(first posted 9/3/2016) CC has become CS, for Camaro Six. The underdog has gotten lots of love here; but what about the opposite end of the spectrum? As in an original, unmolested SS396? When’s the last time you saw one of those? Mike Hayes found this one in a parking lot and posted it at the CC Cohort, and we need to celebrate it.
The really big question is whether Chevy originally ever intended to put the big-block 396 V8 in the all-new 1967 Camaro. The obvious evidence says no, as the Camaro arrived with a new (and exclusive to the Camaro) 295 (gross) hp 350 CID (5.7 L) version of Chevy’s small block V8. That was clearly intended to be the top engine, and to one-up the Mustang, which through 1966 had only been available with its small block 289 V8.
Was Chevrolet caught off-guard by the 1967’s Mustang GT’s optional 320 hp 390 CID V8? Which was made possible by widening the Mustang’s front end width and increasing the available space between the front spring/shock towers?
Frankly, it was not exactly a marriage made in heaven. The FE 390 added a lot of weight to the front end, and the Mustang’s already so-so handling only got worse. And the 390 just wasn’t really all that powerful; it was perfect in a Country Squire, but it took heroic efforts to make the legendary Bullitt fastback to even appear to be staying ahead of the Charger.
There was only one obvious response: by mid-year 1967, Chevrolet’s 396 V8 was now too available in the Camaro. Not that it was all that hard, as the Camaro’s new platform/body was plenty wide from the get-go for the big-block Chevy engines. Presumably, that eventuality was a consideration all along.
The 325 hp L-35 version of the 396 was the mildest version of the family at that time, and was also better suited for use in a Caprice than a Camaro with genuine performance intentions (pretensions?). I don’t have ready stats or reviews in front of me, but as delivered, the SS396 Camaro was hardly a stormer or drag strip terror. Never mind that like in the case of the Mustang 390, already modest handling abilities deteriorated. The rear axle with its Mono-leaf single rear spring was utterly overtaxed, especially during acceleration, a severe limitation that was somewhat improved with multi-leaf springs (on performance models) and staggered shocks for 1968.
The reality was that stuffing the bigger and heavier 396 and 390 into the Camaro and Mustang was largely a big and heavy mistake, as these engines in stock form were just not that powerful, and their weight overpowered their mediocre suspensions. But the lure of an ever bigger number on the front fender was not to be denied.
Although only the mild L-35 was shown in brochures and ads, in reality one could readily order a 375 hp solid-lifter square-port L-78 396 in the Camaro, by checking the L-78 on an order form. This resulted in a “4K” in the car’s trim code. About 1,138 4K cars were built, and here’s the write up of one of the few survivors. Many of these 4K L-78 cars ended up at Yenko Chevrolet, where the short block was swapped out with a 427, but keeping the heads, intake, etc., as they were the same on both engines. Some COPO 427s were also built by the factory.
Apparently the somewhat more powerful 350 hp L-34 version of the 396 also became officially available in the Camaro at some point in 1968, but it was not listed in the initial 1968 brochure.
That’s just the way things were back during these days at Chevrolet, as it was constantly finding ways to dance around the GM corporate edict at the time that its cars could not go below 10 lbs per advertised gross hp. That would explain the 375 hp version not being in the brochures, but it raises a question on the 350 hp, as the base V8 coupe had a curb weight of 2,955 lbs. I’d like to hope that the 396 alone didn’t push that over 3500 lbs.
What was also missing from the brochures in 1967 and 1968 was the Z28, the ultimate Camaro at the time, with its high-winding 302 and suspension mods. Not until 1969 would the Z28 join the ranks of the brochures, and become a full-fledged member of the Camaro family instead of a “limited production” mobile.
The Z28, whose 290 advertised hp was grossly underrated to meet that GM edict, could eat and spit out the heavier and duller 396 versions all day long, especially so when the road was anything other than perfectly straight.
The overwhelming odds are that this 1968 SS 396 with the RS package (hidden headlights, etc.) has the 325 hp engine. Since Mike didn’t get a shot of the interior, we don’t know what’s backing it up, but I’m going to guess it’s the three-speed THM. Just a hunch.
