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Rare V-8 Performance History, Part 4

Musclecar Mania 1966 - 1969

By Doug Marion, Photography by Doug Marion

The new rebodied Malibu sport coupe had 4,082 L79, 350hp 327s. Only 1,274 Chevy IIs were L79 powered. The SS Chevelles and El Caminos had a whopping 4,751 L78, 375hp 396s. Wow! The big-block L78 outsold the small-block L79 in the Chevelle.

There were only 568 L72 425hp 427s and 4,071 385hp 427s in all 1968 big cars. Super Sport 427s totaled 1,788. Big car four-speed transmissions totaled 6,596 wide-ratio and 1,052 close-ratio. The heavy-duty M22 four-speed transmission numbered 124.

Camaro Z/28s totaled 7,199. Camaro 325hp 396s totaled 2,579 while the 350hp version sold 10,773. The L78, 375hp 396 was ordered in a whopping 4,575 Camaros SS models. Also, 272 had L89 aluminum heads. We estimate that five of the 272 Camaro L89s were convertibles. Two of them have been documented. The best of the two is Roger Sortino's recent SC cover car.

The L48 350 was bolted into 12,496 SS Camaros. The same engine went into 4,670 Nova SS cars. The now big-block Nova saw 667 L78 396s and 234 L35 396s. There were also some COPO L72 Chevelles built for specific class drag racing. Numbers/totals have never been documented or determined.

La Harpe, Illinois, Chevrolet dealer Fred Gibb, like many of us, wondered why Chevrolet had few winners in the automatic transmission classes. He convinced Chevrolet Product Promotion's Vince Piggins that a '69 L78 396 Chevy II was winnable with a Turbo 400 automatic transmission. Gibb ordered 50 and sold them all. Some customers then had Dick Harrell Performance Center in Kansas City install an L72 427 in place of the L78 396. We wonder if any owners insisted on keeping their original L78 396 engine? Probably not. No one thought about "matching" engine numbers back then. Life was good. These Chevys were going to be around forever. Not!

Again, the highest-priced RPO was the $947.90 L88 427 Corvette engine with accompanying ultra heavy-duty driveline and chassis. The new Mako Shark-inspired Corvette saw 80 ordered with the L88 427 race engine.

Chevelle and El Camino sales included 87,307 RPO Z25 Super Sport 396s, 9,486 L78 375hp, and 17,358 L34 350hp 396s. Exactly 400 of the Chevelle L78 powerhouses were ordered with high-dollar L89 aluminum cylinder heads. The L35 base 325hp 396 was in 59,786 Chevelles and El Caminos. Musclecar drag racing was at a fever pitch, so we know why they were ordered and where a lot of them went.

Nova performance engine highlights were also unbelievable. There were 1,947 350hp 396s, 5,262 L78 375hp 396s, and 10,356 L48 300hp 350s. L78 Novas outsold L78 Camaros, 5,262 to 4,889. Note our production sidebars.

Camaro had a grand total of 17,564 Super Sports. The SS 396s totaled 13,659 and 311 of the 4,889 Camaro L78s had L89 aluminum heads. The L34 350hp 396 was in 2,018 Camaros. The RPO L35 base 396 was in 6,752 Camaros. The Z/28 totaled 20,302. You can bet a bunch of Z/28s were sold to ex-GIs just back from Vietnam. The Z/28 offered a lot of bang for the buck. So did the Novas.

Besides all this, there were also 700 COPO 9560 iron 427 Camaros sold and 69 9561 aluminum ZL-1 427 big-block Camaros, plus all the special dealership cars being sold. This includes Yenko, Baldwin-Motion, Nickey, Fred Gibb, Dana and others. This was indeed one wild year.

For the record, 1969 was the last year of four-speed manual transmission in big cars. Due most likely to the popularity of the Chevelle, Nova and Camaro, only 4,494 four-speed big cars were ordered. Model year 1969 was also the last year of the big car "Super Sport" option. Only 2,455 were ordered. This was also the last year for the RPO L72 425hp 427 big car. Only 546 were ordered. The two hydraulic lifter, smooth-idle 427 engines were 18,308 and 5,582. Total: 23,890.

Sales of the '69 RPO L88 Corvettes were 116. The package cost jumped to $1,032.15. They say that two '69 Corvettes were equipped with the aluminum ZL1 427 engine. Chevrolet's Vince Piggins told me in his office in the mid-1980s that both of these cars were engineering studies, and as far as he knew were never originally intended to be sold. Quote-unquote.

Some 10 years ago, a third 1969 ZL1 Corvette appeared. The owner, now deceased, told me he wanted to build the car, saying that the GI who bought it went to Vietnam, never to return. I know this because I sold him virtually every engine part except the block. He lived in Ventura, California. The heads were a much later issue.

Next up: The Rare V-8 Performance History finale: 1970 - 1972.

By Doug Marion
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