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Automoblog Book Garage: Chevy Chevelle: Fifty Years

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Sometimes, things don’t turn out like we expect. This is the case with Chevrolet and the Chevelle. It started as a conventional car but evolved into a road warrior, carrying the muscle car torch for a new generation. The Chevelle had a body-on-frame design that, while basic, really unlocked its potential as a muscle machine.

There was a time when the LS6 Chevelle was the fastest American car ever produced.

Simple & Reliable

The Chevelle was built on General Motors’ A-Body platform, which endured through the company’s change in the early 80s to more front-wheel drive vehicles. The Chevelle was remarkably simple, something car buyers at the time deeply desired. In fact, in 1963, the first year of production, Chevrolet sold nearly 400,000 of them.

During its run, the Chevelle earned a reputation for reliability and flexibility. There were multiple options, from sedans and coupes, to convertibles and station wagons. Later came the distinguished Laguna of NASCAR fame; even the El Camino had Chevelle flare to it.

When production ended in 1978, Chevrolet had sold over 7.2 million Chevelles.

Author

Mike Mueller, a lifelong car enthusiast, has worked as an automotive journalist and photographer since 1991. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Mueller has held staff positions with Automobile Quarterly, Muscle Car Review, and Mustang Monthly. He has written and provided photography for dozens of automotive books, and contributed photos to Collectible AutomobileEsquire, Life, and Men’s Journal.

Crown Jewel

The Chevelle is one of the most beloved in Chevy’s history. Chevy Chevelle: Fifty Years chronicles this crown jewel, from its humble beginnings to its hallowed status at car shows around the country. The book was licensed by GM with never-before-seen archival photographs of the infamous car. Chevy Chevelle: Fifty Years is available through Amazon and Motorbooks.

Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and resides in Detroit, Michigan 

Chevy Chevelle: Fifty Years Gallery

Ford pioneered Detroit’s modern midsize car in 1962 with its new Fairlane. Shown here on display in 2000 at the Floyd Garrett Muscle Car Museum in Sevierville, Tennessee, is a very rare 1963 Fairlane equipped with Ford’s 271-horsepower High Performance 289 V-8. Photo: Mike Mueller
Ford pioneered Detroit’s modern midsize car in 1962 with its new Fairlane. Shown here on display in 2000 at the Floyd Garrett Muscle Car Museum in Sevierville, Tennessee, is a very rare 1963 Fairlane equipped with Ford’s 271-horsepower High Performance 289 V-8. Photo: Mike Mueller
Rolling on a 109.5-inch wheelbase, Ford’s downsized Ranchero for 1960 was 19 inches shorter overall compared to its full-size 1959 forerunner. Six-cylinder power was the only choice beneath the hood. Photo: Mike Mueller.
Rolling on a 109.5-inch wheelbase, Ford’s downsized Ranchero for 1960 was 19 inches shorter overall compared to its full-size 1959 forerunner. Six-cylinder power was the only choice beneath the hood. Photo: Mike Mueller.
Beneath the ZL2 Cowl Induction hood on this 1970 SS 396 El Camino is the base 350-horsepower L34 Turbo Jet V-8, which displaced 402 cubic inches. The 375-horse L78 big-block was optional. Photo: Mike Mueller
Beneath the ZL2 Cowl Induction hood on this 1970 SS 396 El Camino is the base 350-horsepower L34 Turbo Jet V-8, which displaced 402 cubic inches. The 375-horse L78 big-block was optional. Photo: Mike Mueller

