It’s quite possible the Z16 was the first Chevrolet product to be powered by the legendary big-block, beating its counterparts by a few weeks
The early success of other GM division big-block cars pushed Chevrolet to pump up the power in its 1965 Chevelle in a big way, stuffing the smallish mid-sized mainstay with the hairiest 396 available-the 375-horsepower Z16. With only 200 coupes and one convertible slated for the market, a small number of prototypes were built to ensure the final product would stand up to the engine’s massive power. This Regal Red 1965 Z16 is very special indeed, as it is the very first prototype built by Chevrolet Engineering to test the concept, and therefore the first SS 396 ever in that marque’s illustrious history.
Assigned to Chevrolet Engineering for the official purpose of “experimental check,” the car began life on the GM assembly line as a loaded SS 327, ordered at the behest of Z16 project manager D.H. McPherson. After delivery to GM Engineering, project personnel began converting the car to Z16 specifications, fabricating and fitting special components as testing progressed, with successful parts then going into regular production. Once it was completed and final testing finished, the car was driven for several months by McPherson; it is also thought that it spent time at both the Milford and Arizona GM Proving Grounds, and was a member of the contingent of Z16 Chevelles at the model’s official introduction in the spring of 1965.
It’s most unusual for a 1960s big-block muscle car to have remained for over 20 years in a state of almost complete originality, yet that was its condition when Z16 expert Doug Garrett began its restoration in 1989. The finished product reflects Garrett’s famous attention to the finest details, and the car remains in that same absolutely correct as-original condition to this day. Close inspection of this Z16 “genesis machine” reveals several fascinating parts and pieces bearing unique details, including special vendor tags and markings reading “Sample” and “Experimental.” All these features have been faithfully preserved by a series of high-profile collectors, and this incredibly important machine is as complete as it was on the day the Chevelle Z16 Prototype was pronounced ready for production.