Rare V-8 Performance History, Part 4

Musclecar Mania 1966 - 1969

Doug Marion Sep 1, 2008 0 Comment(s)
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Two blasts from the past: Mike Moss' 1966 427 Biscayne and the no-name, maroon '65 Z-16 Chevelle clone. Both compete in today's Nostalgia Super Stock event circuit. We caught 'em in action at Bowling Green, Kentucky in 2005.

Mentioned in many national stories were the L79's showroom stock 14- and 15-second quarter-mile elapsed times, lots of fairly controlled body roll in the turns, and massive, uncontrollable leaf-spring differential wrap-up under full-throttle launch. All true indeed, but this was Chevy's all-time best bang for the buck. The body was light and the styling looked great. The L79 engine was an easy-to-drive powerhouse. A 275hp 327 was also available. Year-end production numbers of each were 5,481 and 5,108, respectively. A total of 43,265 Novas had V-8 power in 1966, which was about 26 percent of total sales. Of the V-8s, 30 percent were 275hp 327s and 19 percent were 350hp 327s. The other 51 percent of the Novas were 283s.

Total L72 427 big-car sales in '66 was 1,856. That's two-door, four-door, convertible and station wagon. The market had changed. Another 3,287 had the L36, 390hp, oval-port-head 427. You could also get an L35, 325hp 396 in any big car. A whopping 105,844 were so ordered.

Lots of owners began tinkering with the oval port 396 and 427 engines and found them to be equally as powerful hopped-up as the big brother L72 rectangle port engines. Year by year, the solid lifter 427 and 396 engines began to be "indexed" by sanctioning bodies into higher and higher classes. Ultimately, they were no longer competitive. Luckily, bracket racing took off in the 1970s and it didn't matter what engine you had. Put an ET dial-in on the windshield and rear window and have at it.

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This pinnacle-perfect L34, 350hp 396 also sold in the hundreds of thousands during its production run. It got a 25-hp boost over the L35 with a slightly hotter hydraulic camshaft and a Holley carburetor.

1967
Everyone barely absorbed everything offered in 1966 when 1967's flock of Chevrolet powerhouse engines arrived. The big-block, solid lifter, 425hp Corvette got 10 more horsepower via tri-power induction. Chevrolet also wowed everyone with its own rendition of a Mark IV 427 race engine-the unbelievable L88. It had 12.5:1 compression, a huge solid lifter camshaft and an 850 cfm double-pumper Holley carburetor. It was underrated at 430 hp. Guys were putting L88 cams and 4.88:1 gears in their L78 396 Chevelles, then kicking everyone's butt.

Gone after production Day One was the L79 Nova. Six were built that day, and then the plug was pulled. Life was still good-we had the sharp big car, the Corvette, Chevelle and of course, Chevy II. But then.

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The L78, 375hp 396 was very powerful and it revved higher and better than any other RPO big-block. It was also rated at 425 hp in the '65 Corvette and big car. Every SC reader should go for a test-ride in one!

On September 26, 1966, Chevrolet pulled yet another small-block powered maxo-winner (my new term) out of its bag-the engineering coded "F-Car" Camaro. Chevrolet had really done the impossible in 1965 and 1966. If those years were the performance cake, then the Camaro was indeed the icing. Think back for a minute at what Chevrolet Engineering had accomplished year by year over the previous decade. Its high-performance "family tree" was indeed growing mightily and historically.

The big noise in 1967 was indeed the sporty Camaro. Even with no L79 327 option, by year-end, 220,906 were sold. Just over 25,000 had the 275hp 327 and 29,270 were SS 350s (new) with 295 hp. The RPO L35 396 SS totaled 4,003. Almost 48,000 Camaros were four-speed equipped. The RPO L78, 375hp 396 totaled a scant 1,178, but boy did they run! The only hot small-block was RPO Z28 with a 290hp 302. Its advertising was almost nil. Sales totaled a mere 602.

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The late, great Dick Harrell lost his life in a Camaro Funny Car accident in 1971. A decade earlier he was known as "Mr. Chevrolet" on the dragstrip. He was 100 percent devoted to Chevy. Here is a trick dual-quad big-block that his Kansas City shop built into a Chevelle, circa 1968.

The '67 Chevelle SS sport coupe and convertible sales continued strong. In all, 59,685 and 3,321 were built, respectively. A total of 17,176 had the 396/350hp. The L78 totals dipped to a scant 612. The total Chevelle and El Camino sales with all engines were a whopping 403,963. A total of 4,048 Plain Jane, nondescript, L79, 350hp 327 Malibus were also special-ordered and sold. This car flew under the high-cost insurance radar. Also, the '67 L30 327 Chevy II had 6,175 orders. Small- and big-block V-8 El Caminos totaled 30,769.

The highest-priced RPO in 1967 was the "L88" Corvette 430hp 427 engine at $947.90. Buyers were essentially getting an ultra heavy-duty driveline and suspension behind the 12.5:1 compression racing engine. Exactly 20 were sold. Countless L88 engines, cams, heads and more were sold over dealership parts department counters to be installed in other enthusiasts' Chevys.

The only weak link in 1967 was the lack of an RPO L72 427 in the big car. Guys learned early on that the L36 oval port 427 was capable of great torque and horsepower increases with five aftermarket parts: camshaft, intake manifold, carburetor, ignition and headers. These engines actually ended up making better mid-range power than the L72. Oval port Chevy big-blocks would soon be frontrunners in Stock and Super Stock Eliminator drag racing classes.

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