Ordering the SS got one those simulated intake stacks on the hood. And simulated performance, without some tweaking and modifications, like “drag bars’ on the rear springs and a serious performance tune.
The really big surprise of this find are those simulated mag wheel covers. God has long decreed that every Camaro must have Rally Wheels, so these are most unusual indeed. I couldn’t find them in the 1968 brochure, yet I remember them all-too well from that era.
Well, the standard SS wheel covers in 1968 were hardly very attractive either, nor original.
They were “borrowed” from the 1963 Chevy II Nova SS. No wonder Camaros all sport Rally Wheels.
Either way, Mike found a unicorn. How many stock and unmolested SS396 Camaros from this era are still on the streets? Probably fewer than Camaro sixes.
Sweet looking car. I’ve always liked original, unmolested cars of this vintage. I’ve always liked the 1967 and 68 Chevy Camaro. 🙂
I’d forgotten about those fake-mag wheel covers–but, they do appear in a few of the ’68 ads:
They were on Malibus too, seems like I’ve seen them on a lot more of them even in full restoration garb than I do Camaros
Also used on 68 Shelbys
And first gen Chargers
Those could be had on a ton of different Mopars around that time; Dart, Coronet, Barracuda, Monaco, Polara…
I’m pretty sure the stack vs louvered hood was an identifier between the 67 & 68 SS, not denoting whether it had a 350 or 396. If not I’ve learned something.
It’s not only funny how all SS camaros have rally wheels today but they all have the 375 horsepower 396 too! Hopefully if this car ever gets in the hands of a restorer they don’t mess it up. And those wheel covers made their way around didn’t they? Seems like GM Chrysler and Ford/Shelby all used them, which is pretty rare for covers.
I seem to recall that early ’68s had fins for the 350 and stacks for the 396. Some time in ’68 they all got stacks. All ’69s got the stacks.
Those wheel covers all looked pretty much the same but if you looked at them side by side there were differences in shape between the ones Chevy, Mopar and Ford used. There were also aftermarket ones around. None of them stayed on worth a damn so originals are rare today.
These cars were a LOT happier with a 350 than a 396. Handling, braking, traction and cooling were all compromised by the heavy big block. The Mustang was even worse.
I hope this car survives as is, it’s in about the condition a decent one would have been ca. 1980, and that’s just the way I remember them.
I remember those. I didn’t realize they looked like stacks.
It wasn’t a wheel cover, but a ‘mag’ wheel that was used virtually unaltered at all three of the Big 3 at some point in the sixties was the Magnum 500. Seems like Chrysler began using them first in 1967. You can tell the earlier ones because the rim was chrome. Later versions had a satin trim ring.
I don’t know who was second, but maybe they were an option on the 1968 Chevelle. I’m relatively certain they were an option on the Mustang in 1969.
Didn’t Buick use them on the GS even before Mopar?
I think those Buick wheels looked similar to Magnum 500 wheels, but weren’t exactly the same. The spokes had kind of slight concave curve, while the 500 wheels bowed out slightly. The Buick wheels might have had a larger center cap, as well.
But they all might have been made by the same company, Motor Wheel, IIRC.
My bad (about the hood louvers/stacks)…fixed now.
The hood was changed for 68…I have seen a 1968 SS350 with the same hood.
I know that in the 1967-68 Camaro, the 3-speed THM auto was available if you ordered the 396. The small block (327 and 350) engines used the 2 speed Powerglide. It wasn’t until 1969 when the 3 speed THM tranny was available with the small block V8s.
One of the few, later benefits of the Corvair was the delay it caused GM in entering the ponycar wars allowed them to benefit with the design of the Camaro’s engine bay. Unlike the Mustang and Barracuda, whose engine bays were never originally intended to take anything but a six cylinder or, at most, a small, narrow-width V8, the Camaro got a front suspension and engine bay that wasn’t all that different (or smaller) than was found in their large cars. This was likely borne of necessity since the SBC was one of the wider, ‘small’ V8s. So, wide-block V8s of any displacement (and any optional accessories) went into a Camaro or Firebird with relative ease.
