Legend and Lore
Fact 1: Chevrolet’s 1967 response to the Mustang phenomenon was initially called Panther, and several pre-production test cars bore elegant chromed Panther emblems to prove it. Apparently, Chevrolet product planners felt the sleek four-legged creature was a valid counterpoint to the wild horse theme embraced by Ford. Ultimately, the Camaro nameplate was chosen, but not until after Car Life magazine ran a March 1966 cover story with the blooper headline “Chevrolet’s Panther . . . Can it Catch a Mustang?” Camaro is an obscure French term that translates to “comrade, pal, or chum.”
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Fact 2: The 1970 Robert Altman movie Brewster McCloud features a great car chase involving a 1970 440 six-barrel Road Runner and a black-onsilver 1970 Camaro Z/28 RS. The Camaro is driven by detective Frank Shaft (played by Michael Murphy). Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that two different Camaros were used during filming. After a violent curb shot damaged the rear suspension, a standard Z/28 (with a non-RS fullwidth front bumper) was substituted to continue the chase sequence.
Fact 3: Enthusiasts often assume the 265-cubic-inch small-block of 1955 was Chevrolet’s first V-8 offering. They ignore the existence of a 288-cubic-inch V-8 that was available in 1917 Chevrolet D-Series cars. Designed by staff engineer A. C. Mason, it featured overhead valves, crossflow cylinder heads, and a displacement of 288 cubic inches. Rated output was 55 hp at 2,700 rpm. For contrast, a same year Ford Model T flathead four was good for 20 hp. Still, the Model D V-8 Chevys were expensive ($1,400 versus $645 for the most costly Model T) and production ended by 1919.
Fact 4: Zora Arkus Duntov is often given credit for fathering both the Chevrolet V-8 engine and the Corvette. He did neither. Joining Chevrolet as a research and development engineer in May 1953, the Corvette was already in production, and the collaboration between Ed Cole and Harry Barr that led to the small-block V-8 was well underway.
That said, Duntov helped sharpen both programs in the months and years to follow. By his GM-mandated retirement on September 29, 1974, at age 65, Duntov was responsible for keeping the Corvette true to its roots as a serious sports car by defeating numerous corporate efforts to water it down for greater—but likely fleeting—market appeal.
Fact 5: Instead of ringing in the New Year at a fancy party, Fred Gibb, proprietor of Fred Gibb Chevrolet in LaHarpe, Illinois, spent New Year’s Eve 1969 standing outdoors in sub-freezing weather. The first of his 30-car order of 1969 ZL1 Camaros was en-route from Chevrolet and he wanted to personally oversee the unloading process. After all, the group of 30 specially ordered aluminum-block COPO 9560 Camaros cost him $216,000—not including tax! At $7,200 each, Gibb struggled to sell 13 ZL1 Camaros before Chevrolet came to the rescue and helped disburse the remaining unsold units to other dealers
Fact 6: The company logo for Jenkins Competition incorporates the outline of a black arrow. Ever wonder why? As a child growing up in rural Pennsylvania, “Da Grump” enjoyed building and sailing Comet flatbottom sailboats, one of which he named the Black Arrow. The only Jenkins race car to actually bear the Black Arrow name was his 1965 Plymouth A990 Hemi Super Stocker. Bill’s subsequent Chevrolet drag machines carried the Grumpy’s Toy moniker.
Fact 7: There’s plenty of fact behind rumors of the semi-hemi Z/28 head program. In June 1968, Z/28 development engineers got a look at Ford’s canted-valve Boss 302 heads and contracted a sudden case of insecurity. Product Performance group leader Vince Piggins sensed that the small-block’s inline-valve orientation and siamesed port runners might impart a flow disadvantage. A hasty development program netted several sets of aluminum heads with canted valves and non-siamesed port runners.
The heads gained peak power in testing, but sacrificed valuable mid-range torque. Though paperwork was prepared to introduce the so-called “bolt-on head package” to the SCCA, the standard Z/28 heads were competing successfully against Ford, so the program was canceled in early 1969. At least three semi-hemi 302 engines were built for testing
Fact 8: “In 1957, Chevy had a beautiful 283-cubic-inch V-8 that was a hot rodder’s delight, but when it was found that the displacement of this engine couldn’t be enlarged to match that of the competition for ’58, the engineers were forced to use a completely new powerplant, one that had been designed originally as a powerplant for heavy-duty Chevy trucks.”
These words were written by Hot Rod magazine’s Don Francisco in 1958, and are likely the source of the incorrect assumption the W-Series 348/409 is little more than a hastily refreshed truck engine. If so, then let’s also toss the mighty 350 small-block and 454 big-block into the dumpster, since just as many were installed in Chevy and GMC trucks as in passenger cars. The W-Series 348/409 was designed to be very flexible and well-suited for work or fun depending on the state of tune.
Fact 9: Though there were no 1983 Corvettes sold to the public, 43 units (10 prototypes and 33 pilot cars) bearing 1983 VINs were assembled for testing and publicity. A lone example is on display at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The rest are reported to have been scrapped, some having been buried at GM’s former Mesa, Arizona, Desert Proving Grounds (DPG). As the defunct DPG is redeveloped for residential use, backhoe operators are likely in for many surprising discoveries!
Fact 10: In the dark days of the late 1970s, Corvette product planners weren’t so sure the V-8 engine would last much longer. Looking to maintain Corvette’s image as a world-class performance car, a twin-engine platform was considered. The idea was to combine economical cruising with a small-displacement V-6 driving the front wheels. When maximum power was needed, a second engine instantly kicked in to drive the rear wheels.
An operational test bed was constructed using a Citation X11 host vehicle. Powered by twin HO-660 V-6 engines tuned for 200 hp each, the “push me, pull me” Citation was extensively tested in public and private settings. Project Chief Richard Ballsley admits to publically humiliating a Porsche 911 turbo driver during a lunchtime outing on Woodward Avenue. Fortunately, V-8 development flourished, taking the twin-engine Corvette concept to a dead end. The “push me, pull me” Citation was sold as part of the GM Heritage Collection and exists in a private collection today
Fact 11: The words Chevy and hemi are never used in the same sentence— at least not when you’re discussing showroom-available production engines. But it’s a fact Chevrolet was deeply involved in the study of such exotic features as hemispherical combustion chambers, multiple intake and exhaust valves, and overhead camshaft placement for possible use on production engines.
A glint of light was shed on several experimental hemi-head big- and small-block engines in a December 1967 Hot Rod magazine cover story titled “Chevy’s Moustache Curlers.” The pick of the litter was an SOHC (single overhead cam) 427 big-block with gear-driven camshafts instead of the lengthy chains used by Ford’s SOHC engine. Can you imagine the sensation caused by a new 1968 Camaro SS 427 hemi? Oh, what could have been . . .
Fact 12: Several years before the arrival of the 1966 “giant killer” L-79 Nova, enthusiast magazines such as Hot Rod, Car Life, and Motor Trend ran articles featuring a new V-8-powered Chevy II. Two wild examples were a 1962 four-door with a 340-hp 327 small-block and 4-speed transmission that appeared in the March 1962 issue of Motor Trend, and an even crazier 360-hp Rochester fuel-injected two-door that showed up in the June 1962 issue of Car Life.
So were these lightweight bombs a well-kept order-form secret? Not quite. Though a mild 283 2-barrel V-8 engine was added to the Chevy II option list in 1964 (RPO L32), any prior V-8 installation was strictly done with an over-the-counter dealer kit. Two kits were sold: PN 3790719 used a single exhaust system and included a 283 engine. PN 3791361 included free-flowing dual exhaust supporting 327-cubic-inch engines of various power ratings.
