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1968 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Chevy's SS 396 became America's most popular muscle car thanks in large part to the new styling it got for '68. See more muscle car pictures.

The 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396 was as close to an Everyman's muscle car as Detroit would ever get. Reliable and affordable, the three-year design cycle kicked off by the '68 version would outsold every other true high-performance machine of the day, and beat its share, to boot.

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Two-door GM intermediates lost three inches of wheelbase and gained shapely new styling for '68. Chevy's midsize muscle mainstay returned with 396-cid V-8 power, heavy-duty suspension, and F70X14 wide-ovals for a list price of just $2,875. The interior was revamped, but bucket seats were a $111 option. Power front disc brakes ($100), Positraction ($42), and accent stripes ($30) were popular extras.

©2007 The factory-installed tachometer on the 1968 Chevelle SS 396 was in the dashboard and was hard to read. Many muscle car owners installed an aftermarket tach on the steering column, as demonstrated by this fine example.

The base Turbo-Jet 396 again had 325 bhp, with $105 more buying the 350-bhp L34 version. Returning to the official options list for the first time since late 1966 was the lusty 375-bhp L78. It had solid lifters, big-port heads, and an 800-cfm Holley four-barrel on a low-rise aluminum manifold -- all for a reasonable $237. A three-speed manual was standard with all engines, and a four-speed or automatic were optional. Axle ratios began with 2.73:1 highway gearing and ended with dealer-installed 4.88:1 drag cogs.

©2007 Doug Mitchel The L78 version of the 396 had solid lifters, big-port heads, and an 800-cfm Holley four-barrel on a low-rise aluminum manifold.

Chevy still didn't seem to have the SS 396's suspension sorted out: It rode harshly yet allowed the nose to porpoise over bumps. And the Muncie four-speed didn't shift with near the smoothness of the Hurst linkages offered as original equipment on some competitors.

But with the L78 in its holster, an SS 396 was a match for most anything coming out of rival showrooms. It idled roughly but revved ferociously. Remembered Patrick Bedard in a 1990 Car and Driver retrospective of top muscle cars: "If you came up beside an SS 396 in those days, you listened carefully. If you heard sixteen little hammers, the racket of solid lifters, you knew the guy was dangerous."

Chevy built 62,785 SS 396 Chevelles for '68. A fraction were ordered with the L78, but that engine wasn't for every man.

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