As you might imagine, if you were fortunate enough to be able to be in Scottsdale, Arizona during auction week and attend one or more events, you would be guaranteed to see a boatload of Chevrolets. In my case, I attended three auctions and I’ll bet that I saw four or five hundred Chevies. Despite those huge numbers, I photographed far fewer and will profile 14 here. So, settle in and click through to check out these classic Chevies from the ’50’s to the ’70’s.
The caveat is that this group of cars won’t include Corvettes, Camaros, trucks or station wagons. Those other categories will probably be included in future articles.
A mainstay of the collector car hobby is the tri-five (’55-’57) Chevrolets. You likely have never attended any auction or local car show in North America that didn’t have at least one. Barrett-Jackson was no exception, offering 71 choices, not counting Corvettes or trucks. The popularity of customizing these cars is apparent, too, when you see that only 22 of those were stock, unmodified cars.
I’ll choose one tri-five representative to show here, not because it was the best quality photo obviously, but because this 1957 Bel Air was my favorite. It sold for $74,800.
A lot of people don’t like ’57 Chevies, either because they are so overexposed to the point of practically being a classic car cliche, or because they are a much busier facelift on the very clean and elegant 1955 design. These criticisms mean nothing to me because I think the shape is so right. It may be a heavy facelift, but somehow Chevy absolutely nailed the design.
This car was my favorite tri-five in Scottsdale this year because it’s my favorite year and it’s my favorite ’57 color of solid black. The shape of the ’57 is just right somehow.
It takes all of the common styling conventions of the mid ’50’s and employs them to ideal effect, especially on the Bel Air: the dip just behind the front doors; the rearward canted tail fins with the upper surface parallel to the ground, echoed by the relatively simple shape of the anodized aluminum side trim; the gentle slope on the upper surface of the front fender going down to the brow over the single headlights (with integrated air vents in the headlight housing); the gold mesh breaking up the chrome on the large grille. The car has a lot of chrome, of course, but it is all used tastefully for the times. The hubcaps are a really nice design as well. Only the roof, doors and trunk lid were carry over from 1956.
The interiors are very fifties fabulous and tasteful as well. The ’57 ditched the symmetry of the ’55/’56 dash for a more contemporary ’50’s instrument panel. This loaded car has power seat and windows, among other options. I prefer the red and silver interior with a black Bel Air, but silver and black is nice too.
What makes this car special to collectors is the matching numbers fuel injected 283cid V8 rated at 250hp. This was the top regular engine. For those looking for extra high performance, there was a mechanical lifter, higher compression version of the fuelie available making 283hp (1 hp per cubic inch).
I will throw this 1958 Del Ray in, even though it is a restified car with a more modern drive train and some aftermarket wheels that don’t do much for me, to show the contrast with the previous model. The all-new chassis and body were a pretty far departure from the ’55-’57, being longer, lower, wider and heavier. The styling was quite different as well, especially in the rear. Though looking like a much bigger car, at the height of the tailfin era it barely has anything that can be considered tail fins. This base model Del Ray has a cleaner look, which I dig and is why I photographed it. It’s a nice alternative to the more commonly seen and chromier Impala.
While it is not ’50’s perfection like its predecessor, I like the 1958. The rear quarters and the rearward slanting C pillar are cool. And I don’t mind the Impala at all. In fact, being someone who appreciates ’50’s excesses, I like all the ’58 GM cars, even the Buick and Olds precisely because they are so contrived and extremely chromed up in a way that could only happen in that crazy late 50’s market. And the fact that it was a one year only design is the ultimate ’50’s excess. As cars to own and use, they may have their disadvantages of course, which is why my perspective as an old car hobbyist is much different from people who remember these as new and used transportation.
For the classic Barrett-Jackson experience, they had a 1962 Bel Air in the indoor tent. It is a fresh looking restoration to a concours, show-winning level, roped off to show how valuable it is and mirrors placed on the ground so you can see that the underside is just as clean and perfect as the engine compartment. The experience wouldn’t be complete with out a six figure gavel price and it sold for $143,000.
It is an iconic car. The 1962 has arguably the cleanest styling on a standard Chevy since 1955 and the ’61/’62 “bubble top” coupe might be the airiest greenhouse ever made. Bill Mitchell’s studios were really hitting their stride by the 1962 models.
