For a short time, the Chevrolet Chevelle LS6 represented the pinnacle of General Motors performance and stood alone as the only vehicle in history to take GM’s top horsepower rating over the Corvette. With a factory-advertised 450 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 500 ft-lbs of torque at 3600 rpm, it was also the highest-output Chevelle ever offered.
Known as the “Pilot Car,” this particular 1970 Chevelle 454-ci Turbo-Jet LS6 is the earliest known and documented of 4,475 RPO LS6 models produced. A GM executive ordered the LS6 coupe as his zone demonstrator in October 1969 and was told by Baltimore plant manager Earl Prentice that he was to receive the first one built there. The Chevelle LS6 was completed on December 9, 1969, with the words “Pilot job” and “If it had wings it would fly” handwritten on the build sheet.
Documentation for this car includes two build sheets, Protect-O-Plate information and the entire owner history. It is highly optioned and features a complete “born in” driveline. In 2010, it received a concours-level restoration to its correct assembly-line condition by MuscleCar Restoration and Design, one of the top Chevelle LS6-focused restoration shops in the United States. It was subsequently featured on the cover of the March 2011 issue of Muscle Car Review magazine. Since restoration, the LS6 has been driven only one mile.
|Vehicle:||1970 Chevelle SS 454 LS6|
|Original List Price:||$3,486|
|Tune Up Cost:||$500|
|Chassis Number Location:||VIN plate at base of windshield|
|Engine Number Location:||Right-front cylinderhead deck|
|Club Info:||American Chevelle Enthusiasts Society, 900 Conference Drive, Goodlettsville, TN 37072|
|Alternatives:||1969–1971 Pontiac GTO Judge convertible, 1970 Plymouth Hemi ’Cuda, 1969-1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429|
This car sold for $181,500 at Russo and Steele’s 11th Annual Sports & Muscle auction at the Marriott hotel in Monterey, CA, on August 21, 2011.
Although Corvette prices have often led the muscle-car segment, during the 1960s and 1970s it was actually mid-size cars that defined street performance. The roster of competitors was lengthy, including cars such as the Chevelle, GTO and 442 from GM, the Mustang and Cougar from FoMoCo, and plenty of Challengers, Road Runners and ’Cudas from Mopar. More affordable and versatile than the two-passenger Corvette, these four- to six-seaters often featured horsepower numbers approaching (and occasionally surpassing) Corvette territory, and properly painted, striped and accessorized, they gave up precisely nothing in the testosterone department.
Mid-size performance cars were inarguably more important to more people than Corvettes ever were, so it’s little wonder why today, cars like this particular Chevelle LS6 attract such strong bidding.
Unlike the Corvette, Mustang, Cougar or Barracuda, to my knowledge the Chevelle never went road racing, never fought for a class win at Le Mans, Riverside or the SCCA Runoffs. Instead, its appeal was more the street-and-strip variety, where a big-inch motor and meaty rear tires backed up the owner’s hardihood a quarter mile at a time. While on a road-racing circuit, a well-prepared little 4-cylinder Porsche 356 stood a fair chance against a B-Production Corvette, on the street there was no denying that muscle cars ruled. Lithe though they might be, no import could lord over a decently sorted anything with V8 power.
When Big Blocks ruled the road
This was especially true when it came to big-blocks like the Chevelle SS 454 LS6 presented here. Just as in wrestling or continental plate tectonics, size matters, and the pecking order on the street was fairly defined by engine size — together with whatever other virtues, most particularly styling, a particular brand offered. Handling was rarely mentioned, nor were disc brakes. It was all about power and attaching it to the ground.
Chevrolet’s introduction of the 396-ci big-block for 1965 kicked the horsepower wars into another gear entirely, and soon everything from the Corvette to the Chevelle, Mustang and Barracuda had one. Checking the big-block line on the order form usually added several hundred dollars to a car’s purchase price. For a gas jock pulling down $1.50 an hour in 1970, that meant at least a couple hundred extra hours pumping Ethyl. Then, as now, possessing a big-block took financial motivation.
In reality, buying the 454-inch LS6 engine in the Chevelle in 1970 was even a bigger deal. On top of the Chevelle’s base price of $2,719, the LS6 engine cost $263.30 (a premium of 9.6%), but it was only available if RPO Z15, the SS 454 package, was also ordered for $503.45. That totaled nearly $800 worth of options, a massive 28% spike over the base Chevelle. Fortunately, the SS 454 package strongly distinguished the LS6 from the masses of six-cylinder Chevelle coupes sold.
First and last usually are best
Absent any compelling provenance, having the first or last of a particular car is always preferable to one in the middle of a production run. And that is the hat rack upon which Russo and Steele chose to hang this particular Chevelle LS6 at auction. It is a viable and important position to take when you want all the money for something. And who doesn’t?
In this case, the car’s documentation included its executive order history, twin build sheets, the original sale documentation and ownership history. All of this valuable paper well supports the auctioneers’ claim that this is the first Chevelle LS6. There can only ever be one first, and this was it. (Things are different today, as pilot-build cars may be destroyed so they can never enter general use on public roads, where legal peril surely awaits in the event of any accident. So what used to be “first built” has now become “first sold.”)
Aside from being the first built, this Chevelle had several other important virtues.
One was its high 450-hp rating in a year when the Corvette 454-ci LS5 was rated at 390 hp.
Another was its modest production run of just 4,475 units.
Third was the seller’s decision to conduct a concours-quality restoration by recognized experts to as-built specifications — and then resisting the urge to drive it. In this way, the Chevelle could be truly offered as “as new.” And finally, there was the allure of the LS6 engine — a solid-lifter powerhouse intended to be the final word in Chevelle street credibility. While history often reveals such claims as being hollow, as the 1970s rolled on and emissions regs tightened, it became obvious that cars like this Chevelle, the Hemi ’Cudas and Corvette Tri-Power L71s really were the last of the breed of unregulated monsters.
All these reasons added up to $181,500 across the block — and a great car for the buyer.
(Introductory description courtesy of Russo and Steele.