But even though the GM ponycars could still take big V8s, they still suffered from the same problem as the Ford and Plymouth, and that’s that there was no room for an exhaust system with pipes as large as could be used in a larger car. So, even though all the ponycars got most of the same big-block V8s as their traditional, intermediate musclecar brothers, the necessary smaller, restrictive exhaust systems offset any gains the lighter cars might have offered. GM came the closest to finding a solution with a rare, chambered exhaust option for the ’69 Z/28. But it wasn’t much good at muffling, essentially being nothing but a couple of slightly larger pipes with some dents in them.
It was only on the dragstrip with open headers that the ponycars’ weight advantage came through, to the extent that cars like the ’68 Mustang 428CJ, Hemi-Cuda and Dart, and ’69 COPO 427 Camaro hold NHRA stock class records to this day.
Excellent point, one of the first things to go on any 396 Camaro, Nova or Chevelle worth it’s salt was the stock exhaust manifolds. A set of decent tuned headers with the proper carb jetting and ignition curving made a huge difference. No different for the Ford or Mopar ponycars, though they weren’t as easy to work on or get parts for at the time.
Once you got that all sorted out you still were faced with the problem of traction on the street. Slicks helped on the strip, if you had the clearance, but getting caught running them on the street was an instant impound in our little town. You also needed traction bars unless you like wheel hop. All in all, by the time you got all the performance the car had the potential to offer you had a very limited use vehicle.
The only time most of the legendary ponycars had an advantage on the street over the better balanced intermediates was if you hit it from a roll, say 30mph.
They got lots of attention in the parking lot, but late at night when money was on the line they just weren’t in the game.
I’d forgotten about the traction issue with those smaller cars when they had big horsepower engines. Chrysler was the best at addressing this from the factory, doing stuff like an extra rear suspension leaf on one side, followed by Ford who’d use staggered shocks on some cars, then GM. ‘Slapper’ bars helped, and I guess a pinion snubber over the rear axle carrier on GM cars worked okay, too. But those rear coil spring GM cars seemed like they were the worst. The pros would radius the quarter panels and/or tub the wheel wells to get big-ass tires in there, then really button down the suspension (as well as use stuff like wheelie bars and 90/10 drag shocks).
But all of those mods cost money and labor, and none of that sort of thing would really fly on the street, particularly for anything that was main transportation. Most who tried driving a car so modified regularly found it got real old, real fast, especially if they ended up having to drive something like that in inclement weather.
The bottom line is there were a lot of reasons those big-block ponycars were no better performers than an intermediate with the same engine.
That’s why the Z/28 and Boss 302/351s were considered such giant killers I imagine, way better balanced with a torque curve that doesn’t unleash all of it’s might off idle onto the unsuspecting little polyglas tires. As I recall the fastest factory mustang in the first gen era was the 71 Boss 351.
The late sixties’ Z/28 302 might have ran okay (hotrodders had been doing the same thing for years by putting a 327 crank in a 283 block and calling it a 301), but reviews seemed to suggest that the Boss 302 fell into the same category as other detuned race engines like the Boss 429 and Street Hemi, i.e., they were high-stressed thoroughbreds that were designed for strictly track use and made the most torque in the upper parts of the rpm band. The only reason they were released to the public, at all, were homologation production requirements to qualify for certain racing series.
Tiredoldmechanic mentioned rolling start races and that seems to be the specific method that worked best with these race engines on the street. I once read a very good anecdote on how a good running L78 SS396 (the 375 hp one) could beat a Street Hemi ‘if’ he could get the guy with the Hemi to agree to a standing start. This would allow the higher torque of the 396 at a lower end of the rpm band to get an insurmountable lead. Yeah, once the Hemi got going, it would start catching up, but the 396 would have just too much of a lead for it to win. A rolling start race between an L78 and Hemi would be a different story.
I suspect the same thing applied to the Boss 302. Unless someone liked driving at the upper end of the rpm band all night, well, there just wasn’t much torque at the low end.
Now, as stated, the Boss 351 was a whole different ballgame. It was one of Ford’s best performance engines. Coming in at the end of the musclecar era, it’s a shame it had such a short production life (and then in the humongous ’71 Mustang, to boot). It would have been the perfect engine for a 1968 Mustang fastback (and been a whole lot better fit for Bullitt to chase a Charger R/T than a 390).