The reason for the high price is, of course, this: the 409hp 409cid V8, a serious performance engine immortalized in the Beach Boys song. 1962 was the second year for this iteration of the W-series big block engine introduced as the 348 for 1958. It was so named for the unique shape of the cylinder heads and valve covers (why not M?).
For 1962, a dual four-barrel carb option was added to the solid lifter, aluminum intake engine, increasing horsepower from 380 to the magical 1hp/cid. It cost $428 originally, $183 more than the top 300hp small block 327. Not unreasonable at all, even on a car that started at about $2600. That makes sense when considering that they sold at least 8900 409’s in 1962, most of them actually the dual carb version (that’s a conservative number, there’s controversy as some sources list as many as 15,000 409’s sold).
The engine was available in all models, and drag racers preferred the lighter Biscayne or Bel Air over the fancy Impala. Automatic transmissions were not available with the 409.
At the complete other end of the early sixties Chevrolet portfolio was the Chevy II, here a 1963 Nova 400 Sport with the Super Sport trim option offered at Silver Auctions. It’s a lifelong southern California car that still has its black license plates on it.
This was a great looking car and would be the perfect curbside classic if it happened to be parked on the street (very short term, hopefully). It was said to be mostly original with new paint being the main work done on it. As an illustration of how much the car market has changed since 1963, Chevy’s economical, entry-level car was available in 16 colors.
Silver doesn’t have any car info available on their website, so I pulled this off the internet of a very similar car in a nice hood and trunk closed photo. I think the proportions and detailing on the early Chevy II’s are quite nice and, in my opinion, more attractive than Ford Falcons. It says something about GM at this time that even their least expensive product received such fetching styling.
1963 was the second year for the first generation, which continued through 1965 with minimal styling changes. When the Falcon clobbered the Corvair right out of the gate in 1960, Chevrolet developed the Chevy II in a record 18 months in time for the start of the 1962 model year in September ’61.
No V8 was offered the first two years. Standard engine was a 90hp 153cid 4 cylinder, with a 120hp 194cid straight 6 cylinder optional on all models and standard on the Nova series. Boy would this be an easy car to wrench on!
The interior was said to be completely original, apart from the (not so) modern tape deck. SS’s have bucket seats and this car has the Powerglide. I like that even though its a small car, the seats aren’t small. It looks like it has comfy full sized seats, just wedged into a much narrower interior making them look more like a split bench than buckets.
Yet another beautiful ’60’s Chevrolet, this 1963 Impala SS was offered at Russo and Steele. Unlike the ’62 above, it doesn’t have an exotic engine or concours quality restoration and sold for a much more down to earth price of $18,500. It does, however, ooze gobs of charisma and curb appeal. For at least the sixth straight year, Chevy significantly restyled their standard size car. They also managed to hit a home run.
Chevrolet sold scads of these, including 399,224 of the top-of-the-line Impala hardtop coupes (over twice as many as the four door hardtop). I didn’t used to be a fan of these, partly because they are so common and have most famously been associated with lowriders. The ’63 and ’64 Chevy hardtop coupes are undoubtedly the all time most dropped cars (with ’49-’51 Mercurys, or maybe ’32 Fords, the most chopped). Several years ago, though, I encountered a particularly nice ’63 and began to appreciate these cars on their own merits.
The 1963 has very straight forward styling. The sides in particular are a series of straight lines. I like how the fenders, front and rear, end in an arrow-like point. Much of the car’s charm lies in its detailing.
I really like the detailing of the rear end. I pulled this off the internet of a same-colored car. It continues from the last year to have a very attractive aluminum trim panel, shaped to compliment the angles of the car’s front and rear ends.
Nothing to drive the bidders crazy in here, just a 327cid small block with 250hp. The 327 was also available with 300hp. The Super Sport package did not come standard with any performance equipment and was actually available on six cylinder Impalas. Available for 1963 was a new lower output, more street friendly version of the 409 also with 340hp. A 425hp street and strip fighter 409 was available and for the truly competitive, Chevy offered aluminum front body work.