It is not known how many V-8 conversion kits were sold, but an underlying motive was to demonstrate quasi-factory availability so V-8 Novas would be eligible for NHRA Factory Experimental use. One outstanding example was the Ugly Duckling Rochester fuel-injected 327 Chevy II station wagon of “Dyno” Don Nicholson—winner of B/Factory Experimental honors at the 1962 NHRA Winternationals with a 12.55/108.96 pass.
Fact 13: Second-generation Z/28 sales took a while to gain momentum. The outgoing 1969 Z/28 sold more than 20,000 units, so when the 1970 Z accounted for 8,733 customers, all eyes were on 1971 sales performance. Unfortunately, 1971 saw 4,862 Z/28 sales with even fewer (2,575) Zs moving for 1972. But things improved dramatically in 1973 with 11,574 Z/28 sales before growing even larger in 1974, to 13,802. Clearly, the Z/28 was gaining momentum, so why did Chevrolet drop it in 1975 and 1976?
The truth is, General Motors came very close to canceling all F-Body models (Camaro and Firebird) in 1974, sensing they were outdated in the new world of heightened fuel economy and emissions concerns. Fortunately, the reaper was rebuked and— as Pontiac clearly demonstrated by selling nearly 75,000 Firebird
Fact 14: Did the California Highway Patrol really employ a fleet of Z/28 Camaros for law enforcement duty? Yes indeed. The year was 1979 and the usual full-size Ford, Chevrolet, and Mopar police sedans had become so underpowered from choking emissions controls, a faster platform was needed.
As an experiment, Chevrolet provided twelve new 1979 Z/28s, revamped for police duty with 3.08:1 gears (in place of the stock 3.42:1 ratio), Firestone Police Special fabric tires (the standard radials were not speed rated for sustained driving), front bumper guards, and stealthy interior-mounted emergency lights. Four cars each were allocated to the El Centro desert region, heavily populated West Los Angeles, freeways of Bakersfield, and mountain passes of Redding. In service, every car experienced at least one failure of its 175-hp LM1 350 V-8. Though ultimately unsuccessful, this early test opened the door to later police car packages based on 5.0 Mustangs, turbocharged Buick Regals, and yes, more Camaros.
Fact 15: 5Legendary General Motors design vice president Bill Mitchell drew styling influences from varying sources. During an offshore fishing trip in Bimini, he caught a mako shark and had it stuffed and mounted on his office wall. The natural blue-to-white color fade intrigued Mitchell so much he dictated its application to the XP-755 Corvette Mako Shark I concept car of 1961.
Unfortunately, after several rejected attempts, the guys in the color department had such a hard time matching the paint fade, they reportedly sneaked into Mitchell’s office and had the stuffed shark retouched to match their effort on the car. Though some insiders claim no such trick was played, Mitchell eventually approved the faded paint treatment exclaiming, “I knew you guys could do it, you just had to work harder.”
Fact 16: The appearance of several Z11-powered 1964 Chevelles on the southern “run what ya brung” match-race circuit fueled rumors Chevrolet actually ran a number of them down the assembly line. Though such a combination would have been a logical answer to the factory-produced Ford 427 Hi-Riser Fairlane Thunderbolt and Mopar Race Hemi lightweights, no Z11 Chevelles rolled off the assembly line.
After March 1963 any General Motors factory race development was strictly forbidden, but that didn’t stop privateers such as Malcolm Durham, Dick Harrell, Maynard Rupp, Bures Hall, and Bill Hahn from piecing together fierce W-motor-powered Chevelles to represent the Bowtie in the early match-race wars. While some of these hybrids used factory-supplied Z11 crate engines, most were the result of cannibalizations of actual 1963 Z11 Impala lightweights.
Fact 17: Bruce Springsteen’s blue collar, tell it like it is, musical compositions are a favorite of many. But at times he should have done a little fact checking. In the song “Racing in the Street” (from the 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town) The Boss sings “I got a sixty-nine Chevy with a 396. Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor.” I’m not doubting Bruce’s skills, but if he figured out a way to adapt 327 smallblock Corvette heads to a 396 big-block, I’d like to know more!
Fact 18: While the heroes of other early-1980s action movies drove Corvettes and Trans Ams, the 1984 cult classic Repo Man featured an unlikely automotive star: a 1964 Chevy Malibu four-door. Piloted by a radiation-sickened missile engineer from New Mexico, its trunk contained the remains of four dead space aliens.
Seeking a healthy bounty, actors Emilio Estevez, Harry Dean Stanton, and the other repo men chased the Chevy throughout Los Angeles. Producer (and former member of the 1960s band, The Monkees) Michael Nesmith filled the movie with charmingly random elements and symbolism. For instance, the Chevelle’s lefthand turn signal was always flashing. Remember, “a repo man is always intense.”
Fact 19: The 1955 Chevy 265 small-block wasn’t known as a small-block until the 1958 arrival of the W-Series 348 engine family. That’s when comparisons could be drawn, and nicknames conjured. Thanks to its compact dimensions, hot rodders began calling the 265 (and its immediate 283 and 327 successors) “mouse motors.” The term “rat” wasn’t used until after the 1965 debut of the Mk IV 396 engine family
Its logical origin is the answer to the question What rodent is bigger than a mouse? Other once-popular nicknames for the Mk IV big-block were semi-hemi (a reference to its combustion chamber layout) and porcupine (descriptive of how its valvestems exit the head at multiple angles like the quills of a porcupine). None of the terms were used as official marketing slogans by Chevrolet— though in the late 1960s Chrysler/Edelbrock conspired to create the Rat Roaster, a plenum-style intake manifold designed to fortify the 426 Hemi for conflict with Chevy big-blocks.
Fact 20: Was Chevrolet actually working on a four-wheel-steering setup for the Gen III Camaro? Yes, and I personally saw a functional development mule during a February 1998 visit to the GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan.
The test car was a 1987 IROC-Z riding on an Australianmade Borg-Warner rear axle fitted with S-10 4×4 front axle steering knuckles and an electric steering rack. Inside, a series of control knobs let test engineers set the rear steering arc and sensitivity. Though a four-wheel-steering Camaro never entered series production, the data generated by the test car likely helped production of the optional 2002–2004 GM Delphi Quadrasteer system for Chevy and GMC heavy pickup trucks.
Fact 21: Added instrumentation was an integral part of every Impala Super Sport interior, but in 1964, it had to be ordered at extra cost or you had to settle for the standard idiot lights. For 1965, Chevrolet made oil pressure, amperage, coolant temperature, and engine vacuum gauges standard on every full-size SS. Automatic-transmission Impala Super Sports came with a vacuum gauge, but buyers wanting a tachometer could pay an extra $48.45 for the U16 rev counter. Other ways to get the tach without paying extra in 1965 were to specify a 3- or 4-speed manual transmission or any engine option over 300 hp.
Fact 22: Front bucket seats were standard equipment in Chevelle Super Sports in 1964 and 1965 only. Starting in 1966, Super Sport customers paid an extra $100 for the A51 Strato bucket seats. Today, many original bench-seat 1966–1973 Chevelle Super Sports have been restored—and treated to upgraded bucket seats in the process. For 1973, the Chevelle Super Sport’s final year, the RPO code for Strato bucket seats changed from A51 to AN7, and cost jumped to $133.