The Super Sport Chevelle returned for one last time for 1973’s restyled Colonnade coupe. A blacked-out grille, grey lower body treatment, dual sport mirrors, appropriate badges, and Rally wheels were standard. SS production that year was 28,647.
The Super Sport Chevelle returned for one last time for 1973’s restyled Colonnade coupe. A blacked-out grille, grey lower body treatment, dual sport mirrors, appropriate badges, and Rally wheels were standard. SS production that year was 28,647.
Harrell’s Performance Center offered a wide array of options for its 427 Chevelle, including dual Carter four-barrel carbs (shown here), a triple-carb setup, a three-barrel Holley carb, L88 heads (in iron or aluminum), a complete L88 V-8, headers, traction bars, and a lift kit. Photo: Jim Schild
Harrell’s Performance Center offered a wide array of options for its 427 Chevelle, including dual Carter four-barrel carbs (shown here), a triple-carb setup, a three-barrel Holley carb, L88 heads (in iron or aluminum), a complete L88 V-8, headers, traction bars, and a lift kit. Photo: Jim Schild
The last Chevelle Baldwin-Motion marketed was this L88-powered 1973 Super Sport. Photo: Tom Shaw
The last Chevelle Baldwin-Motion marketed was this L88-powered 1973 Super Sport. Photo: Tom Shaw

The Z06 racing package represented the hottest option for the 1963 Sting Ray (upper right). The LS6 Corvette (left) was the best it could get in 1971, but only188 were built that year. Even rarer was the ZR2/LS6 combo, which featured various race-ready chassis parts working in concert with the 425-horse big-block. Only 12 ZR2 Corvettes were unleashed in 1971. Photo: Mike Mueller
The Z06 racing package represented the hottest option for the 1963 Sting Ray (upper right). The LS6 Corvette (left) was the best it could get in 1971, but only188 were built that year. Even rarer was the ZR2/LS6 combo, which featured various race-ready chassis parts working in concert with the 425-horse big-block. Only 12 ZR2 Corvettes were unleashed in 1971. Photo: Mike Mueller
As usual, an SS-trimmed steering wheel was standard inside the LS6 Chevelle in 1970. Photo: Mike Mueller.
As usual, an SS-trimmed steering wheel was standard inside the LS6 Chevelle in 1970. Photo: Mike Mueller.
The “entry-level” Deluxe line offered in 1973 was dropped, leaving the Malibu to kick off 1974’s Chevelle lineup. Next up was the new Malibu Classic, adorned with an attractive hood ornament. Equally new in the Classic line was the Landau, a two-door coupe featuring a half vinyl roof and smaller opera-style rear-quarter glass.
The “entry-level” Deluxe line offered in 1973 was dropped, leaving the Malibu to kick off 1974’s Chevelle lineup. Next up was the new Malibu Classic, adorned with an attractive hood ornament. Equally new in the Classic line was the Landau, a two-door coupe featuring a half vinyl roof and smaller opera-style rear-quarter glass.

Originally known simply as “Black & Whites,” for obvious reasons, Chevrolet’s race-ready 1957 models were later nicknamed “Black Widows.” They were prepped at Chevrolet’s SEDCO (short for Southern Engineering Development Company) race shop, officially listed as a division of Nalley Chevrolet, Inc., of Atlanta, Georgia. Both sedan and convertible Black Widows were built. Photo: Mike Mueller
Originally known simply as “Black & Whites,” for obvious reasons, Chevrolet’s race-ready 1957 models were later nicknamed “Black Widows.” They were prepped at Chevrolet’s SEDCO (short for Southern Engineering Development Company) race shop, officially listed as a division of Nalley Chevrolet, Inc., of Atlanta, Georgia. Both sedan and convertible Black Widows were built. Photo: Mike Mueller
Another evolutionary link between the steel-bodied FX machines and modern funny cars was Pete Seaton’s “Seaton’s Shaker,” a 1966 Chevelle based on a stock chassis. While some fiberglass panels were used, much of this altered-wheelbase match-racer consisted of factory-supplied steel bodywork. Power came from an injected Mk IV big-block. Photo: Larry Davis.
Another evolutionary link between the steel-bodied FX machines and modern funny cars was Pete Seaton’s “Seaton’s Shaker,” a 1966 Chevelle based on a stock chassis. While some fiberglass panels were used, much of this altered-wheelbase match-racer consisted of factory-supplied steel bodywork. Power came from an injected Mk IV big-block. Photo: Larry Davis.
Mike Mueller, author of Chevelle: Fifty Years.
Mike Mueller, author of Chevelle: Fifty Years.

Last weekend in the Automoblog Book Garage, we traveled down one of the world’s most infamous highways.

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