For the first time in several years, the styling on standard Chevrolets was only moderately revised. I profiled an amazing ultra low mileage ’64 Impala SS in my first Scottsdale article. That fine specimen of preservation was one of five ’64 SS’s at Barrett-Jackson. In terms of attractiveness, my favorite was this one.
I found this one interesting mainly because of the colors. It has a beautiful maroon/dark red main color with silver roof and a silver interior. It was really striking in person.
’64’s are really popular and I like them, but I have to say I prefer the ’63. I’ve always found the ’64 to be just a bit too straight and square. The sides are similarly straight to the ’63, but the front and rear end are also bolt upright without the angles seen on the ’63. The rear is attractive, though, with a new take on the triple taillight and aluminum trim look. ’64 would be the last year for the hardtop coupe roof mimicking a convertible top.
My interior picture is not the best, being through the glass with plenty of reflection, but it does show well the colors. I love the chrome trim over the seats and the two-tone steering wheel!
The other interesting thing about this car is that it’s loaded with just about every option available on an Impala in 1964, including air conditioning, power windows and cruise control. Cruise was not a common option at this point in time, so it’s impressive that a Chevy has it. You can see the cruise control mechanism in the engine photo, as well as the top small block available: a 300hp 327cid V8.
Chevrolet’s Impala hit parade came to it’s climax in 1965. Chevy sold over a million Impalas and Impala SS’s for the year, beginning a slow retreat in sales with the luxury Caprice and performance Chevelles tempting buyers away from the sporty full-sizer in subsequent years. If there is a rare ’65 Impala SS, Barrett-Jackson had it with this 425hp 4-speed convertible selling for $71,500.
In addition to being a sales climax, It was a style climax as well. I’m a big fan of all the new 1965 GM full-sizers. Chevy returned to having some angles and curves on their version, and I think they did it to very good effect. This is the last year for the mini tradition of three truly separate taillights on Impalas (they’d return, but inside the bumper for 1968-70 and more subtly in 71-76).
The new platform had a full perimeter frame and cemented the basic chassis engineering that would be used in GM full-size and mid-size rear wheel drive cars for the next 30 years.
I think the interior was a big improvement as well, with arguably the best looking dash since 1960. The rest of the detailing is great as well, with nice looking seats, a handsome center console, big chrome trimmed pedals and nice door trim. I’m always a sucker for well-d0ne full width dashes.
This car’s claim to fame is the L78 396cid big block, putting out 425hp. The Mark IV 396 was the next generation big block replacing the W-series 409 midway through the ’65 model year. The entry level 396 had 325hp, but if you wanted a lightly disguised racing engine, the L78 made 100 more horsepower with a forged crankshaft, solid valve lifters, large 4-barrel carburetor and 11:1 compression. It was also available in the Corvette.
Another great Chevy from the ’60’s was the second generation of the Chevy II, which was given really handsome styling for 1966. The first generation were really pretty little cars, but I think the ’66/’67’s were the ultimate Novas. In two door hardtop form, they have a burly, no-nonsense look to them that says they aren’t going to apologize for their size to any of the big boys on the block.
Russo and Steele sold this 1966 Nova L79 for $41,000.
As mentioned above with the ’63 Nova, Chevy didn’t offer a V8 in the Chevy II for its first two years. That would definitely change as the littlest Chevy jumped into the musclecar market in the mid ’60’s. For 1966, it was available with three V8’s, the top one being the L79, a 350hp 327cid small block. That’s a lot of power in a car that only weighed 2,800lb. With the Camaro coming out for 1967, performance was de-emphasized some in the Nova and a 275hp 327 was the top engine.
The L79 came with 11:1 compression, aluminum intake, hot camshaft but hydraulic lifters. Chrome dual snorkel air cleaner and valve covers were standard. The L79 was available in any Chevy II trim level, following Chevy’s common practice in the ’60’s of having engines available in all levels and bodystyles of a line of cars, so you can see things like a ’62 409hp 409 Impala sedan, or a ’69 425hp 427 Caprice station wagon. But I’ve never heard of a L79 powered Nova sedan or wagon.