Fact 23: Two distinct trunk spoiler configurations were available on the Camaro Z/28 in 1970. The first was a one-piece affair manufactured for Chevrolet by A.O. Smith, and was standard on all Z/28s. Later in the model year (and perhaps with prompting from SCCA Trans-Am race teams in search of extra down-force), a much more aggressive three-piece spoiler was available under COPO 9796. Both spoilers were made of molded plastic. The small spoiler continued as standard equipment for 1971 with the tall “ducktail” spoiler becoming part of the extra-cost D80 package (which included a front air dam).
Fact 24: Nearly a decade after Corvette debuted America’s first mass-produced fi berglass body, Chevrolet pioneered the domestic use of another exotic body material with the August 1962 introduction of the RPO Z11 lightweight 409 package. Introduced for use in NHRA Factory Experimental drag racing, Z11-equipped Impalas and Bel Airs featured fenders and hoods stamped from 26-gauge aluminum. The cars also had a hotter cam, better heads, and two-piece intake manifold. Though a mere seven Z11 vehicles were produced in 1962 (plus several over-the-counter upgrade kits for steel cars), it set the stage for a larger run of 57 factory-assembled Z11 cars in 1963.
Fact 25: After several years of sharing a basic flat hood with conventional full-size Chevy models, the Impala Super Sport got its own muscle car hood in 1967—but only when the RPO Z24 SS427 package was ordered. The new hood featured a raised central bulge for a nonfunctional vent. Non-Z24 Impala Super Sports, which could be had with anything from the 250-cube inline six to the big-block 396, continued with the standard flat hood.
Only 2,124 Z24 SS427 Impalas were built in 1967, though the Z24 moniker reappeared in 1986 on the front-wheel-drive Cavalier Z24, some of which may have been made with metal recycled from junked 1967 Impalas.
Fact 26: Hardcore performance enthusiasts seeking minimal distraction were offered RPO UL5 radio delete during the muscle car years. A close inspection of most UL5 cars reveals the presence of speaker and receiver leads built into the wiring harness because making pared-down, under-dash bundles wasn’t cost effective. UL5-equipped Corvettes lack the distinctive stainless-steel ignition shield panels cloaking the distributor and ignition wires seen on radio-equipped cars. The shielding was needed to prevent ignition “noise” from reaching the antenna, as the Corvette’s fi berglass body lacked the natural barrier afforded by steel body panels.
Fact 27: At first blush, the 1962 Rochester fuel-injected 327 Chevy II (mentioned in fact #12) had a 200-mph speedometer! Since the test car was fitted with 3.08:1 axle gears and 6.50-13 tires, actual top speed was perhaps 140 mph at best. The optimistic speedometer was actually an export item, calibrated in kilometers per hour. These metric speedometers were installed in Chevy IIs intended for sale in other countries where 200 kmph is about equal to 120 mph.
Fact 28: All second-generation Camaros were built with manual windows until late 1973 when A31 power windows were added to the option list. But there’s a rub. Because second-generation Camaro interior designers positioned the power window control switches on the center console (and not on the door panels as in first-generation Camaros), power windows were only available on Camaros built with the D55 center console. Thus, buyers of non-console Camaros hand-cranked their windows on hot days
Fact 29: 1973 saw the arrival of a sporty four-spoke plastic-covered steering wheel on all Camaro models and as an option on Chevelle and Nova. By 1976 this wheel was also standard on Corvette. Though more attractive than the base 1970–1972 Camaro steering wheel with its bulky horizontal horn pad, the four-spoke design was stigmatized by its installation in the compact Chevy Vega. Corvette owners, in particular, didn’t like being reminded of this fact.
Fact 30: Drawn by the popularity of aftermarket T-top conversions from outfits such as Hurst and ACC, Chevrolet offered RPO CC1 removable glass Targa tops in Camaros for the first time in late 1978. Priced between $625 and $695, 9,875 first-year installations were followed by 33,584 in 1979, 24,816 in 1980, and 30,445 in 1981. Camaros equipped with the CC1 Targa roof also received mandatory RPO N65 Stowaway spare tires, which took up less trunk space. This left room for the T-tops on sunny days.
Fact 31: Form and function often fight for the same space. When the 1966 Chevelle instrument panel and dashboard were being designed in 1964, stylists opted to replace the three-round-pod layout available in 1964 and 1965 production models with a rectangular theme. Unfortunately, the speedometer took up most of the space leaving small rectangular openings to handle the rest of the basic gauges. Any factory-optional tachometer had to be strictly of the add-on variety.
For the muscular SS396, Chevrolet devised a stand-alone tachometer mounted to the right of and below the steering column. Though its chrome housing, large 180-degree dial, and quality internals delivered a worthwhile product, its location was perfectly suited for making painful contact with the driver’s right knee cap. Thus, it became known on the street as the “knee knocker.” Available as RPO U16 for an extra $47.05, records show that only 8,026 Chevelle customers chose it.
Fact 32: The Chevelle “knee knocker” tachometer debacle of 1966 forced a rethink of tachometer placement for 1967. Still constrained by the limitations of the Chevelle instrument layout, designers moved the optional U16 tachometer to the left-hand side of the steering column where it was easier to read. Unfortunately, the new location obscured the dash-mounted left-hand turn signal indicator lamp. As a fi x, Chevrolet added a small green triangular lens to the tach face and wired it with a small bulb to blink in sequence with the flasher when making a left-hand turn. Right-hand turns triggered the standard in-dash indicator lamp.
Of the 62,785 SS396 Chevelles built in 1967, only 3,653 were sold with the “blinker tach,” as it has come to be known. 1968 finally saw a redesigned instrument cluster with attention paid to making the optional tachometer an integrated instrument positioned directly ahead of the driver in the instrument panel, rather than as an afterthought. Buyers responded in a big way and sales of the tachometer—now sold as the U14 special instrumentation package—soared to 19,393 takers.
Fact 33: During the performance revival of the 1980s, Chevrolet opened plenty of eyes with the popular NASCAR-inspired 1983–1988 Monte Carlo SS, selling nearly 100,000 units. Available as RPO Z65, and similar to earlier NASCAR homologation specials (Dodge Charger Daytona, Plymouth Super Bird, Ford Torino Talladega, etc.), its primary mission was to legalize its low-drag nosepiece and lift-snuffing trunk lid spoiler for use on NASCAR super speedways.
The initial coupe-only body style was successful, but drag remained a concern on super speedways where Bill Elliott’s Ford Thunderbird was juuust out of reach. That’s why Chevrolet introduced the B5T Aerocoupe option midway through 1986. The nose remained the same, but the backlite extended glass reduced drag by 2.7 percent—and forced the use of a much shorter trunk lid. Often ignored is the fact the Aerocoupe uses a different trunk spoiler than the regular SS. It’s sloped at a more extreme angle so it doesn’t protrude as much into the airstream.
Fact 34: Having been a non-participant in the Ford-Chrysler factory aero wars of 1967–1971, it’s easy to assume the 1983 Monte Carlo SS was Chevrolet’s first aero-enhanced NASCAR homologation special. But let’s not forget the slope-nose plastic fascia used on the 1975 and 1976 Chevelle Laguna S-3. Though choked by catalytic converters, the S-3 is a true homologation special worthy of respect for its role in keeping guys like Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, and Benny Parsons in the NASCAR winner’s circle. And like most homologation specials, the somewhat ungainly lines were not a showroom hit—only 864 S-3 buyers stepped up to support the cause in 1976, the S-3’s final year of production.
