The Chevelle was Chevy’s first muscle car, and a spectacular one at that. But it had many other faces as well, from the Nomad to the El Camino.

Totally Mid Muscle Car

1967 Chevrolet Chevelle SS - carsforsale.com

1967 Chevrolet Chevelle SS – carsforsale.com |  Shop Chevrolet Chevelle on Carsforsale.com

The Chevrolet Chevelle was a car of many guises. Though we best remember it as Chevy’s mid-size muscle car, the Chevelle was a mass market product intended to have a broad appeal. You could get your Chevelle as a sedan, hardtop, or convertible, plus, there were a pair of two- or four-door station wagons and the El Camino utility coupe, all in addition to the regular coupe. All this came courtesy of GM’s new A-body platform. Unlike the Pontiac GTO or Ford Mustang, the Chevelle was built from the ground up rather than based off an existing model. The Chevelle was Chevrolet’s new mid-size offering, slotting between the larger Impala and the slightly smaller Chevy II / Nova.

The story of the Chevelle is like that of most of its muscle car cohort, a brief but heady time at the top cut short, like the rest of its segment, by horsepower sapping fuel and emission regulations. As Chevy’s first muscle car, the Chevelle set the stage for the brand’s later entries like the Nova and Camaro. Despite its short run, the Chevelle left an impression on fans of flat-out speed, cementing its spot in the pantheon of great muscle cars.

First Generation: 1964-67

1964 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu SS Convertible - media.chevrolet.com
1964 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu SS Convertible - media.chevrolet.com

The Chevrolet Chevelle debuted in August of 1963 (as a 1964 model year). In addition to those sedans and wagons, there was the Chevelle Malibu SS (Super Sport), Chevy’s first swing at the emerging muscle car market, then being pioneered by intra-GM rival Pontiac with their new GTO. The Malibu SS offered as a sport coupe or convertible, had an optional tachometer, a four-gauge cluster, and vinyl bucket seats. Four engines were offered, a base 194 cu-in six-cylinder with 120 horsepower, a larger 230 cu-in six, a 283 cu-in small-block V8 with either 195 or 220 horsepower, or a 327 cu-in small-block V8 with 250, 300, or up to 350 horsepower. A larger 396 cu-in big-block V8 was introduced for 1965, offering up to 375 horsepower.

The Chevelle received some changes in its first generation. The Malibu SS badging was dropped after the 1965 model. The SS 396 became its own series for the 1966 model. That year the Chevelle received updates to its body design and again for the 1967 model year.

Second Generation: 1968-72

1971 Chevrolet Chevelle - netcarshow.com
1971 Chevrolet Chevelle - netcarshow.com

The second-generation of the Chevelle was the car at its pinnacle. Larger, more powerful engines (thanks to GM lifting its self-imposed ban on 400 cu-in-plus engines) and refined muscle car proportions (long hood, short deck) made the Chevelle into a statement making car, whether on the drag strip or at the stop light.

The Chevelle’s redesign for its second-generation gave it a more aggressive demeanor befitting a proper muscle car. Its lengthy list of body styles continued, along with the addition of the new Nomad two-door wagon. The SS 396 ceased to be its own series, instead becoming a package offering for any Chevelle.

1970 Chevelle SS Sport Coupe - media.chevrolet.com
1970 Chevelle SS Sport Coupe - media.chevrolet.com

Legendary among GM fans are the Don Yenko COPO muscle cars. Once upon a time, dealers ordered police cars, taxis, and other fleet vehicles through GM’s COPO (Central Office Production Order) system. Some enterprising dealers, like Don Yenko of Canonsburg, PA’s Yenko Chevrolet found they could order muscle cars with different engines and configurations through the COPO system. Yenko’s COPO ordered Novas, Camaros, and Chevelles have become part of muscle car lore, and the cars themselves, highly sought after collector’s items. Yenko ordered a total of 99 Chevelles through the COPO system, equipping them with 427 L72 V8s, good for 425 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque.

The 1970 Chevelle is often considered the best of the bunch. Revised styling, racing stripes on the SS, and an updated interior had the car looking great. But the real deal was the new LS6, a 454 cu-in V8 making 450 horsepower. The few SS RPO Z15s that were thus equipped were among the very best muscle cars produce that year, by GM or any manufacturer. Sadly, the party did not last long for the Chevelle. For the 1971 model year, the SS’s 402 and 454 V8s saw reduced horsepower per GM’s new requirement that engines run on low-lead or unleaded gasoline.

Third Generation: 1973-77

1973 Chevrolet Chevelle - carsforsale.com
1973 Chevrolet Chevelle - carsforsale.com

The third-generation Chevrolet Chevelle saw major revisions for the 1973 model year. The A-body platform itself was redesigned and the Chevelle’s once extensive list of body styles was cut down to just a coupe, sedan, and station wagon.

Although the Chevelle still offered lots of V8 engine options, horsepower continued to diminish as GM adjusted to new emissions and fuel economy regulations. Things started off with a 250 cu-in straight-six or 307 cu-in V8, both making a paltry 110 horsepower. The 350 was not much better as its two-barrel version made just 145 horsepower and the four-barrel version 175 horsepower. The once mighty 454 V8 was reduced to a mere 245 horsepower. Despite the drop in output, sales remained strong for the Chevelle.

1974 Chevrolet Chevelle - carsforsale.com

1974 Chevrolet Chevelle – carsforsale.com |  Shop Chevrolet Chevelle on Carsforsale.com

The Chevelle continued to see year-over-year updates to its styling from the 1974 model through its final 1977 model year. The SS had become a simple appearance package at this point as the Chevelle was quickly reverting to its Clark Kent alter-ego of a basic mid-size car. Just one among the many such middling offerings in a decade known for its middling cars. The long popular Malibu trim level was eventually chosen to succeed the Chevelle name as Chevy’s mid-size car starting with the 1978 model year.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2021 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

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