The Chevy Chevelle remains a classic staple of the car industry. The mid-sized muscle car has had a long and winding history with various models and designs, each adding uniqueness and personality. It’s one of the most popular models Chevrolet ever sold, and was a best-selling model of its era. The third generation body style has even inspired some NASCAR vehicles to be designed with the Chevelle in mind.
Versions ranging from coupes and sedans to convertibles and stations wagons were all part of the Chevelle evolution. Super Sports (SSs) were a huge hit, produced for many years until the Laguna replaced it in the 1970s. While the El Camino was rejuvenated under the Chevelle lineup, the Monte Carlo resembled many aspects of the Chevelle. Eventually, the Malibu was a top-selling model and replaced the Chevelle name in the late 1970s, retiring the classic car.
The Chevelle is a central part of auto culture and American culture in general, showing up repeatedly in films and shows with its iconic twin stripes and powerful, sleek design. It’s a centerpiece in the movie “Jack Reacher,” featuring a car chase scene with Tom Cruise throttling the engine of a Chevelle and weaving through traffic. “The Other Guys,” “Charlie’s Angels” and other media also feature the Chevelle.
But aside from its modern inspirations and pop culture appearances, what makes the Chevelle truly interesting is its evolution and impact on the auto industry itself.
The Chevy Chevelle: Beginnings
Because of its lean yet powerful design, some believe the name “Chevelle” was derived from a combination of “Chevrolet” and “gazelle,” though that’s never been confirmed. However, what’s true is that Chevrolet wanted to create their own mid-sized vehicle to compete with other similar cars on the market. The Chevy Chevelle met and exceeded that expectation, creating a phenomenon all on its own.
As you move through the Chevelle timeline, you can see how the vehicle evolved to fit performance, comfort, driving and regulatory standards during the tail-end of its evolution.
First Generation (1963-1967)
Themes of variety, experimentation and heated competition marked the first generation of the Chevy Chevelle. The car industry was often engaged in various battles for popularity during the 1960s, trying to outdo one another for the best model on the market. Chevrolet found its golden product in the Chevy Chevelle, with the first generation stretching from 1963 to 1967.
Chevrolet first introduced the Chevelle in 1963. Though production started in 1963, a standard 1963 Chevelle typically isn’t included in the known range of Chevelle models. The introductory models of the Chevelle had a short life span. The Chevelle was a new and heated rival to the Fairlane, Ford’s own version of a mid-sized vehicle.
Being muscular but not overly bulky, the Chevy Chevelle offered an excellent option that bridged the gap between Chevy’s Impala and the Chevy II/Nova. While the Impala was larger and bulkier, the Nova was made for compactness. The Chevelle was a middle ground between these models, showcasing a variety of body styles ranging from sport coupe to station wagon.
Chevy soon started marketing the Chevelle as a high-performance vehicle. In 1964, a 327 engine that produced up to 300 horsepower overtook the original 220 horsepower engine. With the numerous styles and models of the first-generation Chevy Chevelle, there was a lot to love. The Chevelle offered a lot of versatility for a car that looked nice and had excellent performance standards — families could display it proudly in their driveways while testing out its horsepower during rides around town.
The throwback 115-inch wheelbase created an easy, smooth ride. This, paired with the general size of the Chevelle, made it easy to transport passengers, another reason families would look into buying one. But despite the car’s perks, competition within the muscle car niche soon became fierce. Chevy would quickly be pushed into even higher performance standards, ushering in the era of the Chevelle SS.
In 1965, the Chevelle’s horsepower increased to 375 with an optional L37 engine. This engine was used in all Z16 Chevelle models, though Chevrolet produced only a select few — just 201 Chevy Z16 SSs were made with the L37 engine. These cars were distributed to celebrities and General Motors executives, and few actually made it to dealerships to be sold to consumers.
The Z16 displayed improved handling and traction with its updated rear-axle suspension, and its manual transmission gave more power and feel to the driver. Chevrolet was also determined to create a casual driver’s identity for the Chevelle. This wasn’t a racing car meant for just performance, but rather a flexible, diversified vehicle that a variety of people would enjoy driving.
The Chevelle made use of a vast array of Chevrolet’s latest comforts and gadgets, including a tachometer, a 160 mile-per-hour speedometer, front and rear seat belts, an AM/FM radio, padded dash and an adjustable driver’s side mirror. The Z16 blended comfort, power, elegance and muscle to create a beautiful performance vehicle. It changed the landscape of muscle cars and built a new era of design for comfort and performance.
1966 SS 396
In 1966, Chevrolet left the Z16 model behind, cementing the 201 models as rarities in Chevelle history. The new SS 396 was equipped with a 396 engine capable of 375 horsepower, but the main change to the 1966 Chevelle was its design. The taillights and fenders were redesigned to make the Chevelle look a bit sleeker, and a new roof line was added with an inset rear window. Another major change was the grille — it came “blacked out,” a stark change from the look of earlier models.
The new model also emphasized safety, adding a warning light for brake failure and a collapsible steering column in case of collision. A tachometer was placed to the right of the speedometer and was known to knock against the knee of the driver — something Chevy would correct the next year.
The changes from 1966 to 1967 were slight, but adjustments were made to improve aesthetics and performance. Tailights were touched up and became narrower and taller. The SS 396 badges were placed on the center of the grill. On the inside, the tachometer was moved to the left of the speedometer for driver comfort. However, it also completely blocked the left turn signal and partially blocked the gas gauge. New options also included front-disk brakes.