Fact 35: When horizontal tail fi ns first appeared on full-size 1959 Chevys, many imaginations were spurred into assuming they were actually wings. In those UFO-happy days, urban legends and armchair engineers surmised the generous surface area caused lift at high speed and made the cars “fly.”
To debunk the myth, Motor Trend Classic magazine recently stuck a 1959 Impala in the GM wind tunnel and found the aerodynamics to be perfectly acceptable for general road use. About the only way to get any significant lift (they concluded) was to drive the car in reverse in excess of 100 mph. Otherwise, the fi ns were harmless.
Fact 36: The 1970 Monte Carlo was the first postwar Chevrolet product to display its model year as part of an external metal emblem. Chief stylist Dave Holls and his staff designed the grille medallion to include the 1970 model year in Roman numerals. 1971 Monte Carlos also featured this detail, with appropriate digits. Though the Monte’s rolling model year designation was terminated in 1972, the practice was revived in 1978 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Corvette. All 1978 Corvettes bear emblems that read “1953 Anniversary 1978” on the nose and horn button.
Fact 37: The sexy twin-NACA-duct hood used on 1982 and 1983 Z/28s was made of fi berglass. Chevrolet switched to a virtually identical steel stamping in 1983. The weight difference was negligible because production-grade fi berglass is much thicker (and heavier) than the paper-thin aftermarket goodies commonly sold to enthusiasts. The extra heft is needed to prevent warping in the hot sun as well as to maintain federally mandated crashworthiness standards.
Fact 38: What’s a 1982 Camaro Z/28 without its distinctive trunk spoiler? A Z/28-E, that’s what. While stateside buyers of the all-new 1982 Z/28 rightfully drooled over its sexy three-piece trunk spoiler, export models were shipped without it. On the upside, the E’s exhaust system was built without a catalytic converter for a few extra ponies.
Fact 39: The encroachment of federally mandated crash protection standards forced Corvette designers to make plenty of styling compromises, and the results weren’t always graceful. 1974 saw the replacement of the twin blade-like rear bumpers and subtle ducktail spoiler (used since 1968) with an awkward plastic cap. This cap was used with minimal changes until 1980 (when an integrated spoiler was added). The major detail that separates 1974 caps from the rest is its two-piece construction. There’s an obvious vertical seam running down the middle. Subsequent caps for 1975-up were molded in one piece.
Fact 40: A svelt floorpan made 1967 a year of inequality for 427 Corvette buyers. While the new M40 3-speed Turbo 400 automatic transmission was available in big-block Camaros, Chevelles, and full-size cars, non-stick Corvettes (regardless of engine size) were stuck with the yawn-inspiring 2-speed M35 Powerglide. It’s all because the Sting Ray’s transmission tunnel was simply too narrow to suit the Turbo 400.
When the restyled 1968 Corvette appeared (it wasn’t called a Stingray until 1969), Duntov’s minions made sure the Turbo 400 fi t, ending once and for all the embarrassing reality of Powerglidebacked 427s. Not surprisingly, the excellent Turbo 400 fostered a major uptick in demand for automatic Corvettes, from a yearly average of about 10 percent (1960–1966) to nearly 50 percent by 1972.
Fact 41: All 1969 Chevrolet passenger-car, big-block engines were painted orange at the factory with one exception. The all-aluminum ZL1 427s installed in Camaros (69 units) and Corvettes (2 units) were delivered unpainted to show off their exotic alloy construction. The stamped-steel timing chain cover and oil pan were painted black— not orange.
Fact 42: The W-Series 348/409 stands as the only post–World War II Chevrolet V-8 engine family that was not available with a single 2-barrel carburetor in base level trim. Entry-level induction consisted of a single Rochester 4-barrel, even in heavy truck applications. The only W-Series 2-barrel intake manifolds cast were pre-production test items, never released to the public.
Fact 43: The first small-block to receive a Holley 4-barrel carburetor from the factory was the 1964 Corvette’s optional L76 327. With 11:1 compression, a .485/.485-inch-lift solid cam, big valve heads, and single 4150 series vacuum secondary Holley, it made 365 hp at 6,200 rpm. The 1963 version of the L76 was fitted with a Carter AFB (aluminum four barrel) and rated 340 hp at 6,000 rpm.
Fact 44: The reign of the Turbo-Fire 409 came to an end on February 15, 1965, when it was replaced by the new Turbo-Jet 396 in full-size passenger cars. Though 13 cubic inches smaller, the 396 enjoyed superior airflow characteristics and rated 425 hp in L78 trim, a 25-hp bump over the outgoing 400-horse L31 409.
Fact 45: When viewed upside down, the 348/409 valve cover resembles the letter W. But that’s not where the W-Series 348/409 engine got its name. Following this logic, the engine should be known as the M-Series, right? The designation actually stems from the development codes assigned to a trio of experimental engine types, the W, X, and Y. The best engine joined the small-block for use in larger vehicles. I don’t have specific details on why the W engine beat out the X and Y, but that is where it got its name.
Fact 46: 348 and 409 racers quickly learned to not rev the innovative bigblock like its small-block cousin; doing so invited connecting rod failure. With 4.125×3.250 (348) and 4.313×3.500 (409) bore and stroke dimensions, both are happily oversquare and modern. The W-Series’ quirk was that its combustion chambers were not formed inside the cylinder heads but rather placed within the cylinder bores by specifically contoured piston crowns and a deck cut at a 74-degree angle. The resulting pistons were much heavier than average—especially when forged—placing excess load on the connecting rods when pushed beyond 6,000 rpm. Though lightweight billet rods have solved the problem today, their scarcity and expense in the pre-1965 era doomed many a 409 to catastrophic failure on the race track.
Fact 47: Approximately one in six 1970 Camaro buyers paid $44.25 for the optional G80 Posi-Traction differential, the majority of which were fitted to performance-oriented SS and Z/28 models. To warn against mishaps while changing a flat tire, Chevrolet affixed a Posi-Traction sticker to the inside of the decklid. On US models the sticker was white with red letters; Canadian cars bore a yellow sticker with black letters.
Fact 48: 1981 Corvette shoppers were the first since 1954 to not have the choice of an optional engine upgrade over the base offering. All 1981 Corvettes were built with the 190-hp L81 350. Restricting engine availability simplified the task of emissions certification— and no doubt gave Corvette development engineers more time to fi ne tune the upcoming Cross Fire and Tuned Port electronic fuelinjection 350 engines that were just around the corner.
Fact 49: The ultimate GM muscle car era 4-speed was the 1967–1974 Muncie M22 “rock crusher.” Unlike cast-iron Chrysler A833 and Ford Toploader 4-speeds, the M22 (and M20 and M21) featured lighter aluminum case architecture. Used behind legends such as the L88, ZL1, and LS6 where ultimate strength was the goal, the rock crusher name derives from its gears’ 20-degree helix angle (versus the 45-degree angle used in Muncie M20 and M21 models). The straighter gear angle reduces geartrain end loading for longer life in road racing applications. The gears also emit wonderful howling sounds. Because input shaft spline counts and case casting numbers are shared with certain M20 and M21 transmissions, the only sure way to identify an M22 is to dig in and inspect for low-angle gears.
Fact 50: Small-block 283 and 327 V-8s destined for factory (or over-thecounter kit) installation in 1962–1967 Chevy IIs and Novas had a special block casting, which repositioned the oil filter mounting pad 2 inches higher. These blocks bear specific casting numbers that read 3862194 (283) or 3790721, 3791362, 3791363 (283 and 327). Factory-sourced Chevy II fuel pumps, fuel lines, exhaust manifolds, and oil pans also differ from items used in larger passenger car applications.
