Courtesy of Russo and Steele

This 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396 convertible is a nicely restored example with a 4-speed transmission, power steering and power brakes. Trim tag with series 13867 indicates it is a true factory SS 396.

Clad in Regal Red (paint code R2) over black interior, it is a classic combination that never fails to turn heads. Paint quality is excellent; the car is also nicely detailed underneath and in the engine compartment. Interior appointments include bucket seats and center console.

Under the hood is a date-code-correct 325-hp V8 with an Edelbrock intake and Holley carburetor.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1966 Chevrolet CHevelle SS 396 convertible
Years Produced:1966
Number Produced:72,277 (5,429 convertibles)
Original List Price:$2,811
SCM Valuation:$45,000–$65,000
Tune Up Cost:$200
Distributor Caps:$10.99
Chassis Number Location:Driver’s side A-pillar
Engine Number Location:Machined pad below passenger’s front cylinder head
Club Info:Team Chevelle forums
Alternatives:1966 Pontiac GTO, 1966 Ford Fairlane GT 390, 1966 Plymouth Satellite 383
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 4008, sold for $50,050, including buyer’s premium, at Russo and Steele’s Monterey Auction in Monterey, CA, on August 13–15 2015.

Chevrolet unleashed the Super Sport option on the Chevelle in 1964 — the first year of the car’s production. The next year, the 375-hp 396 big block entered the picture, showcased in a special Z16 Chevelle package — a very limited supercar. GM only made 201 Z16 Chevelles, and at $4,586, they were expensive. But all the good stuff was included in the package, including big brakes, a 4-speed, and that monster 396 engine.

From Z16 to SS 396

The buzz generated by the Z16 in 1965 drove GM to mass produce the SS 396 in 1966. It was a more basic muscle car, with the 325-hp 396 as standard equipment. But you could order the goodies you wanted instead of taking whatever was given, unlike the prescribed Z16. Most buyers were just happy to be able to get one of these hot shoes. For about $2,800, they could.

As for that 396, it was available in flavors ranging from mild to wild, from the L35 325-hp standard mill to the available 360-hp L34. On the top end, buyers could spec out the ultra-hot 375-hp L78.

Sales were hot and heavy, with 66,843 coupes and 5,429 convertibles made for 1966. Most of them were base 325-hp cars, while 24,811 got the 360-hp L34 engine. Just 3,099 of those cars were L78 powered — the top engine wasn’t promoted by Chevrolet and didn’t appear in the brochure. It was essentially a customer-ordered mill for those in the know.

The 1966 model had a few flaws. Power disc brakes weren’t available yet, so power drum brakes with metallic sintered linings was as good as it got for stopping power. There was no automatic transmission available for the hot SS engine — it was either a heavy-duty 3-speed manual or the 4-speed Muncie. It goes without saying that anyone driving one of these brutes got a free workout along the way.

The 1967 Chevelle had basically the same body with new grille and taillamp treatments. But underneath, it was a slightly better car with a dual-circuit master cylinder, available power disc brakes, hazard flasher, TH400 transmission option for the higher-spec engine, and a collapsible steering column. Still, production of 1967 SS 396 Chevelles was down due to increased demand for those engines in the new Camaro.

On the street, the Mercury Cyclone GT 390 4-speed and Fairlane GTA were good rivals. Plymouth’s Satellite 383 Commando was a second slower on average, while the GTO, 442 W-30, and Hemi-powered Mopars were faster. But for many buyers, the Chevelle SS delivered the most bang for the buck.

On the upswing

Prices for the 1966–67 generation Chevelle SS have been on the rise. The doldrums are definitely over for these cars. Considering how rare an SS convertible is, finding one for sale is an event.

In 2007, the average price for a nice-condition SS 396 hard top was in the mid-$30k range, while a great numbers-matching car crested at $50k. A convertible added $8k to $12k more to the price for the usual 325-hp job.

As the market bottomed out, prices for average SS cars fell to mid-$20ks for street drivers and low $30ks for nice show cars. By 2013, the market was recovering, with nice hard tops regularly selling for high $30ks to low $40ks, and convertibles bringing $50k or more. Real concours examples went even higher. The average of all 1966 SS 396 sales in 2015, according to the ACC Premium Auction Database, is just over $60k.

Our profile car is an archetype of the mid-’60s muscle car era. In fact, in the 1966 Chevelle brochure, you see an almost identical car on page three. The only difference is that car has a red interior paired with Regal Red paint. In 1967, Chevrolet decided to showcase a convertible in the same color from behind. These “brochure” cars tend to do very well at auctions, stirring up the desire among buyers wanting to live the dream.

Which engine?

Speaking of dreams, what can be said about the discrepancy between the catalog title description mentioning a 375-hp 396 and the text, which states a 325-hp date-correct 396 being installed? Let’s put it this way: For the price paid, it doesn’t matter if it was a typo, a factory L78 car that grenaded its engine across a freeway, or an L35 done up as an L78. The price paid here in Monterey was commensurate with a rock-solid hard-top SS 396 in today’s market, so the buyer got the convertible option for free. While it wasn’t a steal, I’d say the car was well bought.

(Introductory description courtesy of Russo and Steele.

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