Courtesy of Russo and Steele
This is a very rare find with a very cool story. This car was parked in a storage lot in California in 1983 and was only recently removed from there. This Chevelle is a rare special high-performance RPO L78 396 car and one of only 2,144 built. The L78 option was discontinued after the first months of the 1970 model year.  

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396 L78
Years Produced:1970
Number Produced:2,144
Original List Price:$3,254
SCM Valuation:Median to date, $61,160
Tune Up Cost:$300
Chassis Number Location:Base of windshield, door tag
Engine Number Location:Pad on front of block, passenger’s side, ahead of cylinder head
Club Info:L78 Registry
Alternatives:1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440, 1970 Ford Torino Cobra 429, 1970 Buick GS 455 Stage 1
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot TH188, sold for $29,700, including buyer’s premium, at the Russo and Steele collector car auction, held in Scottsdale, AZ, from January 18 to 22, 2017. The car was sold without reserve.

It seems these days that every auction house has a few “barn find” type cars for sale. I use the term “barn find” to represent all sorts of stashed-away cars found in fields, warehouses, dilapidated garages, sheds, or even on the third floor of an old abandoned factory (true story — I bought it). We all hope to unearth a “holy grail” car that is the envy of all our car buddies.

Our subject car is one of those examples, and this one literally went viral when it was found, at least in car circles.

It all started when this old beast graced the cover of Car Craft magazine’s November 2016 issue. From there, and once it was consigned to the Russo and Steele sale, the car gathered more traction as Chevelle enthusiasts all chimed in on the Internet with all sorts of L78 stories and comments.

Dismantling a ’70 SS

In total, 53,599 Chevelle SS 396 and SS 454 models were built in 1970 — arguably the most sought-after year for the Chevelle SS. That number includes both hard tops and convertibles. Now, I know what you’re thinking — that’s a load of Chevelles. But let’s break it down.

In 1970, Chevelle SS buyers could opt for four engine choices: the 396/350-hp L34, the 396/375-hp L78, the 454/360-hp LS5, or the monster 454/450-hp LS6.

With so many choices, buyers who were sold on big-block horsepower usually opted for the massive LS5 454 (360 hp) or LS6 454 (450 hp) — this gave them cubic-inch bragging rights at the local dog-n-suds.

Other buyers who gravitated to the proven 396 usually checked the box for the 396/350-horse option. That left the 396/375-horse L78 in the time-out corner — a $210.65 option. Just imagine being a Chevrolet sales guy in 1970 — it was probably easier to upsell the customer on the 450-hp LS6 454 (a $263.30 option) and not even mention the 396/375 L78, which was being phased out by GM in 1970 and was only offered as an option for several months.

Incredibly rare

Although Chevrolet sold 2,144 L78 Chevelle SS models, very few seem to have survived the swift attrition rate of high-horsepower street muscle. These types of cars were thrashed about, beat literally to hell and Day-Two modified.

Cars were sold by their original owners and then rifled through by a dozen other guys before making their way to the scrap pile. Many simply became rusted-out hulks with holes in their once-solid steel floors — good thing we had heavy-duty floor mats.

These were little more than throwaway cars when new, so finding a very great example that is still wearing its solid original factory sheet metal is a restorer’s dream. Couple that with a bunch of the OEM stuff still hanging on the car and you’ve got a very nice opportunity to restore a car to near perfection.

California car, California body

Our subject car was built in the Van Nuys, CA, assembly plant. It was sold new at Merle Stone Chevrolet in Tulare, CA. The dealership is still in business today. The build sheet was found intact on the gas tank and had never been removed. This lines up perfectly with the story as told by the consignor to Russo and Steele. It is very likely that this 1970 Chevelle never left the exceptional California climate. As reported, the car was parked in 1983 and has been sitting dormant ever since.

By the GM factory build sheet, this Chevelle was built with the feisty L78 375-hp engine, Cowl Induction hood, bucket seats, center console, 4-speed transmission and straight-line 4.10 gears. It was finished out in Cortez Silver with a black interior — a very desirable example.

Russo and Steele did not report that the original drivetrain was intact, and I simply can’t imagine that the consignor would have left that out of the description — especially given the barn-find “untouched” presentation. But Russo and Steele did call it “correct.”

I perused more than 100 photos of the car, and Team ACC looked over the car in great detail at Scottsdale. I also had my body expert peruse the photos with me. His conclusion: This Chevelle has about as solid a body as you’ll ever find on a 47-year-old car.

You can still see the original SS skunk stripes under the surface rust. Much of the original paint seems to be showing in the jambs, and the trunk area looks like it needs no bodywork at all. The chassis and floors also appear to be in remarkable condition.

The interior also appears untouched and original. In one of the chassis photos, I spied an original suspension spring tag still on the coil. The original VIN sticker is still affixed to the driver’s door without paint blown all over it. All in all, it’s a rare car and an even rarer find.

What’s it worth?

I chatted via email with the owner of the L78 Registry, Dale McIntosh. He was aware of the car mainly because it was added to the Registry (which requires proof that the car is genuine).

Being immersed in the world of L78s, he suggested that a near perfectly restored 1970 Chevelle L78 could fetch $75,000 with good documentation. I would suggest a down-range value of $60,000 to $70,000 — again for an excellent “no stories” example with indisputable proof that the car is genuine.

Our database shows very little with regards to L78 Chevelles, but that’s due to rarity and the small number of cars that come to auction. I did find a fresh sale for a documented, non-numbers-matching example (that is in the L78 Registry) selling for $61,600, including the buyer’s premium, as Lot F90.1 at Mecum Kissimmee just a few months before this sale. It was green with an automatic, so not nearly as desirable as our subject car.

The buyer of our subject car paid $29,700. If you add in an assumed $1,500 for transport and another $1,500 for sales tax (if he was not a dealer) you bump up the all-in cash to nearly $33,000.

If the new owner plans to restore the car properly, he or she could easily add in another $50,000 to $100,000 for a professional, well-regarded shop to do a high-point restoration.

Even if the new owner decides to join the broken knuckles club and do most of the work personally, it would cost another $20,000–$30,000 (or more) for parts sourcing and other work best left to a professional. So depending on the owner, maybe the numbers pencil out or maybe they don’t.

For the love of the car

So was this Chevelle worth the price paid?

If you look at every car with profit in mind, you’ll pass on one like this because the math gets pretty fuzzy. But for some (and perhaps the new owner), this car simply pressed all the right buttons at the right moment in time. It’s hard to argue with the opportunity cost here. After all, try to find another like it.

Well bought or well sold? I’d consider it both.

(Introductory description courtesy of Russo and Steele.)

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