Throwback Thursday: 1966 Chevelle SS396


In the 70s and 80s, many a hot-rodder’s first muscle car was a ragged-out old Chevelle SS396. It’s not surprising, when you consider that Chevy built over 70,000 copies of the SS396…of course now, they’re pretty scarce and super desirable, but that’s a different story.

Chevrolet introduced the 396 big-block V8 in ’65, as a replacement for the heavy, boat-anchor 409 V8. The 396 had big valves and a lumpy cam, with an odd valve configuration that provided better gas flow and more efficient exhaust scavenging. It paid off, with the base L35 engine producing 325 horsepower – the L34 built 360 horsepower, with the iron-head L78 building 375 horsepower.

Perhaps the most desirable of the Chevelle SS models for ’66 is the Z16, which featured the L78 engine and upgraded brakes, suspension and chassis, with an upgraded interior, AM/FM stereo radio and 160 mph speedometer. Only 201 Z16s were ever built, but it was a muscle car that could give the Corvette a run for its money in terms of acceleration, braking and handling.

Other SS’s could be had with niceties like rally wheels, air conditioning, power brakes, power windows and locks, a wood steering wheel, rally wheels and more, to add up to a comfortable sports sedan with blistering performance.

And perform it could – the stock L78 Chevelle SS could easily turn in quarter-mile times in the 14-second range, with 13-second times easily possible with just a few tweaks. 1966 was a sort of mid-point in the muscle car years, and the Chevelle SS396 definitely pointed the way toward what was possible.