Curbside Classic: 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396 – Watchdog


1969 Chevrolet Chevelle SS396 in Flint, Michigan.

I grew up having an irrational fear of dogs.  I love them now, but for much of my early childhood, I had avoided coming into contact with canines of any size at any and every opportunity.  Of course, there’s always a reason for these things, and my theory is that some unpleasant event(s) must have happened.  My family hasn’t been a useful resource for my recovery of any such memories.  All’s well that ends well, though, and I learned later in life how much love dogs are capable of, even if I’ve never owned one.  It’s kind of like the contrast between the extra care and attention a dog needs being in proportion to how much they can give back to you, versus with cats, which can be largely autonomous… and dodgy.

1969 Chevrolet Chevelle SS396 in Flint, Michigan.

I do also love cats, though.  I grew up with a series of felines as family pets, even while my family lived abroad in Liberia, but today, all three of my siblings and their families own at least one dog.  Many of my friends in Michigan also own dogs.  When I’m visiting them in Flint, it’s almost sort of a comfort to instantaneously hear an alerting series of sharp barks or yelps when there’s a noise outside in the driveway or on the front landing.  I imagine that for many people, and not just in working class, urban areas, dogs can act as a local burglar alarm.  The size or breed doesn’t even matter, as long as they’re not shy.

This home theft deterrent system may not be quite as effective when one isn’t home, and having a dog may not qualify one for a premium credit on one’s homeowners insurance policy, but this is the only such “alarm” system many people can afford.  Plus, one can’t play “fetch” with something made from Honeywell or ADT.

1969 Chevrolet Chevelle SS396 in Flint, Michigan.

I had some spending money burning a hole in my pocket when I spotted this classic Chevelle outside a secondhand music store five summers ago.  It’s not that big a shock to me anymore to come across cars like this one outside of a car show setting when I’m back in Flint.  My first thought when I saw this black Chevelle parked by the side of Musical Memories on Dort Highway was that it looked like an automotive pit bull.  Like a big, black dog on a chain just waiting for you to try to trespass so it could mess you up.

Still, it was a beautiful example of my favorite year of Chevelle, with its windows open and everything, so of course I stopped.  I’ve written before about how several proofs for my high school senior pictures were taken next to some random, beautiful ’69 Chevelle I had spotted on the way to the locale to which my mom and I were headed with our photographer.  I am also always on the lookout for new musical discoveries, so that was going to be my official line should I have been addressed while walking around this car.  Take pictures now and buy music later!  I will also say that this Chevelle was an effective advertisement, magnet, and beacon for this store.

1969 Chevrolet Chevelle SS396 in Flint, Michigan.

I value subtlety as a naturally introverted “practiced extrovert”, so the ’69 Chevelle’s clean, mean visual bravado has always spoken to me.  This car possesses all the toughness in its appearance that I do not, seeming almost as “animal” as I sometimes feel mechanical.  Even more impressive is the all-business understatement with which this Chevelle got its point across.  On the outside, all this example has and needs is black paint, Chevy Rally Wheels, “SS 396” badges, fat tires, and… well, that’s it.  It has no spoilers front or aft, wild stripes, nutty graphics, or anything else.  Quoting that famous adage from President Theodore Roosevelt, and strictly from a visual perspective, this Chevelle speaks softly and carries a big stick.

1969 Chevrolet Chevelle SS396 brochure photo is courtesy of

I wouldn’t exactly say that it actually speaks softly, though, from the rumbling exhaust note from many examples I’ve encountered.  The 396 cubic inches of V8 under the hood originally pumped out anywhere from 325 horsepower with the standard engine, to 375 horses from the optional L78.  According to the Auto Editors Of Consumer Guide, an L78-equipped car was capable of 0-60 mph times of 6.5 seconds, and a standing quarter mile in 14.5 seconds as just over 100 mph.  The SS 396 was popular in ’69, selling over 86,300 units that year, which accounted for a very sizable 17% of total Chevelle production of 523,000 cars.

Jellybean's. Flint, Michigan. Thursday, August 19, 2010.

Jellybean’s Used Books, Music & Video.  East Flint, Michigan.  Thursday, August 19, 2010.

I didn’t end up buying anything from Musical Memories that day, though I did spend a decent amount of time looking through their excellent selection of media.  I ended up not pulling the trigger simply because I couldn’t make up my mind right then and thought I might come back later during this trip which, unfortunately, did not happen.

Back when I lived not too far from this same intersection, I was loyal to a different secondhand media store located less than half a mile south of Musical Memories on Dort Highway, Jellybean’s.  I still own most of the cassettes I purchased as a teenager at that long-closed store, and I still smile broadly when I remember the general experience of the point of each purchase and the way each new-to-me musical discovery had made me feel.  The cashier’s initials and date of sale are still written in shiny, dark, decades-old ink on the inside of each cassette sleeve.

I don’t remember ever feeling uncomfortable at Jellybean’s or like I was being stared at, as I would often spend probably twenty minutes at a time perusing those racks of cassettes for that one musical treasure to purchase and take home with me.  I also realize, though, that it’s entirely possible that I was being watched or monitored on closed circuit camera.  Businesses exist to make money, and if I had been a store owner back then in a blue collar town like Flint at a time when factories were closing and money was tight, I wouldn’t have wanted teenagers making sport of lifting my goods, even at only three dollars a pop.  Still, I was always made to feel that I and my business were welcome there.  This was a non-thing that, looking back, probably also meant everything.  No watchdog was needed.

East Flint, Michigan.
Friday, August 14, 2015.
Brochure photo courtesy of