That anecdote regarding L78 vs. Hemi is bogus as F. There is a real reason the Hemi has the reputation it does, no matter what platform it got dumped into. This is also why the most lusted after Camaros and Chevelles of this era are the COPOs; they could wipe the ass of an L78 396 all day long, and were equals to the street Hemi of the day. Just check the test numbers of this ’68 Charger. Come on now…
With an automatic I’d bet the bigger low end torque engines would have that advantage, but with a clutch that can be dumped at 4k rpms from a dig that advantage isn’t really great, especially with the 4.30 gear option checked off. The Boss 429 was a different story, the Boss 302 wasn’t really hamstrung except for a rev limiter, which savvy owners learned could be unplugged, but the 429 had an undersized carb, a small cam, and restrictive exhaust hampering it’s potential. I’ve heard a lot of negative accounts of the Hemi favoring other more pedestrian motors (including mopar’s own 440) but mostly involve it’s tedious street manners and complexity, but as a race engine for the street they were much better prepared than the Boss 429, which as far as homologation specials go was a bare minimum effort.
The late sixties’ Z/28 302 might have ran okay (hotrodders had been doing the same thing for years by putting a 327 crank in a 283 block and calling it a 301),
Nobody ever did that; anyway, that would get you a 307, if you were determined to do it. What hot rodders did before the 327 became common was to bore the 283 out to 4″, which yielded 301 cubes.
I think another factor there may have been was a desire to have design familiarity, if not physical component interchange, with the A body and B body to keep costs in check. The front suspension layouts are identical, packaged into what is essentially half a ladder frame. Which it’s narrower frame rails at the body have the same issue with exhaust as the Mustang/Mopars had, since their welded on rails aren’t splayed outward like a perimeter frame either, that may lend credence to the big blocks being an afterthought.
Another very rare thing about this car is that it appears to have factory two tone paint. Though I’ve seen Impalas, Chevelles and Novas with this option, and they were few and far between, I can’t ever remember seeing a Camaro so equipped. Those standard SS covers were also used on 63 Impala SS models. It seems odd that Chevrolet would use covers from that vintage on a Camaro, but, they seemed to have used older covers on Chevy II/Novas quite a bit beginning in 65. Even the Full Size Chevy got older covers once, in 74. The impala and Bel Air in 74 used covers from the 70 Impala and Bel Air. My Dad never liked them, and shortly after taking delivery of his 74 Impala, he swapped them out for 74 Caprice covers.
It may also have been a vinyl roof car originally, if you look at the pictures it appears the right side of the car and possibly the roof have been refinished while the rest of the car has chalky, perhaps original, paint. I suspect this car has taken a few knocks in it’s life.
There are some obvious clues that strongly have me cast doubt on this being an original SS. I may be wrong, but here are the reasons. First of all, this car is an obvious repaint. There was never a factory “painted roof” option, so we almost certainly know an old ratty vinyl top got ripped off at some point, as all the chrome outline pieces are sill intact. Also, the nose stripe is not factory correct; there should be blank space where the stripe is interrupted to fit the engine displacement badges. Then we get to the RS nose; where is the SS emblem in the center? This in itself isn’t very telling for an old car, but swinging around the back reveals that it’s also missing it’s SS emblem over the fuel filler door, and in it’s place is the standard Camaro piece. My final point may not be accurate due to the angle of the photo, but doesn’t that look more like the factory single exhaust?
I think what we have here is a late 1980’s resto-mod done to a fairly high standard (and possibly one that originally did not have the RS nose) that has been driven quite a bit since and has aged appropriately from that point on.
Good points. I am however inclined to think this is a real RS, they had the all red taillights and reverse lights in the lower valance panel.
I thought so too at first, but then this occurred to me:
Why does an SS/RS have the basic Camaro insignia over the fuel door? If it was a real one, we’d have the correct SS instead of the bowtie. If it was never an SS, but a true RS, there would be an RS insignia, and the back cove would be incorrect and should be body color. If it was neither, the Camaro insignia would be correct, but then the back cove panel would have never been painted matte black (an SS only feature).
