1966 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Chevelle was restyled for '66, delivering style and thrills at a modest price. See more classic muscle car pictures.

Chevy repositioned its Super Sport Chevelle as an all-out performance muscle car for '66, but in some ways, more turned out to be less in the Chevelle SS 396.

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Like other GM intermediates, it was reskinned, though dimensions hardly changed. SS models got a blackout grille and a new hood with nonfunctional vents. With engines of around 400 cid now obligatory in this game, Chevy made the 396-cid V-8 standard, so all its midsize muscle cars were now Chevelle SS 396s.

But instead of the 375-bhp Z-16 396 that bowed midway through the '65 model year, the '66s got detuned 396s rated at 325 bhp in base Turbo-Jet guise and 360 bhp in optional L34 form. Both new mills had 10.25:1 compression, but the L34 got a taller cam, stronger block, and larger four-barrel. It cost $105 extra and nearly one-third of SS 396 buyers ordered it. Still, the L34's mid 15s at around 90 mph in the quarter were pretty ordinary.

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. In 1966, all Super Sports now had a 396-cid V-8 of 325 or 360 bhp or the flashy 375 bhp 178.

So was much of the rest of the car, at least compared to the pricey, limited-edition Z-16. Instead of reinforced brakes and underpinnings, the '66 SS 396 used standard Chevelle brakes and suspension pieces. Chevy claimed it had stiffer springs and shocks -- an assertion some testers disputed once they experienced the car's wayward handling and subpar stopping ability. In fairness, comfortable seats, tractable engines, sporty styling, and a $2,776 base price made the '66 SS 396 a great daily driver.

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. The SS 396's optional bucket-seat cabin featured a console with a clock and included the extra-cost "knee-knocker" underdash tachometer.

Then, in the spring, Chevy released the L78 396. This was essentially an updated Z-16, but with solid lifters and new exhaust manifolds. It had the 427-cid V-8's large-valve heads, plus 11.0:1 compression, aluminum intake manifold, and an 800-cfm Holley. The L78 echoed the Z-16's 375-bhp rating and was the 396 that hard-core Chevy street warriors had hoped all the '66s would be. Only about 3,100 L78s were built. But even the base Chevelle SS was now a genuine big-block muscle car, and the best was yet to come.

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