A Brief History of the Chevelle

Muscle, power, and rumble — you’re thinking about the Chevelle now, aren’t you? That’s because this classic Chevy embodied American muscle cars like no other. Here's brief history of the life and death of the beastly Chevy Chevelle.

Chevy Chevelle

It Started In 1963

Introduced on the 26th of September 1963, the Chevelle had a short run: 1964-1977. This model was available in many different varieties — including everything from 2-door sports coupes to 4-door wagons. The Chevelle would also offer the largest range of trim options from basic to swanky packages from GM.

Model Chevelle 300 Series 53 Chevelle 300 Series 54 Chevelle Malibu Series 55
Starting MSRP $2,231.00 $2,339.00 $2,349.00
Engine Options 194 w/ 120hp 6-cyl (base)
230 w/ 155hp 6-cyl (optional)
283 w/ 195hp V8 (base)
283 w/ 220hp V8 (optional)
327 w/ 250hp V8 (optional)
327 w/ 300hp V8 (optional)
194 w/ 120hp 6-cyl (base)
230 w/ 155hp 6-cyl (optional)
Avail. Body Styles 2 Door Coupe, 4 Door Sedan, 2 or 4 Door Wagon 2 Door Coupe, 4 Door Sedan, 2 or 4 Door Wagon 2 Door Sport Coupe or Convertible, 4 Door Sedan, 2 or 4 Door Wagon
Model Chevelle Malibu Series 56 Chevelle Malibu SS Series 57 Chevelle Malibu SS Series 58
Starting MSRP $2,457.00 $2,538.00 $2,646.00
Engine Options 283 w/ 195hp V8 (base)
283 w/ 220hp V8 (optional)
327 w/ 250hp V8 (optional)
327 w/ 300hp V8 (optional)
194 w/ 120hp 6-cyl (base)
230 w/ 155hp 6-cyl (optional)
283 w/ 195hp V8 (base)
283 w/ 220hp V8 (optional)
327 w/ 250hp V8 (optional)
327 w/ 300hp V8 (optional)
327 w/ 365hp V8 (never made production)
Avail. Body Styles 2 Door Sport Coupe or Convertible, 4 Door Sedan, 2 or 4 Door Wagon 2 Door Sport Coupe or Convertible 2 Door Sport Coupe or Convertible

Chevrolet positioned the Chevelle to bridge the gap between the Impala and Chevy II/Nova. Additionally, the Chevelle was also made to compete with the Ford Fairlane. It was built on the A-body platform — same as the Pontiac Tempest, Buick Skylark, and Oldsmobile Cutlass. When it was first released in 1964, it had a wheelbase that measured 115”, the same as the 1955-1957 Chevy.

By mid 1964, Chevy already swapped out it’s top engine from a 220 horsepower 283cid to a 327 that made 300 horsepower instead. This move signified GM throwing the Chevelle into the ring as a fierce competitor in the fast-growing performance niche. By the time the 1965 model year rolled around, Chevy pumped up the Chevelle again with a boost to a 350hp L79 engine for the Super Sport (SS) trim model. This was one of the key components that marked the beginning of the muscle car era. To the dismay of many eager enthusiasts, only 201(!) SS Chevelles were made in 1965.

1964 Chevelle

1965 Chevelle

In 1966, the Chevelle’s body was totally redesigned and the SS became its own separate model. Power ranged between 325-327hp. The next year, the Chevelle would get a new front and rear fascia — in 1967, buyers could opt for front disc brakes and a dual master cylinder. It also got a handful of safety features that included a collapsible steering column and warning light in the cluster to alert of brake failure.

1966 Chevelle

1967 Chevelle

NOTE: The Malibu trim level was offered on the 1964 Chevelle, and remained a popular option level throughout the Chevelle's history. In fact, Chevrolet opted to replace the Chevelle with the Malibu in 1978 (but we're getting ahead of ourselves now, aren't we?).

The Chevelle Gets A Major Update in 68'

1968 ushered in a total redesign for the Chevelle and the other GM A-bodies. This cut the wheelbase and brought in a long hood, short deck, and tapered fenders — making it an immensely popular body style. 1969 reduced the SS back to an engine package. The 396 cubic inch, 375hp engine option returned, the vent window was removed, and a chrome bar stretched over the grille. Taillights got bigger and more flush, and GM lent some of the Corvette engines into the Chevelle frame rails.

1968 Chevelle

The 1970s brought in new Chevelle styling and better engine packages. Taillights were mounted to the bumper as a result of the federally mandated bumpers. The car also got an available air scoop for cowl induction to boost performance. This would be the first year the Chevelle SS got twin racing stripes. The 1970 Chevelle is often seen in movies from the 70s to modern flicks.

1970 Chevelle

Few changes occurred in 1971, including the addition of a low-cost, high powered “Heavy Chevy” trim level. This year was also the start of the government crackdown on gas guzzling cars, so the SS was offered with a small-block 350 engine. Styling was again revised in 1971, and 1972 was basically a carryover year.

1971 Chevelle

A New Body Style for 73'

The Colonnade body style was rolled out in 1973 and the SS was downgraded to a simple appearance package by then. The SS would be replaced by the Laguna Type S-3 in 1974. The world then said goodbye to the big block Chevelle in 1975. By 1977, the Chevelle had reached the end of it's life.

1973 Chevelle

The Chevelle wasn't so much 'canceled' as it was replaced. GM decided to dramatically reduce its lineup in 1978 (partially to cut costs and complexity, partially to focus their brand), and the Chevelle was dropped while the Malibu remained.

The Malibu has been a mainstay of the Chevrolet line-up since it first debuted as a trim package on the 64' Chevelle, but today's Malibu is nothing like the Chevelle it owes its lineage to. The Chevelle is one of the most iconic muscle cars of all time - it's hard to imagine the Malibu ever attaining the Chevelle's status.

1977 Chevelle

Popular Chevelle Years, Options and Trim Levels

The collector car market generally has a very favorable view of the Chevelle. However, some years, models, and trim levels are more desirable than others.

Chevelle emblem

By far the most popular Chevelle with collectors is the 1968 SS 396. This was the most popular model at the time, and was well-known as one of the Kings of the muscle car era. It’s is important to note that there’s no real way to nail the exact year and trim level that has been the most popular with collectors over the years as trends change. However, the 1968 SS is one of the most recognizable and coveted of the pack. Other contenders would include:

  • 1964 Malibu SS L76
  • 1965 Malibu SS 396 Z16
  • 1969 COPO 427

While not exactly everyone's taste, many collectors appreciate the 1974 Chevelle Laguna Type S-3. This car is the constant topic of “weird or cool?” debates and was a very distinctive model. It was done up to be a sportier version of the previous SS models, but changed completely by the time 1975 rolled around. So, this model is a rarity and one year special edition — ripe for collection.

1974 Chevelle Laguna

The Chevelle is just one of those special cars that will never be forgotten. From the years of production, to current days, this iconic car will always be king of the road wherever it goes!

  • Posted on   03/05/15 at 06:19:15 AM   by Jason  | 
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Posted in History
Tagged with chevelle, muscle, history

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