Fact 51: Detroit often assigns code names to new car development programs. Work on the new-for-1962 Chevy II began in the summer of 1960, and was referred to internally as “Car H.” A new engine program was started at the same time to replace the ancient inline six, and resulted in the new inline 153-cubic-inch four and 194-cubic-inch six that powered the 1962 Chevy compact. Leaked memos describing them as the L-4 and L-6 fooled some observers into believing the new engines used (obsolete) L-head, side-valve (a.k.a. flathead) architecture. It was not to be, as both engines were modern, overhead-valve designs. The inline four was Chevy’s first since the 1928 model year and was produced between 1962 and 1970.
Fact 52: When a suitable rear-wheel-drive platform isn’t available or practical, Detroit performance engineers have been known to base highperformance offerings on light pickup trucks. The 1978–1979 Dodge Lil’ Red Express and 1993-up Ford Lightning hot haulers are prime examples. But unlike the small-block 360 and 351 V-8 offerings from the competition, the 1990–1993 Chevy 454 SS pickup packed a burly big-block mill from the get-go. First-year trucks came with the venerable TH400 3-speed automatic transmission and restrictive single exhaust system. For 1991 the superior 4L80E 4-speed overdrive automatic arrived, as did a true dual-exhaust system. These goodies delivered best-of-both-worlds gains as highway fuel economy improved by 10 percent and output jumped from 230 to 255 hp.
Fact 53: Sticking with the 454 SS muscle trucks for a moment, the 3.73:1 rear axle ratio used in 1990 was considered pretty radical in its day. So when Chevrolet changed it to 4.10:1 in 1991, acceleration was even better and performance fans cheered. The lower (numerically higher) axle ratio was made possible because General Motors switched from the venerable TH400 3-speed automatic to its new 4L80E 4-speed overdrive unit. Inside, the 4L80E’s 2.48:1 first-gear ratio was unchanged; the big difference was the .75:1 overdriven top gear, which reduced engine speed. The enhanced highway fuel economy compensated for the stiff gears. It was a win-win for the mighty 454 SS.
Fact 54: If factory-installed multiple carburetion transforms an ordinary car into a muscle car, then owners of triple-carb 427 Corvettes and dual-quad 409 Impalas must bow respectfully to any naturally aspirated Corvair. Okay, that’s an absurd stretch, but it’s a fact General Motors equipped every Corvair with either two or four single-barrel carburetors right from the factory. It was the most efficient way to feed the pancake six’s horizontally opposed cylinders.
Ironically, the hottest Corvair engine—the optional turbocharged Monza Spyder mill—was the only Corvair powerplant not to feature multiple carburetors. It breathed through one singlebarrel Carter YH carburetor
Fact 55: Though more resistant to the type of brute force that seeks to flush the crankshaft through the oil pan, the real benefit of four-bolt main bearing caps has to do with controlling the oil clearance between the main bearing and crankshaft journal. Under the strain of extended periods of full-throttle operation (such as endurance racing) standard two-bolt caps are more likely to deflect. The increased oil clearance leads to cumulative bearing and crank wear that can be delayed or prevented with more rigid, four-bolt main bearing caps.
Regular production four-bolt main caps first appeared on the 1965 L78 396 big-block. The first fortified small-block was the 1967 L48 350. Notable Chevy performance models that did not feature four-bolt main caps include all 348s, all 409s, the 427-cube Z11 W-Series engine, all pre-1967 265/283/327 small-blocks, and every pre-1969 Z/28 302 engine.
Fact 56: Chevrolet produced roughly 44,000 409-powered passenger cars between 1961 and 1965. In comparison, hundreds of thousands of 348s were made. How do you tell ’em apart? Frankly, it’s tough. For starters, the 409 dipstick bung is on the passenger’s side of the pan, and most 409 blocks have the letter “X” cast into the driver-side front corner. But with the availability of reproduction 409 oil pans (which fi t 348 blocks), the only foolproof method is disassembly and physical measurement.
Fact 57: An integral part of the performance recipe that allowed the 1982 Z/28’s optional LU5 Cross Fire Injection 305 to deliver 165 hp was its functional ram-air hood. At the wide end of each blacked-out NACA duct, a vacuum motor lifted a pair of flaps at full throttle to admit cool, dense outside air. Chevrolet almost canceled the functional scoops when development engineers discovered the highpressure water jets found in some automated car wash stations were strong enough to lift the flaps and flood the engine. Happily, a simple fi x was made with the inclusion of a written warning in the owner’s manual suggesting hand washing the cold-air-equipped Z/28s.
Fact 58: At first, third-generation Camaros didn’t have enough power to damage the standard-issue 7.5-inch 10-bolt rear axle, which was initially designed for Chevy Monza economy car applications. But as power options grew from strength to strength, in 1987 Chevy turned to its Australian Holden division for a durability solution. All Camaros ordered with the L98 Tuned Port Injection 350 and/or 3.42:1 G92 performance axle ratio (in place of the standard 3.23:1 gears) were built with an Australian-sourced Borg-Warner heavyduty axle assembly. Plusses included an upsized 7.75-inch ring gear, tapered wheel bearings, and a cone-style clutch unit in place of the plate-style Posi-Traction used in the 10-bolt. Visual identification is easy thanks to the Borg-Warner’s 9-bolt inspection cover, rubber fill plug, Borg-Warner logo cast into the bottom of the case, and black paint (lesser Camaro axles were not painted).
Fact 59: The MA6 dual-disc clutch of 1969 was the muscle car era’s most rugged factory-installed clutch assembly. To eliminate slippage under load, General Motors used two 10-inch clutch discs (separated by a steel center plate), a 24-pound flywheel, and a diaphragm-type pressure plate to get 201 square inches of surface area. With nearly twice the area of a stock clutch (123 square inches), the MA6 easily handled even the hottest L88. Records show that 102 Corvette buyers paid the $79 tariff in 1969, though a small number were likely installed in Novas, Camaros, and Chevelles (and some Oldsmobile 4-4-2s) before the option was dropped in 1972. Interestingly, the supercharged 2012 ZL1 Camaro features a standard dual-disc clutch and Chevy marketing papers even make reference to the MA6 of 1969. The circle is complete.
Fact 60: General Motors entered the modern age of 3-speed automatic transmission design in 1964 with the introduction of the Turbo Hydra-Matic 400. Though the first cars to benefit were built by Cadillac and Buick, 1967 saw its optional availability in Chevy bigblock muscle cars (except Corvette, which got it in 1968).
Deemed overkill behind 307, 327, and 350 2-barrel smallblock engines, in 1969 General Motors whipped up the MC1 Turbo Hydra-Matic 350—also a modern 3-speed—as a little brother to the TH400. But Chevrolet knew the Turbo 350’s strength limitations and barred its use behind big-blocks or small-blocks making 300 hp or more.
Fact 61: Regardless of engine size, all 1964–1966 Chevelles were fi tted with 9.5-inch drum brakes. The lone exception was the 396 big-block Z16 Super Sport of 1965, which featured massive 11-inch drum brakes borrowed from the full-size Chevy passenger car line. Only 201 Z16 Chevelles were built.
