Chevy muscle cars were at the very heart of the classic era of all-American big-cube high performance. That's no surprise when you consider a key appeal of the muscle car was maximum performance for minimal money. The formula played to Chevrolet's strength as a maker of attractive and affordable automobiles.
True to its mission, Chevrolet fielded the most extensive and most popular lineup of muscle cars of any manufacturer throughout the 1960s and early '70s.
Chevrolet had built-in credibility as a performance-car builder thanks to its small-block V-8 introduced in 1955. The high-revving V-8 was a favorite of racers and hot rodders, and its role in the success of the Corvette convinced any remaining doubters that Chevrolet knew how to build fast cars.
Still, it was the celebrated 409-cid V-8 that did as much for Chevy's muscle image. Introduced in 1961, its most glamorous home was the new lmpala Super Sport, which could be ordered with a 360-bhp 409. A dual four-barrel carburetor option for 1962 brought one horsepower per cubic inch to this "W-head" V-8, and later 409s produced up to 425 bhp. In 1964 Chevy introduced the Chevelle SS, which had nearly the interior of the Impala in a more compact form.
Introduced in 1965, the Chevrolet Nova SS was short on style but big on speed. The Nova enjoyed a lengthy run, and managed to survive until just about the end of the muscle car era in 1972.
The 409 was the standard-bearer in full-size Chevys until 1965, when the 396-cid "porcupine head" big-block was introduced. The 396 was bored and stroked to 427 cid for '66, putting up to 425 bhp beneath the hood of the Impala SS.
Chevrolet's offering in the intermediate ranks was the Chevelle, and its Super Sport version became one of the most-popular muscle cars of all time. Introduced for 1964, the Chevelle SS was originally available with 283- and 327-cid small-block V-8s with up to 300 bhp. In 1965, a 375-bhp 396-cid big-block (the famous Z16 option) was installed in 201 Chevelles, and the race was on.
The Chevelle SS 396 became a separate model in 1966, and more than 72,000 were sold that year alone. Chevelle SS power peaked for 1970 with the 450-bhp LS6 version of the 454-cid V-8. LS6 SS 454 Chevelles were among the quickest muscle cars ever.
Chevrolet also flexed its muscle in the compact-car ranks with the Nova SS. The 1966 327-cid 350-horse Nova SS and the 396-cid big-block version introduced for 1968 could hold their own with virtually any muscle car on the road.
Rivaling the Chevelle for title of best-loved Chevy muscle car was the Camaro. This shapely pony car was Chevy's answer to Ford's Mustang, which was introduced during 1964.
Camaro bowed as a 1967 model with its performance credentials in hand thanks to SS and Z28 versions. Go-getter engines included the 290-bhp 302-cid V-8 in the Z28, the 295-bhp 350 in the SS, and the 396-cid big-block offered with up to 375 bhp. A few all-aluminum ZL-1 427-cid V-8s even made it into the Camaro in 1969.
The redesigned 1970 Camaro was among the few muscle cars to combine power and handling. That special blend of looks and performance kept Camaro alive for more than 30 years and made the nameplate Chevy's pick to reignite its muscle car flame in the 21st century.
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For more profiles, photos, and specifications of Chevy muscle cars, see:
- A new standard V-8 made even the base 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396 a genuine big-block muscle machine.
- Chevy's new pony car came in high-performance tune right out of the gate, and its strongest version was the 1967 Chevrolet Camaro SS 396.
- The 1967 Chevrolet Camaro Z-28 was a scalpel-sharp approach to muscle and fought Ford's Mustang in Trans Am racing.
- Better tires, available front disc brakes, and a new transmission improved the 1967 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396.
- The modest little 1967 Chevrolet Chevy II Nova SS was a giant-killer when equipped with the 350-bhp 327-cid V-8.
- The 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396 became America's most-popular muscle car thanks to great new sheetmetal and affordable pricing.
- One-year-only styling gave the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS 396 a unique look that has endeared it to muscle car fans.
- The 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 wasn't the fastest high-performance Camaro, but it was among the most desirable.
- A race-proven, all-aluminum 427-cid V-8 defined the rare and wicked 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
- The 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396 brought midsize Chevy muscle to an unprecedented array of body styles.
- It stood for "Central Office Production Order" and helped create some immortal muscle cars, including the 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle COPO 427.
- To the untrained eye, the 1969 Chevrolet Nova SS 396 looked like grandma's grocery-getter; looks can deceive.
- The 1969 Yenko Camaro 427 got its name from Chevy dealer Don Yenko and its muscle from a sneaky engine transplant.
- The superb 1970 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 combined a timeless new shape and Corvette's exhilarating 360-bhp 350-cid V-8.
- A 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 packing the LS6 V-8 was a tyrannical muscle car with an unsurpassed 450-bhp factory racing.
For more cool information on muscle cars, check out:
- Muscle cars came in many shapes and sizes. Here are features on more than 100 muscle cars, including photos and specifications for each model.
- Muscle cars created their own culture. To learn about it, read How Muscle Cars Work.