The age of muscle cars peaked as the 1970s began -- and the 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 helped to herald the ascent. When GM lifted its displacement ban on midsize cars, Pontiac, Olds, and Buick responded with 455-cid mills with up to 370 bhp. Chevy's retort was a 454-cid V-8 that started at 360 bhp and ended at a barbaric 450. This was the muscle car summit.
The wrapper was a restyled Chevelle that again presented the Super Sport as an option package for hardtops and convertibles. As the SS 396, it cost $446 and came with a 350-bhp 402-cid V-8, power front discs, F41 suspension, Polyglas F70x14s, and a domed hood. Fat dorsal stripes were optional, but were included with the new $147 cowl-induction hood, which had a flapper near the base of the windshield that opened at full throttle to feed air to the engine.
The new SS 454 package cost $503 and included a 360-bhp hydraulic-lifter 454 called the LS5. Then there was the LS6. This was the take-no-prisoners 454, with a 800-cfm Holley four-barrel on an aluminum manifold, 11.25:1 compression, solid lifters, four-bolt mains, forged steel crank and connecting rods, forged aluminum pistons, and deep-groove accessory pullies. No production engine ever had a higher factory horsepower rating.
With mandatory options -- including either the Rock Crusher four-speed or special Turbo 400 automatic -- total cost for an LS6 was more than $1,000. Axles ranged from 3.31:1 to 4.10:1, with Positraction a $42 extra.
The SS Chevelle had a handsome new dash, and on the road, exhibited far more poise than its weight and size would suggest. But the LS6 made it a superstar. Sub-14-second ETs at over 100 mph were routine.
But the LS6's thunder also seemed to signal an approaching storm, one that would dampen muscle for years to come. Testers sensed it. "Without even raising the specters of insurance and social justice," said Car Life after an LS6 experience, "it's fair to say that the Supercar as we know it may have gone as far as it's going."
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- NASCAR race cars embody the muscle car philosophy of power. Read How NASCAR Race Cars Work to find out what makes these charged-up racers go.
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