Fact 62: 1965 saw the arrival of standard four-wheel disc brakes on the Corvette Sting Ray. America’s premiere performance car finally had brakes to match its acceleration. And so, 23,248 of the 23,564 Sting Rays built in 1965 featured beefy 11.75-inch rotors squeezed by four-piston calipers. What about the other 316 cars? Thanks to RPO J61, they were built with leftover 1964 drum brakes and their buyers received a $64.50 credit. Why would anybody want fade-prone drums over disc brakes? Because cast-iron rotors and calipers are several pounds heavier than stamped-steel drums, it is possible some of the J61 cars went to weightconscious drag racers. Chevrolet may also have simply been “building out” remaining drum brake parts to get rid of them.
Fact 63: Chevelle rear axle spotters had something new to look for in 1968: a rear sway bar positioned beneath the axle housing, very visible to trained eyes as it passed on the street. As part of the F41 heavyduty suspension standard on every Chevelle SS396, a similar sight greeted Olds 4-4-2 rear suspension spotters since 1964.
Fact 64: 4The first Chevelle SS fitted with 15-inch wheels arrived in 1971, and used the same wide-spoke wheels as the 1970 Camaro Z/28. All previous high-performance Chevelles—even the 1965 Z16 SS396 with its 11-inch drum brakes—rolled on 14-inch rims. Unlike the 14-inch Motor Wheel–sourced 1969–1970 Rally wheels, which were still attractive without trim rings, removing the trim rings on the restyled 15-inch rims revealed an ungainly gap. But when used as intended, the wide-spoke 15-inch SS wheels and meaty F60-15 tires looked great. Too bad they arrived just as the party was ending.
Fact 65: The 1962 Chevy II rode on unique mono-leaf rear springs, which were adopted—along with certain cowl height dimensions—by the 1967 Camaro (though Camaro springs were 6.5 inches shorter). Late in the Camaro chassis development program, its Mono-Plate springs were found to be incapable of controlling axle wind-up on hard acceleration. A crutch was devised in the form of a single traction bar spanning the passenger-side axle tube and sub frame. Multi-leaf rear springs arrived in 1968 on all Camaros with 300 hp or more, as did staggered shock absorber mounts.
Fact 66: 1967 and 1968 Camaros ordered with optional J52 or J56 front disc brakes used cast-iron four-piston brake calipers. For 1969, Camaros got a new cast-iron, single-piston front disc brake caliper design except when equipped with JL8 four-wheel disc brakes. JL8 cars continued to use Corvette-sourced four-piston brake calipers. A total of 206 JL8 Camaros were built, the option adding a hefty $500.30 to the window sticker.
Fact 67: Second-generation Camaro gas tanks started out at 18 gallons (1970–1973), then grew to 21-gallon capacity for 1974 through 1981. The extra capacity either gave the impression of improved fuel economy or added a little extra pain at the pump. Third-generation Camaro gas tanks shrank to 16 gallons, but since fuel economy was improved significantly (especially when the 151-cube four-banger was specified), overall range was unaffected.
Fact 68: The one-year appearance of optional JL8 four-wheel disc brakes on 1969 Camaros fed rumors of widespread availability in second-generation (1970–1981) Camaros. It never happened. But Chevrolet made up for the omission with the third-generation Camaro in 1982. For a modest $179, RPO J65 replaced the standard 9.5-inch rear drum brakes with 10.5-inch vented rotors and low-drag iron calipers, which took a mere 195 feet to stop from 70 mph. Though most J65 assemblies went under Z/28s, the megabrakes were optional on all Camaros except the four-cylinder base model.
Fact 69: 1982 Camaros came with one of two varieties of spare tire: a smalldiameter, collapsible donut or a skinny, large-diameter “pizza cutter.” The deciding factor was whether the car was built with a G80 limited-slip differential. If so equipped, the tall, skinny spare was used because it was of similar diameter to the road wheel spinning on the other end of the axle. This maintained equal wheel speed to preserve the clutch plates in the Posi unit. Camaros built with open differentials got the collapsible spare because the differential spider gears were not affected by unequal tire diameters.
Fact 70: Beneath every “so Fine 409” (except 1965) lies a most unusual two-piece driveshaft configuration. Originally devised to allow a lower driveshaft tunnel and floorpan on the longer/lower/wider, full-size 1958 Chevy models, the tubular shaft is divided into two halves, linked in the middle by a splined coupler and support bearing. The two short tubes offer greater torsional strength than a conventional one-piece tubular shaft and the layout works great—as long as the center support is in good shape. This two-piece affair is used under all 1958–1964 Chevy full-size models regardless of engine size.
Fact 71: Excluding certain airport limousines and commercial chassis models, all full-size, postwar Chevrolet passenger cars use five-lug hubs and wheels. The lone exception is the small fleet of NASCAR Black Widows built in 1957 with heavy-duty, six-lug hubs and wheels borrowed from the pickup truck parts bin. Assembled by Southern Engineering Development Corporation Operation (SEDCO) in Atlanta, Georgia, the six-lug equipment solved the problem of rim and spindle failure that haunted earlier five-lug Chevy stock cars. Contrary to lore, road racing Corvettes were never equipped with six-lug wheels.
Fact 72: The 1970–1971 Monte Carlo SS 454 was factory equipped with G67 Superlift self-leveling rear shock absorbers. Designed to maintain rear ride height regardless of passenger and cargo load, the air shocks used an electric air compressor and storage tank (mounted to the left-front inner fender) and rear ride-height sensor to keep them properly pressurized. Non-SS Monte Carlo buyers could get the Superlift shocks for an extra $89.55.
Fact 73: Built before the availability of corporate (Delco-Moraine) disc brakes, all 1963 Z11 Impalas featured 11-inch manual drum brakes with metallic linings. To speed the escape of heat, the backing plates have screened vents. Because metallic brakes are notoriously ineffective when wet, Chevrolet shipped the Z11s with bolt-on aluminum vent cover plates to bar the entry of water. The use of road-raceoriented metallic brakes is unusual for a car specifically intended for drag strip competition—where braking demands are minimal.
Fact 74: Contrary to popular belief, 1963 Z11 Impalas did not receive any extra traction-enhancing rear suspension links. Some erroneous reports claim the stock passenger-side rear upper control arm was joined by a twin, mounted to the driver’s side. The only modifications of this sort were made after retail delivery.
Fact 75: Indestructible Dana rear axles were only used under muscleera Mopars, right? Not so fast. In 1985, the Dana 44 differential became standard equipment in manual-transmission Corvettes. A little brother to the Mopar-spec 9.75-inch Dana 60 (which also saw plenty of use in light trucks from every manufacturer), the 44’s 8.5- inch ring gear was fully capable of handling the Tuned Port 350’s hefty 330 ft-lbs of torque.
A year earlier, in April 1984, Chevrolet announced availability of a Dana 44 live rear axle assembly for third-generation Camaro (and Firebird) applications. Unlike the Corvette unit, this Dana was strictly an over-the-counter item (PN 14044855) with a retail price of $940. Built around a specific case intended solely to accept the F-car’s unique traction arm, it’s existence suggests Chevy was likely toying with factory-installed, Dana-forti-fied drivelines. The Dana 44 crate axle is not to be confused with the extra-duty Australian-sourced 7.75-inch Borg-Warner 9-bolt adopted in 1987.
Fact 76: The only way to tell a 1958 RPO 684 “big brake” Corvette from a pedestrian model is to look at the dual air scoops mounted beneath the headlights. On regular Corvettes the chrome scoop bezels terminate against flat panels painted black to trick the eye.