The 396 engine was carried over from 1966 and was used as the standard engine for this year. Ultimately, the 1967 Chevelle marked the end of the first generation of the Chevy Chevelle. After this model, it became something truly different.
Second Generation (1968-1972)
The second generation invited a new look for the Chevy Chevelle. The new generation gave a smoother, more modern feel to the Chevelle, adding a sleekness that flattened out the bulkier and boxier parts of the original models. The wheelbase was cut, making the hood longer and the back deck shorter. The second generation — primarily the LS6 model — brought huge upgrades to performance, marking this generation as the most powerful Chevelle years. Though the second generation brought some of the most classic looks and feels to the Chevy Chevelle, the tail-end of it also intertwined with the world of government regulations and lead to the inevitable close of the Chevelle era.
The year 1968 delivered the Chevelle’s first redesigns. With a long hood, sculpted body and tapered fenders paired with the same 375 horsepower 396 engine, the new Chevelle gave drivers even more reason to proudly coast the streets. The vent window was removed and a chrome bar was installed across the grill.
This model is often touted as one of the best Chevelle years. It created the classic Chevy Chevelle look displayed in movies and shows. For the LS6, taillights were mounted to the bumper and two twin racing stripes appeared on its hood.
The power of the LS6 was infamous, ranking as one of the most powerful horsepower cars of the era. With the addition of the new 454 engine, this Chevelle boasted 450 horsepower. Drivers could upgrade the car’s performance even more with a new air scoop for cowl induction.
Though the LS6 was beloved by drivers, it only lasted through 1970 and was retired to a short and sweet Chevelle history.
This year marked the end of a golden age. Competition for greater horsepower was cut short as the government cracked down on gas-guzzling vehicles and began to emphasize more sustainable engines.
The Chevelle’s body style changed as well, as the twin headlamps from the previous year were condensed into one arrangement, turn signals were moved to the corner fenders and square taillights were replaced with rounded versions similar to the Camaro of that era.
The new “Heavy Chevy” was introduced with a domed hood, lock pins and a V8 engine, all at an affordable price for the Chevelle.
1972 brought minor changes to the Chevelle, including slight adjustments to parking lights. The redesigned plans for the new Chevelle were postponed one year due to a strike, and it wasn’t until 1973 the Chevelle undertook a new style.
Third Generation (1973-1977)
In the third generation of the Chevy Chevelle, external factors began to creep in and affect the design and performance of models. The designs and engines changed to adapt, so the iconic look of the second generation was ultimately left behind. The late 1970s marked the end for the Chevrolet Chevelle, and its name was replaced with the Chevy Malibu in 1977. Gone were the days of the performance boosts of the second and first generations — instead these years rolled out appearance packages without the powerful engines that once accompanied earlier models.
1973 brought a complete redesign. Pressured by more government regulations and an oil embargo, performance standards dipped significantly. The design reflected a “colonnade,” with frameless glass doors and supportive structures for safety in case of a rollover accident. Disk brakes became the new standard for all models.
The central theme of 1973 was a focus on safety and adherence to the political landscape and regulations. This safety focus was a stark contrast from the days of the past when the goal was performance and appearance.
After 1973, replacements and new names came to cloud the Chevelle, paving the way for a future of more efficient cars. The Chevelle was slowly being phased out, not in design and structure but more so in name. There was no cancellation of the Chevelle line, merely a rebranding and restructuring.
In 1974, Chevrolet replaced the SS with the Laguna Type S3. In 1975, the last big-block Chevelles retired, highlighting the finality of muscle and performance vehicles.
Many consider 1977 to be Chevelle’s final year, as it was the last time the Chevelle name was used before being entirely replaced by the Chevy Malibu. In 1978, the Chevelle went through one more redesign that officially changed its identity, and the Malibu took center stage.
What Was the Best Chevelle Year?
There were many good years for the Chevy Chevelle, whether you determine that by sales, looks or performance. It’s an often subjective topic that’s unique to each person’s perspective.
If you go through Chevelle models by year, the first generation of the Chevelle produced some of the most classic 1960s Chevelle models that paved the way for more to come. The Z16 changed the game for muscle cars and blended comfort with performance. The high suspension mixed with the assortment of gadgets made driving those early versions a treat and a way to take pride in your vehicle. The Z16 also was the rarest model, with only 201 made.
However, the second generation drastically improved performance and gave us some of the most iconic Chevy models. The 1970 model, boasting the most powerful Chevelle complete with the newly added stripes, remains one of the favorites of many Chevelle connaisseurs. The third generation still saw plenty of popularity and design changes. Still, it may not be looked at as fondly as the first or second nostalgic generations, as government regulations and embargos affected it.
Ultimately, the best year of the Chevelle is a choice only you can make.
Restoration Parts From Raybuck Auto Body Parts
If you own a Chevy Chevelle, you could be looking to restore your vehicle to the high-class product it was back in the day. The Chevelle has a long and fabled history, and restoring a Chevelle to its former appearance can be like traveling back in time to that moment in history.
Raybuck Auto Body Parts can help you restore your vehicle and bring it back to the glory days. It doesn’t matter what model you have — we can find the right parts for you and help you get on the path to complete restoration.
From interior parts like dash pads, door panels and seat covers to heavier materials like steel tanks and hoses, Raybuck Auto Body Parts has a vast selection to help you with all of your restoration needs. These products include rust-removers, paints and adhesives, creating a one-stop-shop to satisfy our customers.
Raybuck has been providing quality restoration parts since 1985, so we’re the trusted industry professionals who can give you everything you need at a reasonable cost. Let our expert team field your questions and provide in-depth answers to support your restoration needs. Contact us today!