over $1,500,000 behind the wheel of the classic Chevy!
'66 Black Arrow Nova
After GM decided to strictly adhere to the AMA's racing ban in 1963 (thus killing all factory sponsorship), Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins and driver Dave Strickler switched to Dodge in '64. Bill moved to a Hemi Plymouth in '65, where he earned his first national event win as a driver, but he couldn't secure a factory deal from Chrysler, he switched back to Chevrolet for '66. Not only that, but he chose to run a small-block-powered 350-horse Nova. The car's power-to-weight ratio put it in the NHRA's A/Stock class with the 426 race Hemi cars, but Jenkins gave them fits in "Grumpy's Toy I" despite giving up 100 cubic inches under the hood. He took runner-up in A/Stock at the NHRA Spring Nationals, then second place in Top Stock Eliminator at the NHRA Nationals and the World Finals. The car ran mid 11s and ultimately shared the national record with Jere Stahl's Hemi Plymouth at 11.66.
'69 Camaro Indy Pace Car
In only its third year of production, the Camaro was selected to pace the world's most famous race, this time in convertible form. In '67 only a handful of cars were built for Indy, but in '69 anyone walking through the doors of a Chevy dealership could order a replica of the Indy pace cars, with either small-block or big-block power. A total of 3,675 were built, and today they're among the most collectible Camaros.
'62 Z-11 full size
The factories were in an all-out street fight at dragstrips across America, vying to have the fastest and most dominant cars in the quarter-mile. Despite its "we not racing" proclamations, engineers took the normally bloated Impala, stripped it of all non-essentials including sound deadener material, added a special intake, larger port heads, and unique cam to the 409, and shaved hundreds of pounds off the car's weight with an aluminum front end. These 20 factory lightweights were eligible for competition in the NHRA's new Factory Experimental category.
'65 Mako Shark II show car
The designs and concepts tested with the Mako Shark II concept car helped steer engineers to designing the look of the C3 Corvette, which debuted in the fall of 1967, and become the longest-running series of Corvettes in the car's history. Had VP of Design Bill Mitchell and has band of stylists had their way, the production '68 Vette would have been as radical as the show car, but the tall arching fenders made it impossible to see out of and its aerodynamics were even worse than the '63-67 cars--which is to say atrocious. Besides the basic shape, one feature to make production was the trap door at the base of the windshield that hid the wipers.
'63 Z-11 full size
- To gain a competitive edge in FX racing, Chevy pulled out all the stops with the '63 Z-11. The 409 was increased to 427 cubic inches (the NHRA limit at the time), had special heads with intake manifold, an air filter that pulled cold air in from the cowl. The cut weight, the cars it got an aluminum front end, plus alloy front and rear bumpers. In the hands of a tuner like Jenkins, the 427s could make in the neighborhood of 540 horsepower. Just 57 were built, and only seven are still known to exist, making the '63s among the rarest Chevys ever built.
Baldwin Motion Phase III Camaro
In 1967, Joel Rosen's Motion Performance formed a high-performance bond with neighboring Baldwin Chevrolet on Long Island. The idea was to sell cars modified by Rosen's shop at Baldwin Chevrolet. The result was the Fantastic Five: SS427 Camaros, full-size Chevys, Corvettes, Chevelles and Novas. By 1968, Rosen claimed to be the second largest producer of specialty performance vehicles in the U.S. behind Shelby' Mustang GT program. In '68, he added the Phase III option, which gave you a dyno-proven 500-horsepower 427 under your hood. It was the first supercar to offer a guarantee: run 11.50 at 120 on a sanctioned strip with a Motion driver or your money back. Even Yenko wouldn't go that far. For '69, the Phase III cars returned, as did the guarantee, and despite the introduction of COPO 427 Camaros, Rosen claims these had no impact on his SS427 and Phase III 427 program.
'63 Impala 50 Millionth Built
Chevrolet and GM were riding high in the '60s, dominating the car business with an iron fist--so much so the federal government was considering anti-trust action against GM that would have forced it to spin Chevrolet off as its own company! To celebrate the 50 millionth car produced, Chevrolet celebrated with a special series of gold Impalas that were the showcase piece of that year's Autorama tour. This particular car--labeled as the 50 millionth--was driven off the New York assembly line by then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller.