One of the most popular mid-size muscle cars of the sixties and seventies, the Chevrolet Chevelle sold in vast numbers in period thanks to aggressive styling and strong performance.
Another key to its success was the vast range of choice the Chevelle offered buyers. The first two of the three generations produced were sold in eight body styles (ranging from convertibles to station wagons), up to nine different engines, and a bewildering number of trim levels. The Chevelle resulted in several successful spin-offs from the versatile General Motors A-Body platform, including the El Camino two door ‘coupe utility’ and the Monte Carlo.
Today, the most powerful small-and-big block V8-powered version are highly desirable classics, though their popularity has ensured that many survive, keeping values at fairly sensible levels.
Which one to buy?
During the Chevelle’s 13-year production run it was subjected to two major revisions, along with minor cosmetic and mechanical upgrades on a near-annual basis. The debut model offered a wide selection of engines, including inline sixes ranging from 3.2 to 4.1-litres in capacity, and V8 lumps displacing between 4.6 and 6.5-litres.
From launch, the performance option came in the form of the Malibu SS. These models can be spotted from the outside courtesy of unique exterior badging and decals, and 14-inch disc wheel covers. The cabin gained vinyl bucket seats and a four-gauge cluster. The SS was originally offered with 4.6-litre V8 producing 220bhp, but in order to compete with rivals both from Ford, and from other brands within the General Motors group, more powerful engines followed.
From 1965 the Malibu name was dropped from the SS, and continued as a high-spec trim level instead. Relative to lesser models, the Malibu had fancier cloth and vinyl interior upholstery (or all vinyl in the case of convertibles) plus plusher carpets.
One year later, the Chevelle gained an hefty styling revamp, which consisted of a rounder, more forward-slanting front featuring a new bumper and grille, shallower C Pillars, curvier rear arches and redesigned tail lights. From this point onwards, luxurious features like power seats became optional. Perhaps a more peculiar add-on was the tissue dispenser, which attached underneath the dash on the passenger side. Changes in 1967 were smaller; the most notable differences coming in the form of improved safety equipment like a collapsible steering column.
The all-new second-generation model appeared in 1968. In a departure from earlier cars, the cabin was placed further towards the rear of the car, emphasising the long bonnet. Coupes and convertibles used a wheelbase 100mm shorter than the sedan and estate variants. ‘69 modes can be singled out thanks to the single bar front grille, deeper bumper and larger taillights. The dash switched to round instrument dials across the range, in place of the former linear speedometer.
By 1970, the SS had lifted the power stakes further – a 7.4-litre LS6 V8 produced what was considered to be a conservative 450bhp. These, and other ‘70 cars, can be recognised thanks to a more prominent grille, broader shoulders and squarer shape.
The most notable difference to ‘71 models comes at the front, where single headlights sit in place of previous twin units. At the back, twin round tail lights were integrated into chrome rear bumper. Save for a revised grille, ’72 examples look largely similar.
The third generation model tends to be seen as the least desirable of the three among collectors. Released in 1973, the styling became a little more ungainly due to the introduction of 5mph impact bumpers, headlights that awkwardly sat above a reshaped front grille and a more boxy overall shape. Two door hardtop and convertible models were dropped from range, leaving only the four-door sedan, station wagon and coupe.
However, these later models were much more engaging to drive, with an all-new chassis, stronger frame, tougher body mounts and improved suspension travel among the many changes. A new trim level, dubbed Laguna, sat at the top of the range, gaining a slightly more appealing look thanks to impact bumpers hidden behind a shapely urethane front end. Minor styling and trim tweaks occurred year-on year until the Chevelle was phased out in 1978.
Performance and spec
Figures shown for ‘68 Hardtop
Engine 6478cc V8
Power 375bhp @ 5600rpm
Torque 415lb ft @ 3800rpm
Top speed 120mph
Fuel consumption approx 14mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
● There are several places where rust can take hold of the Chevelle. One of the more unexpected regions for rot is on the dash – due to the degradation of poor quality window sealant (particularly on first-gen cars), water can leak into the cabin from the base of the windscreen
● Other notable areas to look out for include the lower front fenders, the interior floors around the pedals (give a firm shove with your foot within the footwell – if it deflects then it may have weakened from rust), and the boot floor and sides
● Mechanical maladies are usually easier and cheaper to fix than corrosion, so it’s worth holding out for non-rusty models, or at least negotiating a bigger discount for those which are
● While it isn’t unusual for cars to no longer display matching serial numbers, some sellers try to pass off their regular Chevelles as the more desirable SS models. If possible, take the time to look at vin numbers and each individual car’s history
1964: Chevrolet Chevelle makes its debut. Initially available as a four-door sedan, two-door hard top, two and four-door station wagon, and convertible. SS model features a 327cu. in V8 producing 300bhp
1965: SS models gain an increase in power, now 350bhp. Two-door station wagon production ends
1966: SS 396 even more potent, with stiffer springs and dampers, thicker anti roll bar, hood scoops and as much as 375bhp. A four-door hardtop, known as the Sport Sedan, ran from ‘66 until 1972
1967: Three-speed automatic gearbox offered. additional safety equipment included as standard
1968: Second generation model introduced, featuring all-new styling. Two door ‘coupe utility’, the El Camino, released
1969: Minor styling changes include a new front grille and redesigned instrument cluster
1970: Styling changes include a squarer body. 450bhp LS6 V8 available only for 1970 model year
1971: Subtle styling tweaks include an updated grille
1972: Minimal styling changes, most notable of which is a revised grille
1973: Third generation model released. Introduces all-new styling, chassis and suspension geometry. Convertible dropped from lineup, ‘Laguna’ introduced as top trim level
1977: Station wagon and Laguna trim levels dropped from range
1978: Chevelle production ends, replaced by Malibu
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.chevelles.com – US-based members’ club which includes online forum and classifieds section
• www.carsamerican.com – specialist parts and serviceing for American clasics. Based in East Sussex
• www.chevellestuff.net – US-based parts suppplier
Summary and prices
Due to the sheer number that still survive, Chevelle values, though rising, are fairly attainable. Though prices for the best Stateside examples are slightly lower than in the UK, it is still possible to find an immaculate ‘69 SS 396 – one of the most desirable age/engine combinations – for under £40,000.
The majority of first and second generation models, big block-powered and in good overall condition, are priced between £25-£35,000. Less meaty versions (coupe or convertible) can be found both in the UK and mainland Europe for less than £20,000.
Words: Alex Ingram