1965-'68 RPO L79 327 Engine - Performance Nostalgia

The 1965-'68 RPO L79 327

Doug Marion Mar 26, 2007 0 Comment(s)
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As one of a gazillion Chevy high-performance guys who grew up in the late '50s and '60s, the 1965-1968 L79 327 (rated at both 350 hp and 325 hp) was for many the "Best Overall Chevy Small-Block of the '60s." Yes, it only had a single inlet, 585 Holley four-barrel carb (also rated at 600 cfm), but everything else was right on. Even though it had the first-ever high-performance hydraulic camshaft, if Grandma could handle a manual transmission, she could drive an L79 anywhere-and with a smile, too.

We always thought the carb was smallish. A 750 Quadrajet would have been perfect. The 0.447-inch valve lift did not make for record-setting top-end 4th-gear power like the 1965 RPO L76 (365 hp) and L84 (375 hp) 327s had with their "30-30" solid lifter cam. No matter. The L79 was a rocket from 2,400 rpm right on up to 5,800 rpm.

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All 1967 and 1968 Chevelle and Chevy II L79 engines had an open element air cleaner just like the Corvette. This is Frank and Mae Garrison's 1967 Chevelle as seen in 1988.

The average 1965-1968 L79 Corvette, 1966-68 Chevy II and even the 1965, 1967 and 1968 Chevelle Malibu surprised virtually all of the renowned big-block machines of all makes by out-running many while keeping up with most of the rest. How so? For starters, the power-to-weight ratio of the L79 was almost always better than similar machines. Few today remember or were ever even told that the "advertised horsepower" of many engines in the '60s were often stretching the truth.

L79, The Underdog
For other highly touted, super fast "muscle cars" and the like, those that could out-run an L79 generally didn't win by more than a few car lengths. We're here to tell you that most of them wondered what the heck was under the hood of that stock-looking Chevy.

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Plainfield, Indiana's Frank and Mae Garrison owned and restored this 1967 L79 Malibu 20 years ago. It's the nicest one you will ever see, and is maroon with a black vinyl top. It also has optional bucket seats, a Muncie four-speed and a 3.55:1 12-bolt rearend.

All of the L79 Chevelles and Chevy IIs could be had brand new for under $3,000 if so-ordered properly. That was a heck of a big bang for the buck. Also, take a minute and think back to the late '60s and all of the '70s when these L79 Chevys were on used car lots. Super good deals galore! Had we only known!

The L79 camshaft itself became so popular that from 1965 through 1980, more 1957-1974 stock Chevy V-8 small-blocks were owner-fitted with the L79 factory # 3863151 camshaft than any other grind. The good guy price was $39. Prior to the L79s introduction, the Duntov 1957-62, 098, Corvette solid lifter cam was the hot ticket.

In all, the L79 camshaft gave good throttle response, a great power curve, decent power brake vacuum and a lumpy, performance, 800-rpm idle to boot. Due to its overlap, the only thing it could not do was idle properly with an automatic transmission's stock stall-speed torque converter. A 2,500-rpm stall-speed torque converter was a must.

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The 1965 L79 Chevelle and El Camino had a chrome air cleaner with oval air inlets positioned at 8 o'clock and 4 o'clock. The '66 L79 Chevy II air cleaner had its inlets at 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock. All Corvette L79s and all 1967-68 Chevelle, El Camino and Chevy II L79s had exposed filter / open-element air cleaners with a chrome lid.

The L79's Ancestry
From 1962 to 1968 (and to a lesser extent well into the late '70s) General Motors Parts Division made a fortune selling the many similar-yet-different 327 special high-performance "short-blocks" over the counter at dealership parts departments. The good-guy price back in the day was $239 plus tax. A long-block (with big valve heads and oil pan) was around $400. The only difference in any of these various year special high-performance 327 short-blocks was the block's casting number, its camshaft and the oil pan. All had 11.0:1 compression with forged aluminum, domed pistons and a forged steel, small-journal crankshaft. The 1962-63 Corvette 340hp and 360hp 327 had the 0.390-inch lift, Duntov 098 solid lifter cam. In 1964 and 1965, a potent 0.480-inch lift, "30-30" solid lifter cam was used with brand-new 2.02 heads, L76 (Holley 4 bbl 365hp) and L84 (F.I. 375hp) heads. In 1967 through 1969, this "30-30" cam went in the torrid, high-revving Z28 302 Camaro.

The L79 engine was parts-wise, identical to the RPO L76, 365hp Corvette 327 except for the camshaft.

1965 L79 Production & History
So, it was in 1965 that the hot hydraulic cam, L79 327 engine first appeared in the Corvette and the Chevelle. For the record, the L76, 365hp 327 outsold the 350hp L79 in the Corvette, 5011 to 4716. There were also 771 1965 Corvettes with the L84, 375hp fuel-injected 327. (It was cancelled in February 1965 when the Mark IV 396 engine was introduced.) Total L79 Chevelle and El Camino sales were a whopping 6,021.

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