The Chevelle SS is widely considered the ultimate classic muscle car. Maybe that’s because it’s so beautiful, so powerful, and so mysterious. Somehow, it manages to bridge the gap between classic family cars and vintage muscle cars.
The Chevelle SS is also a bona fide A-list celebrity. It’s had famous Hollywood owners like Quentin Tarantino, Billy Bob Thornton, Guy Fieri, Jon Bon Jovi, and Ben Affleck. And it’s been featured in dozens of movies, including the internationally successful “Fast and the Furious” films.
Why has this car been so beloved for so long? Let’s take a look at the history of the Chevelle SS and its all-American superstar status.
Why Chevrolet Created the Chevelle SS
Think back to the moment in time when the Chevelle SS was born. It was a crucial turning point in Chevrolet’s history. By 1963, auto enthusiasts had already seen the rise of some of the world’s most powerful mid-size muscle cars and family coupes.
That meant anything new had to be brimming with horsepower or it would get left in the dust. The Chevelle SS was designed to compete directly with the brand new Ford Fairlane, a beast of a sedan that drove like a drag racer.
The Chevelle would also be competing with the company’s own 60s classics like the Corvette with an optional V8 engine. The Chevelle’s big brother was the stately Impala and its compact cousin was the infamous Nova. It immediately outshone both with its style and performance.
The SS package was first available in 1964 and 1965 for the Malibu and Impala models. Eventually, it became a model in its own right in 1966 and took the car-buying market by storm.
Chevelle SS? Why Did They Call it That?
Oddly enough, nobody knows where the name “Chevelle” came from. For a muscle car born in the masculine mid-60s, it was given a curiously petite and feminine name.
There’s no record anywhere of the development process Chevrolet used to come up with the name. However, there’s been speculation that it’s a combination of the words “Chevrolet” and “gazelle.” After all, its family member, the Impala, was also named after a graceful and fleet-footed creature.
The “SS” part of the name means super sport and refers to the specific trim package that makes it unique. To ensure everyone could see it was no ordinary Chevy, the shiny SS logo was emblazoned on emblems across various parts of the vehicle.
The First-Generation Chevelle SS
In the earliest form, between 1964 and 1965, the Chevelle was usually a trim package on a Malibu with the SS added to the rear quarter panel, although it was also an option for the Impala. In 1966 and 1967, the world met the first examples of the actual Chevelle SS as we know it today.
It came out in a sports coupe, convertible, or two-door hardtop, all with a speedometer that boasted the staggering top speed of 160. Chevy also offered a limited number of four-door sedans and station wagons, which are quite rare today.
Because engine power was so important to buyers, Chevy experimented under the hood. At first, the Chevelle had a 220 horsepower engine, but soon this was dropped in favor of a 300 horsepower engine that could better compete with the highly-powered sports cars of the day. Later, this was further increased to a massive 375 horsepower.
What many people forget about the first generation of Chevelles is that this car was marketed as a family car. It had an exceptionally smooth ride and could easily handle the weight of a four or five-person family without making any sacrifices in speed or acceleration.
Plus, it looked really cool. Dads who had always dreamed of being race car drivers just loved it! In those days, your car was a status symbol that reflected your success in the world and there was no better trophy to have in your driveway than a Chevelle SS.
Second Generation: Sleeker and Sportier
Between 1968 and 1972, Chevy hit its stride with the Chevelle SS. The car was remodeled to look slimmer and more modern while still packing plenty of authentic sports car power.
These are the cars commonly called the “Coke bottle” Chevelles due to their curving, contoured sidelines. The vehicle’s vent windows were long gone and the grille and taillights were redesigned to be more embedded in the bodylines of the vehicle.
Engine-wise, you could choose a V6 or V8 with monikers like “Turbo Thrift,” “Turbo Fire,” and “Turbo Jet” signaling the machine’s efficiency and power. There were a ton of upgrades available from Chevy that allowed the vehicle to be tailor-made for each owner.
Are you a man of superior style? Choose one of the Chevelle’s upgraded interior styling packages. Need speed? No problem. By 1970, you could get one of these babies with an astounding 450 horsepower.
In 1971, Chevrolet was forced to grapple with evolving government regulations set off by stricter safety standards. For example, they had to add body lights that increased operating safety but took this as an opportunity to also add lighter-weight bulb housing and other details that lifted its overall load and reduced drag on the vehicle.
At the same time, the worldwide auto market was facing another enormous challenge: the looming global oil crisis. Chevy could no longer allow its cars to be outright gas guzzlers. The Chevelle’s large-block engine became a small-block just in the nick of time.
The Third and Final Generation
From 1973 to 1977, the Chevelle SS seemed like a strong legacy brand that was on the decline. Its engine and performance were good but not the best. It almost seemed as if the old Chevelle had taken a look around at the world’s new generation of lightweight mega-muscle cars, threw up its hands, and said, “Whaddya want? I’m just a Chevelle!”
By this time, Chevrolet was openly and unapologetically shedding models and cutting production costs. The company was focusing its resources on boosting the efficiency of popular models like the Malibu while allowing other beloved brands to die out.
Still, the Chevelle SS retained a huge and loyal fan base who continued to eagerly buy them until the very last one rolled off the assembly line in 1977. All told, somewhere around 3 million were made in various forms over the years and more than 338,000 of those had been snapped up in the first model year alone. That’s about as solid a sales history as a classic car can get.
The Enduring Popularity of the Chevelle SS
The Chevelle SS is an undeniably iconic vehicle that embodies the true muscle car spirit of the 60s and 70s. They remain highly sought-after today, although changing tastes over time have led to spikes and drops in collectible values. To this day, Chevrolet maintains mystique about the Chevelle SS by refusing to share detailed production numbers, forcing auto experts to make guesses.
For example, it’s believed that fewer than 20 of the 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 LS6 Convertibles were ever made, but because Chevy won’t confirm this fact, its rarity is in the eye of the beholder. Similar models have gone for as much as $1.15 million.
There’s no doubt that the Chevelle SS is a true gem among classic muscle cars. If you have the great fortune of owning one, we’re jealous! Everyone is! You’re playing an important part in preserving American automotive history.
The Legacy of Classic Auto Insurance
When you need to protect your classic Chevy SS, we’re here to help. No other insurance agency offers the same level of stellar service and genuine passion for classic cars as we do.
Classic Automobile Insurance Agency is a family business built on a love of classic cars. We take every opportunity to bring you unique learning opportunities like our hugely successful Project C10, powered by American Modern. Having owned a variety of collectible vehicles ourselves, we understand the special protections your iconic ride requires.
Whether you bought it at an auction, drove it off the lot, or restored it to perfection in your garage, we have a plan for you. We’ll build you a customized auto insurance program that is designed specifically for owners of collectible cars while providing the top-notch customer support you expect.
Visit our website at www.classicins.com to get an instant quote online, or call 888-901-1338 and see how we can help safeguard your dream car.