These Novas are popular with collectors. Barrett-Jackson had eight ’66/’67 models offered this year, four of which were custom and four stock. The top selling stock one sold for $80,300, while a hot rodded Pro-Tourer sold for an eye-watering $264,000.
This 1966 Nova Super Sport sold at B-J for $46,200. It’s a really nicely done restified car. It has a lot of tasteful non-original modifications like a 327 non-L79 engine upgraded to L79 specs, a more modern automatic transmission, bulged hood and air conditioning.
Of the stock ’66/’67 Novas offered at Barrett-Jackson and Russo and Steele, all were 350hp L79 cars. It’s a good example of how the modern collector car market skews the reality of the ’60’s automotive landscape. In the 1966 model year, Chevy sold 143,900 Chevy II’s and 105,500 of them had four or six cylinders. Even almost a third of Super Sports had six cylinders. Chevy sold 5,481 L79 Chevy II’s, but based on their survival rates and representation at auctions and car shows, one might get the impression that most ’66 Novas have 350hp.
I don’t generally profile customized cars in these articles, but I can’t resist showing this 1968 Impala Custom hardtop coupe. Custom is the model name of the new formal roofline coupe, while the sportier fastback roofline is predictably called the sport coupe. I like to watch the TV show Fast ‘n Loud, which customized this car in 2015 in two episodes which you can view on YouTube here and here.
It was interesting to see the handiwork of the Gas Monkey Garage in person after watching the show for years. It didn’t say on the show or auction description whether it started as all-original or restored, but I would bet it was mostly original. That’s exactly the sort of car I don’t like to see customized, but what can you do? Just appreciate it for what it is now, which appears to be a well done mechanical customization with unmodified body and interior.
The more formal roofline was shared with the Caprice and is an early sign of the Brougham Epoch to come. The formal Custom coupe was available with the SS package, and all engines up to the 425hp 427cid big block. This car originally had a 200hp 307.
I looked at this car pretty carefully and couldn’t find any noticeable flaws. It has probably been resprayed at some point, but the paint had no overspray or anything besides its near perfection to indicate it is not factory paint. Ditto the interior.
The car had new GM crate 400hp 350cid engine, suspension, transmission, AC, etc. I didn’t get a look under the hood. The underside looked clean and well done. It sold for $34,100, which was $16,000 less than it sold for when freshly completed three years ago.
This 1969 Impala convertible is no rare show car, monster motor or TV star bidder bait. This is what you would call an affordable collector car and I include it because I like it and it completes the story on the full size/Impala’s evolution through the ’60’s. It sold at Russo and Steele for $10,400.
The ’69 Impala went one step further down the road to the formal look, with heavier looking styling, loop bumper, hidden headlights and some truly odd front wheel openings. The convertible manages to look sportier, since even the standard sport coupe had a more formal roofline in 1969. This car has the optional 300hp 350.
The dashboard first started this year having what I would call the “70’s” look, with styling visually focused on the driver area and less bright work. It still has the beautiful steering wheel, available I believe since 1967. Chevy built 14,415 Impala convertibles for 1969, the only full size soft top model. It’s unknown how many were SS’s, but probably not a lot since only 2,425 SS’s were made total. Compare this to 1965 when 72,760 Impala drop tops were sold, including 27,000 SS convertibles! Convertibles and sporty full size cars were both quickly going out of style.
I said I like this car, which is true mainly because I like any full size convertible and anything with a loop bumper. However, inside and out it clearly is lacking the pizazz and charisma of the ’65 model. In 1965 this car knew exactly what its mission was and it seemed like half the population was beating a path to Chevy dealerships to buy Impalas. In fairness, they did still sell well over 700k ’69 Impalas, though that number would drop significantly over the next few years.
The first generation Monte Carlo gets lots of love at Curbside Classic. Barrett-Jackson had a 1970 Monte Carlo SS454 which should generate some smiles. While not in concours perfect condition, it was nice and sold for what seems like a reasonable price of $15,400.
Chevrolet sold 130,657 Monte Carlos in its inaugural year. This was a good showing, but just a down payment on the massive sales numbers to come. The second generation Monte Carlo was one of the stars of the Brougham Epoch and peaked at 411,038 sold in 1977.