By contrast, on RPO 684 cars the blocked material is cut away to feed air to elaborate, full-length ducts. Invisible from outside the car, the rigid fi berglass ducting is bonded to the fenders above the front tires then continues through the rocker panels beneath the doors. Flexible scoops attached to the vented rear backing plates “catch” the flowing air and direct it into the rear brake drums.
Priced at $780 (20 percent of the total cost of the car), the upcharge helped pay for the extra hand-labor needed to install the incredibly complex system of ducts. The front drum brakes used much simpler rubber flaps (commonly referred to as “elephant ears”) to grab passing air. Unlike the factory-installed rear brake plumbing, the front ducts were placed in the trunk for dealer installation
Fact 77: 1959 saw the addition of factory traction bars on all Corvettes. To combat rear spring wrap-up and axle hop under full throttle, which plagued Corvettes since the switch to V-8 power in 1955, Duntov’s crew added a pair of tubular steel radius rods running forward from the top of the axle housing to articulated frame mounts. The traction bars were standard on all Corvettes until the arrival of the all-new 1963 Sting Ray
Fact 78: The 265-cubic-inch small-block V-8 might have been the big breakthrough for 1955 One-Fifty, Two-Ten, and Bel Air passenger cars, but few remember it was also the year Chevrolet switched from the antiquated, dive-prone king-pin front suspension used in 1954, to a modern ball-joint configuration with twin A-shaped control arms. This basic layout was in use for the following four decades. Ironically, Corvettes retained the king-pin configuration until 1963.
Fact 79: Pity the owner of a “big brake” Corvette who is missing rare parts. We all know the car featured special cast-iron brake drums with integral heat-dissipating fi ns. But did you know the drums installed on 1956 cars are unique and have shorter fi ns? They don’t wrap around the front face of the drum like fi ns on 1957 to early 1959 drums do.
Fact 80: Look under any big-block Chevelle and you’ll note a series of rectangular metal tabs have been welded to the rear lower control arms. They’re present to stiffen the stock stamped U-channel arms so they don’t deflect and contribute to wheel hop. This inexpensive trick was also employed on Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac A-Body muscle cars.
Fact 81: Chevrolet called the Camaro “a car for all reasons” and packed each year’s sales book with as many as 81 Regular Production Options, plus another 41 dealer-installed items on standby. Peak production was 282,571 in 1979. The leanest year for Camaro production was 2001 with 29,009 built. In comparison, Mustang’s best year was 1966 with 607,568 made, its worst was 1992 with 79,096 finding buyers.
Fact 82: 1965 was a year of transition for big-block, full-size Biscayne, Bel Air, and Impala models. Though the entire car was redesigned from the frame up, cars built before April received the “obsolete” W-Series 409, probably as a means of using unsold inventory. Cars built after mid April were available with the Mk IV 396 big-block. A paltry 2,828 409s were installed in full-size Chevys. By contrast, 57,292 cars were built with the new 396 big-block, 1,838 being of the fierce 425-hp L78 variety
Fact 83: New for 1970, the Chevelle SS454 (RPO Z15) was available in two strengths, the 360-hp LS5 and the wild 450-hp LS6. Breaking with Chevelle SS tradition, where mild base engines handily outsell solid-cam halo offerings, 177 more buyers chose the LS6 than the LS5, (4,475 versus 4,298). Those thrill seekers paid an extra $263.30 for the LS6 and the keys to the highest factory-rated engine of the muscle car era.
Fact 84: Whether or not the Camaro killed the Corvair is an interesting question. Before the Camaro’s debut in 1967 (220,917 sold), Corvair sales averaged 230,000 cars per year with a high of 292,531 (1962) and a low of 103,743 (1966). In 1967, as Camaros basked in new-car glory, Corvair sales tumbled to 27,253. But the suffering wasn’t over. 1968 production sagged to 15,399, and as Chevy pulled the plug in 1969, a mere 6,000 Corvairs found buyers.
Before accusing Camaro of fratricide, let’s not forget the 1962 introduction of the Chevy II Nova, a much simpler car than the exotic air-cooled Corvair and one better suited to take on competing sub-compact offerings such as Falcon, Lark, Rambler, and Valiant. And then there’s Ralph Nader’s 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed. Really, could any vehicle survive in the marketplace after such a broadside of (largely unwarranted) negative publicity? Hug the next Corvair you see.
Fact 85: As exciting as it is to row through the gears, only 2 in 10 1968 Camaro buyers took the 4-speed manual transmission. And as fun as a big V-8 can be, just over two in ten 1968 Camaro buyers settled for an inline six-cylinder engine—the jump to the base V-8 adding exactly $100 to the window sticker ($2,421 versus $2,521).
Fact 86: Contrary to logical assumption, the 1967 arrival of the Camaro did not hurt same-year Chevy II sales. Chevy II accounted for 4.9 percent of total Division sales in 1965, growing to 5.7 percent in 1966, and holding steady at 5.6 percent in 1967—despite sharing showroom floor space with the attention-grabbing Camaro. The greater harm was done to Ford’s Mustang, sales of which dropped from 607,568 in 1966 to 472,121 in 1967. Suddenly the original pony car wasn’t the only game in town.
Fact 87: 1977 may have been a soft year for factory performance cars, but it was a landmark year in the Camaro/Mustang sales war. For the first time ever, Camaro outsold Mustang (218,853 to 153,173), proving that downsizing (the 1977 Mustang was based on a stretched Pinto platform) wasn’t necessarily the key to showroom success. The Camaro Z/28—returning after a two-year hibernation—accounted for 14,349 (about 1 in 15) sales in 1977, but blossomed to 54,907 units in 1978.
Fact 88: Z/28 production broke the 100,000 unit mark only once. The year was 1984 with 100,899 built. The next closest yearly output was 1986 with 88,132. But if we count the 49,585 new-for-1986 IROC-Z Camaros built, we get an unmatched total of 137,717 high-performance V-8 Camaros for the 1986 model year. While critics bemoan the 1980s for bland economy cars, let’s not forget that nearly eight in ten 1986 Camaros were legitimate V-8 performance models!
Fact 89: Between 1990 and 1993 Chevy built 16,953 454 SS pickup trucks. Of them, the most common are the 1990 models with 13,748 made. Even though subsequent releases were improved with more power and fuel-saving overdrive, yearly sales plummeted: 983 in 1991; 1,379 in 1992; and 843 in 1993. Across town, Ford’s similarly themed Lightning muscle pickup launched just as the 454 SS was laid to rest. Though die-hard Chevy guys rarely cross-shop Ford products, the fact that 5,276 sold suggests more than a few would-be 454 SS customers were struck by Lightning. Some Bowtie fanatics rank the 454 SS marketing miscue up there with the temporary corporate insanity of 1975–1976 when the Z/28 was discontinued.
Fact 90: “When the stoplight turns green and accelerators snap flat to the floor, the Z28 is Emily Post polite: everybody else goes first.” Car and Driver, January 1982, on the third-generation Camaro’s tepid performance.
Fact 91: In a press release dated Tuesday, March 15, 1977, Chevrolet claimed the half-millionth Corvette rolled off the St. Louis assembly line at 2:01 pm the previous day (Monday, March 14, 1977). In reality, the car (serial number 1Z37X7S426583) was actually completed three days earlier, on Friday, March 11, 1977. Either in an “oops, we almost missed it” moment or to ease the task of staging the press release photo, Chevy super-detailed the car and put it back on the assembly line—with the number “500,000” lettered across the windshield—for its historic photo session. Like the first Corvette, the half-millionth was painted Classic White with a red interior. It was delivered to Bernie Hout Chevrolet in Mt. Clemens, Michigan.