There is some serious deception going on with this car.
Well the original fuel cap – there isn’t a door, just a decorative cap held on with bailing wire IIRC – also could have been lost in the near 50 years it’s existed and the standard cap was just an expedient replacement. I feel like if someone were to fake an RS they’d overlook or even be oblivious to the taillight/reverse light differences, if they weren’t I’d think they’d be pickier about the much easier to find/install fuel cap. Back cove color would simply be irrelevant if it were a repaint, would have been done as part of the SSizing of it. It’s not like the RS package is particularly rare, in fact with an RS I’d more expect it to come with a vinyl top like this had originally
I agree, but it’s so odd to omit the front and rear SS, even if you were or had to replace parts. Looking closer at the reverse lamps also, they seem cockeyed and may have an unoriginal rubber gasket behind them (My resource martial isn’t nearly that good…)? I really wish we had a dash shot, because if the steering wheel was missing the SS center, that would really reinforce, to me, it’s a fake.
Thanks for all the feedback, Matt!
I could very well be looking for something that isn’t there in reality, but all these weird inconsistencies strike me more as someone trying to flip a quick buck on the unwitting during the 1990ish muscle car price spike. Pre-internet days made it a LOT harder to get info you would need to appropriately make or spot a fake, let alone get the parts to do it.
You are absolutely correct . cjiguy.
My brother had a L-78 396 1969 Camaro in the mid ’70s. Turbo 400, PS, and AC. It was quite the car. He picked it up dirt cheap, as after the ’73 oil embargo, nobody wanted muscle cars; most around here were simply parted out, engines ending up in 4X4 trucks. Saw more than one 425hp 427 under the hood of a F-250 4X4…
I don’t think he did…I recall the L78 was not available with A/C.
an original numbers matching car, totally unmolested would be worth big money at auction.
Condition counts but survivor cars are worth more to collectors
A big block was simply a waste of time and resources for the Camaro Gen I, which was at first supposed to be a second car for the wife (this was 1966!). I can remember tons of them with Stovebolts and Powerglide. My grade 12 history teacher had one just like that.
Of course as soon as the cars were released, they started being hopped up, something the Chevy II architecture really wasn’t designed to do. No, the vast majority of these cars came out as commuters. Personally, I would have waited until ’67, since anything first year GM in those days was horribly built. I would have chosen a mid tune 327, Turbohydramatic 350, power steering front disk brakes, and HD everything.
Again to stress Paul’s point, at least half of the ones I ever saw were Sixes.
I’ve seen this car (or at least very similar, but how many are out there!?) in Seattle. I was able to talk to the owner briefly too, stereotypical very elderly lady, she said it was her baby, but I can’t remember if she mentioned being the original owner. I wouldn’t be surprised.
Paul, as I remember, when the Camaro was introduced in the fall of 1966, the reaction to it was rather underwhelming; the 350 was the largest engine available and as you mention Ford blindsided Chevrolet by offering the 390 in the Mustang(this was the 60’s) and the single leaf rear springs borrowed from the Chevy II didn’t get any raves. In 1968 apparently the GM edict on horsepower apparently went out the window, with the 396 becoming available in the Camaro and multi-link rear leaf springs became standard.
If they hurry, I bet they could get a decent trade in on a corolla.
A good friend of mine has a 68 SS396 350 hp automatic. It’s a light blue with parchment interior. The car is immaculate and never restored or modified from stock. He is the original owner and it was bought new at Mander Chev Olds in North Vancouver, BC. They were a bit of a GM Peformance dealer at the time sponsoring race cars at drag races and road courses.
I had a 68 Z/28 in High School. Here’s a picture at a local drag strip at the IHRA Summer Nationals racing a 396 Camaro.
Paid $3,190 for it which was $50 over invoice in 1968. I did add Lakewood lift bars and re-jetted the carb and took the smog pump belt off. The motor was jetted so lean that doing that would knock off nearly a second in the quarter mile. It would pull hard to 7200 rpm based on the Sun tach I had in the car. I didn’t trust the factory tachs back then.
When I ordered the car I thought about getting a 396/375 one, but wanted the better balanced Z/28.