They sold only 3,823 SS454’s in 1970 (1,919 in 1971, the last year). These had a 360hp version of Chevy’s newly enlarged big block, dual exhausts and upgraded suspension. While a 3 or 4 speed manual was available on the Monte Carlo, strangely the SS was only available with an automatic. Visually, they are set apart only by a rocker panel badge and their lack of rear fender skirts,which were commonly ordered on other Monte’s.
SS454’s came standard with the bucket seat and console interior, optional in other models. It shared the same generous quantities of woodgrain with other Monte Carlos. Disclaimer: No trees were harmed in the making of this interior.
I haven’t touched on the midsize Chevelles, which are second only to the tri-fives in Chevy popularity. The ’66-’72 models are the most common favorites. Barrett-Jackson had 40 to choose from, with similar proportions of stock to custom as the tri-fives. I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at all of them, just the occasional one that caught my eye. I’ll choose this one to represent the bunch, a 1972 Chevelle Malibu SS454, because I’m a sucker for convertibles and I like the ’71-’72 SS wheels. Look for the woody in the background in a future article.
This is a recreated 454 car, meaning it started life as either a non-SS Malibu or a lesser-engined SS (seller description didn’t specify). In 1972, the Super Sport package could be had with any V8 including the 130hp 307. It’s a nicely restored car and even with the lack of provenance it brought $40,700.
Interior is similar to the Monte Carlo, without the wood-grain atmosphere. It has the pretty SS steering wheel, which I’m not sure was available in 1972. Most original ’71 and ’72 model SS’s that I’ve seen have a plastic four-spoke steering wheels that bears a not-complementary resemblance to ones later installed in 1980’s Cavaliers.
Chevelles make great muscle cars, with strong, brawny styling perfect for intimidating competition on the street or strip. Everyone has their personal favorites. Mine, in descending order, are ’71-72, ’70, ’66-’67, ’68-’69.
The seller stated this car has an LS5 454, though he didn’t specify if it is built to 1972 specs or the more powerful 1970 or 1971 specs. The ’72 models had 270 net hp. The holy grail Chevelle is the 1970 LS6 SS454, with 450 (possibly underrated) gross horsepower. Like the L79 ’66 Nova, LS6 ’70 SS454’s are quite common at high end auctions, highly disproportionate to their representation in nature in the early ’70’s. B-J this year had six to choose from, ranging from $75,900 to $220,000.
Finally, for those with more, shall we say, exclusive tastes we have a 1976 Chevelle Malibu Classic Landau. I know there’s some Colonnade lovers lurking here. Though carrying around a lot more weight than its muscle car forebears (much of it in bumpers) with much less power to move it, it’s hard to deny it has some charm.
From the perspective of today, it’s tough to grasp how popular two door cars were in the ’70’s. Chevy sold 143k Malibu coupes and 116k sedans. Even the Nova coupes outsold the sedans, though not by a lot. Only in the full size line did sedans handily outsell coupes at 247k to 109k. Then there were the 353k Monte Carlos and 183k Camaros, plus 429k Chevettes, Vegas and Monzas which only came in two doors. Don’t forget 46k Corvettes. Quarter ton Pickups and Blazers were only available in two doors.
In 2018, the only Chevrolet cars available in two doors are the Camaro and Corvette, all SUV’s have four doors and four door Pickups vastly outsell two doors trucks. Why were two doors so popular then and so scarce now?
This car is the top trim level Malibu. For a Malibu, it’s fairly sporty with high back bucket seats, center console shifter and Rally Sport wheels. If you were one of the 9100 proud buyers wanting less brougham in your coupe, Chevy had the Laguna Type S-3 keeping the sporting flame alive, even if it came standard with a 140hp 305. Available in two door only, of course.
Our subject car has the 165hp 350. A 175hp 400 was the top engine available. The wheels may not be original, while the dual exhaust most certainly isn’t. In that early catalytic converter period, even the Corvette didn’t get true duals. As a Silver car, I don’t know if it sold. It presented quite nicely inside and out. The seller described it as mostly original with new paint.
I hope you enjoyed this trip through Chevrolet’s glory days. Feel free to comment on your thoughts on these cars and Chevy’s direction in those years.
Other articles in my Scottsdale 2018 series: