Although the Chevrolet only made the Chevelle for 13 years, it forever changed the world of vintage muscle cars. With its stately appearance, aggressive stance, and gobs of power, this muscle car quickly became a fan favourite, leaving a lasting legacy in its wake. Although it might seem unbelievable that the Chevrolet Chevelle accomplished all that in just three generations, a quick look at its saga reveals how it all came to be.
First Generation Sets the Stage for Greatness
Although the legend appeared on the scene in 1964, no one really knew how much of an impact the Chevelle would make through the years. Also known as the Malibu, it was simply supposed to shake up Ford’s world after the Chevy II and Corvair failed to compete with the Falcon.
Designed to go up against the Ford Fairlane, the Chevrolet Chevelle arrived as a fairly basic mid-sized, hardtop coupe. Due to its ability to fill the gap between full-size and compact cars, it sold fairly well, too, with more than 338,000 hitting the road in its first year.
Spurred on by that initial success, Chevy went all out in offering different body styles, including convertibles, sedans, and station wagons. The Chevelle even spurred the creation of the El Camino, which was just the wagon with a truck bed. Then, they restyled it in 1966 to create smoother lines, creating a svelte appearance that easily won everyone over.
All throughout the changes, power was never an afterthought. As is tradition, SS badged vehicles got powerful V8s, starting with the 327. Soon after that, they rolled out the SS 396, leading to the creation of just 200 Z-16 SS 396 models with the Muncie four-speed, convertible top, and fully loaded with options.
A Major Upgrade in 1968 Creates the Iconic Build
Despite the attractive style change in 1966, the next generation Chevrolet Chevelle appeared with beastly body lines all its own. A long hood, short deck profile became the name of the game, setting the stage for plenty of power in its huge engine bay. They didn’t lose any time either, adding the 427 to the lineup in 1969. But that wasn’t the end of it.
In 1970, the picture of perfection all came together once and for all. They revised the exterior just a tiny bit, and then made their winning move: Adding the 454 as an engine option. With that addition, the 1970 SS 454 landed at the top of the list for the most popular classic cars of all time. With the RPO Z15 version, buyers got a stunning 450 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque in a truly stylish package, complete with racing stripes.
Riding the high of their success, Chevy revised the exterior design for 1971, changing the iconic double beam highlights to single units. They kept picking at the design through 1972, which marked the end of the second generation.
The Third Generation Marks the Beginning of the End
In order to better comply with the new rollover safety standards, the Chevrolet Chevelle got yet another change in 1973. Most notably in the change were its fixed B pillars, which created a fastback roofline of sorts. The convertible and four doors disappeared from the lineup as well, leaving the coupe and wagon to hold down the fort.
Although there was a bit of contention at the time, buyers got on board rather quickly, resulting in good sales through the end of the third generation in 1977. Despite their ability to win everyone over, Chevy continued to complete annual facelifts, changing the design bit by bit.
The general public were not the only ones to recognize the Chevelle’s worth despite the changes. NASCAR hopped onboard, too, resulting in two Grand National championships for driver, Cale Yarborough.
For the 1978 model year, Chevy dropped the Chevelle moniker in favour of calling the car the Malibu, resulting in many more years of excellent car sales. The end of an era had arrived, however, leaving collector car enthusiasts scrambling for a piece of history before they all got snatched up or, worse yet, landed in junkyards.
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