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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To represent L79 El Caminos, we present you with Mike Ingalsbee's blue '67 from La Habra, California. He has actually updated it with a hot 383 and a 700R4 AOD transmission. Rust-free '67 El Caminos are very scarce. Nice machine, eh?

1967 L79 Production & History
Sadly, the L79 was dropped from the Chevy II option list during day one of production and transferred back over to the Chevelle. A total of 4,048 Chevelles were so-ordered. From 1966 on, there were SS 396 Chevelles everywhere. Most guys I knew then weren't like me. Few drag raced. Most cruised around and enjoyed their social life. The majority competed in stoplight acceleration contests.

The 1967 L79 Malibu was non-descript-looking which helped keep it under the insurance radar. Chevrolet also lowered its horsepower rating to 325 in 1967. But the engine remained exactly the same. A friend special-ordered a dark green L79 Malibu with a four-speed and 3.31 12-bolt rearend. Another friend bought a Butternut yellow 1967 RS/SS 350, four-speed Camaro. Even though it was lighter, it was no match for the L79 Malibu. This was because the L48 350 ran out of power at 5,000 rpm. It also did not have the mid-range torque the L79 had. So we installed a nice 280 degree duration, 0.480-inch lift hydraulic camshaft on a Saturday. But the Malibu still reigned supreme. The Camaro's 3.31:1 gears, 10.0:1 compression and smaller heads/valves were the culprit. We then put a 750 Holley and an Edelbrock C4B intake manifold on it and it came very close to out-performing the Malibu.

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If lore has it correctly, you could order an L79 327 in a Corvette, Chevy II or Chevelle with a heavy-duty three-speed transmission-but very few were. Who would order a three-speed? Old-timers and farmers. Really. For the rest of us, a Muncie four-speed transmission with the beefy factory shifter was the only way to go.

1968 L79 Production & History
For model year 1968, Chevrolet finally got it right. The L79 was offered not only in the Corvette but the Chevy II AND the Chevelle too. While the performance and styling world was still "gah-gah" over the SS 396 Chevelle and Camaro, the L79 had a record year. In all, 14,479 L79 cars were sold. This included 9,440 Corvettes, 4,082 Chevelles and 1,274 Chevy IIs.

We really liked the looks of the all-new Chevy II. It also could be had with one of two different big-block 396s. We think an L79 could out-run the 350hp oval port 396 and run right with the L78 rectangle port 396. How so? The factory seemingly did not spend any time engineering a free-flowing exhaust system. This was either not in their developmental budget, or they felt that owners would change their exhaust system to-suit. This was very true.

Chevrolet did not highly advertise the L79 Chevy II in 1968. Due to the Vietnam conflict, not all that many high-performance customers were around to take advantage of this great little Chevy. Total sales were a scant 1,274. Very few remain today. It had multi-leaf spring rear suspension, did not wheelhop and had no weaknesses other than a gimpy four-speed shifter. So few of these 1968 L79 Chevy IIs were sold that others did not know they even existed. Like the 1966 L79 Chevy II, car for car, they surprised many muscle cars on the street and at the drag strip.

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Feature Editor Steve Kelly and Photo Editor Eric Rickman at Hot Rod magazine presented a great story in its May 1968 issue on a 1968 L79 Chevy II. It ran 14.60 at 95 mph brand-new with Casler cheater.

The total number of L79-powered Chevelles, Chevy IIs and Corvettes from 1965-1968 was 49,034. Few Chevelles and Chevy IIs remain today, but many Corvettes are still around. The L79's hydraulic lifter profile was a first for Chevy performance cams. There was an old wives' tale that a hydraulic lifter would bleed down over 5,200 rpm. Many did. But smart engineers back then (just like today) figured out the remedy. Hydraulic lifters were redesigned internally and could now attain as much as 6,200 rpm before bleed-down. The end result was a high-performance street cam that did not have to have its valve lash adjusted every few weeks. Chevrolet also engineered new rocker arm nuts, which gripped the stud firmer. They didn't back off hardly at all during high-rpm actuation.

The quickest L79 we know of was the great Bill Jenkins' '66 Chevy II. A top national event winner with 409s and Z11s, he ran C/Stock in NHRA championship drag racing in 1966 and the car got down to the low 11s. The only often-quicker machine was a dual quad 426 Street Hemi owned and driven by multi Chevy record-holder, Jere Stahl of Stahl Headers fame. While building his fabled "Totally Tuned" headers for some Mopar customers, he penciled out some numbers on the brand new '66 Street Hemi and thought since his nearby pal, Jenkins, was running a Chevy II, he ought to run a Street Hemi. Stahl won most of his C/Stock final rounds, but Jenkins won the hearts of millions with his "Grumpy's Toy" Chevy II. From 1966 until now, Bill Jenkins and his Jenkins Competition facility in Malvern, Pennsylvania, have been living legends in the Chevrolet camp. Long live the L79.


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