Fact 92: In 1962 Chevrolet went looking for an early Corvette to restore so it could be displayed with the new-for-1963 Sting Ray. What turned up was number 155 (of the 300 built in 1953). The car was restored by GM technicians in Flint, Michigan, and used for photography, car shows, and as a courtesy car before being sold to a private party.
In 1967, Chevrolet was feeling nostalgic again and bought another 1953 Corvette (serial number 255) for restoration. They reportedly kept the car and placed it in the Sloan Museum after concluding its PR duties. I’m not sure if General Motors still owns car number 255, but it is ironic that 255 of the original 300 1953 Corvettes made are accounted for today.
Fact 93: XP819, the only rear-engine Corvette engineering test car cost a reported $500,000 to build, but was purchased for a measly $7,000. How’d it happen? In 1964 the Corvair development boss was Frank Winchell. Psyched about the rear-engine Corvair platform, he sold Duntov on the idea of a rear-engine Corvette test car. With an aluminum 327 small-block hanging off the rear of the transaxle, the result was tail heavy, and even its sleek Mako Shark–esque styling couldn’t save it.
Everybody moved on and XP819 was set to be scrapped— until Smokey Yunick stepped in claiming he wanted to scavenge it for parts. Though GM’s legal department forced Smokey to cut it into four sections (and provide a notarized photograph of the carnage), he kept the hulk until a 1976 garage sale. That’s when Corvette collectors Dick Walker and Steve Tate negotiated to buy the remains for $7,000. As reported in the January 1991 issue of Corvette Fever magazine, Walker and Tate negotiated the price using hand signals as Yunick was talking on the phone with someone else. When they finally raised seven fingers, Yunick nodded and XP819 was theirs. The landmark Corvette test mule has since been fully restored.
Fact 94: 1955 was a pivotal year for Corvette, and GM advertising copy writers spared no energy in describing the impact of the newfor-1955 265-cube V-8. The May 1955 issue of Motor Trend contains a full-page Corvette ad with these words: “There’s mighty potent ammunition under the hood of the new Corvette—for now the ‘Blue Flame’ 6 is joined by a very special 195-h.p. version of the astonishing Chevrolet V-8 engine! How does it go? Like ‘The Ride of the Valkyries,’ the takeoff of a V-2 rocket, the plunge down the Cresta bobsled run—all wrapped up in one. If you have never driven any Corvette, then you are to be envied. You have an experience coming—a singing jubilation that will tingle in your memory all the rest of your life!”
Wow. Two things strike me today: the reference to the German V-2 rocket bomb—a none-too-pleasant World War II image from only a decade before—and how the V-8 and six are described as teammates. In reality, the 265 V-8 replaced the aged six, only 7 of the 700 1955 Corvette buyers went for the six-banger—despite the $135 price difference ($2,774 versus $2,909).
Fact 95: “The Z/28 was last seen in 1974 when the power and speed that emanated from its light, high-revving small-block engine was in a state of seemingly terminal decline. Rather than let the proud name become just another plastic applique on the flanks of various ordinary cars—as happened to the Pontiac GTO and Plymouth Road Runner—Chevrolet yanked the car off the market. Now it returns in a fashion that is sure to blow the lid off the entire world of fast automobiles and end, once and for all, the notion that Detroit and the American people have forgotten performance.”
Car and Driver was so impressed with the reborn 1977 Z/28, they put it on the cover of the April 1977 issue (with a Pontiac Trans Am). If only they could see what’s available to today’s Camaro buyer, where the base V-6 generates 323 hp at a 1969 Z/28-intimidating 6,800 rpm!
Fact 96: 6“The Chevelle SS454/450 is, then, something of a high point in Supercars, using the original definition of an Intermediate with a big, powerful engine. Before deciding that things are going downhill, reflect: Things haven’t gone uphill for several years. Supercars haven’t been getting faster. The 1964 GTO went 14.8 at 99 mph. The 1970 GTO Ram Air 400 went 14.6 at 99.55 mph. Better engines and tires have been countered by more weight and emissions controls.”
Car Life magazine was less than impressed when its 1970 LS6 Chevelle ran 14.57 at 99.77 for a September 1970 road test. Perhaps the test car’s 3.31:1 gears had a role to play?
Fact 97: They wouldn’t print it if it weren’t true, right? When reporting on a new 1965 Z16 Chevelle that arrived at Kinney Chevrolet in Brooklyn, New York, the editors of the September 1965 issue of Super Stockers in Action magazine offered these pearls of wisdom: “The engine will swing 6500 with no sweat and if you really want to push it you can just about make it to the seven grand mark. And this is with the hydraulic magnesium lifters. Just think what rocker arms, magnesium connecting rods, and a good roller cam shaft will do.”
Magnesium, huh? Despite the technical flub, this article is one of very few to feature the Z16 when it was new. The photo of its Z16-specifi c 160-mph speedometer alone is priceless.
Fact 98: The 350 IROC-Z was a big deal at the time and I remember reading this review of a pre-production car in the Summer 1986 issue of the short lived Camaro/Trans Am magazine: “Basically what Chevrolet did was take the short block out of the ’86 Corvette, swap the aluminum heads for ’85’s iron heads, hang the 5-liter TPI exhaust system on it, add the Vette’s injection along with a computer management program unique to the 350 IROC. This motor in the Camaro for ’87 will put out 200 horses at 4,200 rpm—30 more than the best ’86’s.”
Again, we have some confused journalists. The actual output of the 1987 L98 was 225 hp (bumped to 230 for 1988). To performance-starved Chevy fans, the L98 350 was as different from the 305-cube LB9 TPI mill as a 396 big-block. The L98 was a big deal!
Fact 99: “We only planned on selling about 400 Z-28s in 1968—but instead we had 7000 orders. Boy, there are kids out there, and they have money. And when they hear that Mark Donohue cleans up in Trans-Am with a Z-28, they’ve just got to have one for themselves. In 1969, we plan to sell 27,000. Can you imagine? 27,000.”
That was Chevrolet general manager Pete Estes touting strong Z/28 sales figures in the October 1968 issue of Motor Trend magazine. Today we know that 602 were sold in 1967, 7,199 in 1968, and 20,302 in 1969. Shortly after the article was published, Estes was replaced by John DeLorean as head of the Bowtie division. But don’t feel too bad for him, he got the one and only first-generation Z/28 convertible ever built. It’s a 1968 and still exists—as does a deadnuts-correct clone built recently by a hardcore Camaro enthusiast.
Fact 100: “While performance was impressive, our fervor was really aroused by the one 1969 Chevrolet addition that is guaranteed to turn you on, or you aren’t a red-blooded, hairy-chested American male. It’s the new chambered exhaust system, and it has the mellowest rap we’ve heard since our last flat-head Ford with dual Smithies and that was a few years ago.” Yes, the editors of the January 1969 issue of Motor Trend magazine really liked the optional NC8 straight pipes ($15.80) fitted to their SS396 Chevelle test car. Left unsaid was the dramatic impact they had on vehicle weight. Without bulky undercar muf- flers, the NC8 system weighed 50 pound less than standard duals. Still, only 4,143 Chevelle buyers (plus 1,526 Camaro buyers) took the chambered-pipe plunge. Happily, reproductions are available today for Chevelle and Camaro applications.
Written by Steve Magnante and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks