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Chevelle SS Identification

How to spot a genuine SS Chevelle / El Camino

By: Daniel Carr

This Guide is for owners and potential owners of 1968 and newer.


In 1968, the SS was a separate model (the "SS-396"). Therefor, it can be identified by the VIN number. For example, a 1968 El Camino with a VIN number starting with "13880" would be a genuine SS-396 model, while a '68 El Camino with the VIN "13680" would be a non-SS "Malibu" version of the El Camino. All genuine Super Sports from 1966-1968 have an "8" as the third digit of the VIN.

1968 was also the first year you could get an El Camino SS, and it is the only year for a separate El Camino SS model.

Genuine '68 SS-396 Chevelles had chrome trim pieces on the lower body sides both in front of, and BEHIND the rear wheels. The non-SS versions had the same trim in front of the rear wheels, but not behind them. None of the '68 Chevelle or El Camino models came with wheel well trim.

Genuine '68 SS-396s could come with standard Chevy rally wheels, or even with plain "dog-dish" hub caps. In '68, disk brakes and tachs/gauges were NOT standard equipment on the SS - you would have to pay extra for those. In fact, the MAJORITY of '68 SS-396s have all drum brakes. In '68, the disk brake option utilized 4-piston front brake calipers. Parts for these brakes can be difficult to locate today. The "F41" suspension option (rear anti-sway bar) was not available at all in '68.

The only available engine in the '68 SS was the 396. It came as either the 325 HP "L35", the 350 HP "L34", or the 375 HP "L78". At least one '68 SS-396 Chevelle with the "L89" aluminum head option has been reported.

The '68 SS models had "SS/396" emblems on the front and back, on the door panels, above the glove box, and on the steering wheel. On early '68 SSs, the front side marker light bezels had a foil insert that said "SS/396". On later '68 SS production, The bezels simply said "396". The steering wheel emblem also said "SS/396" on early production, and simply "SS" on later production vehicles. The '68-'69 SS hoods had twin bulges, while the non-SS hoods were "flat". The two raised bulges each had a chrome grill on the top, near the rear edge of the hood.

The '68 SS stripe option was either a black, white, or red stripe which ran across the front header panel above the grill, angled downwards towards the bottom of the front fenders, and then along the lower body sides to the back.

In '68, there were some special Chevrolet dealers such as "Baldwin Motion" and "Yenko" who sold Chevelles with hopped-up 396 or even 427 motors. The 427 motors were installed at the DEALERSHIP, not the factory. These cars would usually have other dealer installed items such as emblems, hoods, stripes, etc. These cars are quite valuable today, but only if they have documentation proving their authenticity.

In Canada, GM sold a very unusual vehicle that was basically a Chevelle, but it was called a "Beaumont". It had the same chassis, engine, and sheet metal as the SS-396 Chevelle, but with a Pontiac derived front grill and dashboard. It was called the "SD-396", and even had "SD-396" decals on the lower front fenders.




From 1969 on, the SS was no longer a separate model. Instead, it was now a "Malibu SS" - that is, a Malibu with an "SS" package option. For 1969 only, the SS package could also be ordered on the base model Chevelle 300 (as a 2-door coupe or a 2-door post sedan). The only SS option in '69 was the "Z15" SS-396 package. The '69 and up cars are harder to authenticate because the VIN can not be used to confirm if the car is an SS.

There were two colors that were exclusive to the '69 SS. "Monaco Orange" (code 72) and "Daytona Yellow" (code 76). If either of these paint codes appear on the cowl tag (and the cowl tag is genuine) then that would prove the car to be a genuine SS.

If someone had a nice '69 Malibu, and a rusted out '69 SS, it would be easy for them to simply move the SS equipment over to the Malibu. As long as they did not alter or move the VIN plates or cowl tags, this would be perfectly legal, and since the VIN tag doesn't tell you much, there would be almost no way for you to know.

From '69 on, single-piston disk brakes were STANDARD equipment with the SS package. These brakes are easier to find parts for than the earlier four-piston disk brakes.

Chevrolet literature indicates that the only way to get a 396 was with the SS package. However, there appears to be at least one late-production Chevelle that was built with a 396 and all the required SS equipment, but the "Z25" SS-396 option was not listed on the car's build sheet. It is believed that this car came from the factory with "SS" emblems, but that is not 100% certain.

Again in 1969, the only available SS engine was the 396 (in the same flavors as in 1968). In 1969, however, it was possible (if you knew who to talk to) to order something called a COPO 427 Chevelle. COPO stands for "Central Office Production Order". The COPO program allowed dealers to order equipment that was not usually available (such as special paint, special engines, etc.) Unlike the '68s, the '69 Chevelles had their 427 engines installed at the FACTORY, not the dealership. This makes the '69 427s more legitimate in the eyes of collectors today. You didn't necessarily have to go to Yenko or some other special dealer in '69 to get a 427 Chevelle. Your local dealer could usually get you one if you filled out the right paperwork. While the '69 COPO 427s had basically the same equipment as the SS-396s, they were not generally considered SSs because they did not have any external "SS" or "427" identification. They were the ultimate sleepers. Any genuine '69 COPO 427 Chevelle is quite valuable today. There are also unconfirmed reports of a '69 COPO 427 El Camino.

In addition, there was an "L89" aluminum head option available for the '69 375 HP 396. Few were ordered.

1969 SSs had "SS/396" emblems on the front, back, fenders, and door panels. The '69 SS also had the twin-bulge hood like the '68s, but the bolt holes where the hood hinges attached were slightly different. The '69 SS came with 14" SS wheels with "SS" center caps. The '69 SS stripe option consisted of a black, white, or red stripe which ran along the upper body sides. There are also rumors of a few '69 SSs with dealer-painted hood stripes, similar to the stripes used on many '70-'72 SSs.

Another rare car, produced only in '69, was an SS Chevelle built on the 2-door post sedan, the "Chevelle 300". This was the only year that a 2-door post sedan SS was produced. Most of the '69 SSs, and all the '70-'72 SSs, were built upon the 2-door Malibu pillarless coupe.




In 1970, there were two different SS packages available. One was the "Z25" SS-396 and the other was the "Z15" SS-454. There were only two engine choices for the SS-396: the 350 and 375 horsepower versions. It was a confusing year for 396 buyers. The 396 engines now actually displaced 402 cubic inches, but were still called a "396" when installed in an SS. There was also a new 330 horsepower "LS3" big-block "400" engine option available for the non-SS Malibu and El Camino Custom. To confuse things even further, there was a 400 cubic inch 2-bbl small-block available (only in the '70 Monte Carlo).

The Malibu "400" big-block was also actually a 402, and was basically an overbored version of the 325 horsepower 396 motor that had been available on the '68 and '69 SSs. The "Malibu 400" package, produced from '70-'72 on the Chevelle and El Camino is fairly scarce today. The reason is that many of these big-block vehicles have been converted to SS clones. In stock form, the Malibu 400 and El Camino 400 carried "400" emblems on the fenders.

A very limited number of SS Chevelles with the 375 HP 396 and the "L89" aluminum heads were produced in '70.

There were two engines available for the '70 SS-454 : the 360 horsepower "LS5" and the 450 horsepower "LS6". The '70 LS5 Chevelle is actually rarer than the '70 LS6 Chevelle. The LS6 was only available in the '70 Chevelle, the '70 El Camino, and the '71 Corvette. It was never available to the public in *any* other cars. The '70 LS5 motor used in the Corvette was identical to the Chevelle LS5, but for marketing reasons the Corvette rating was 390 horsepower. There was purported to be one known LS6 Chevelle with the L89 aluminum head option, but it is now generally believed that this car (and its documentation) is fake. Chevrolet also had an experimental LS7 engine that was supposed to be available in the '70 Corvette, but never materialized. However, the LS7 heads were available over the counter at GM dealers in '71 and '72. No factory built LS7 cars were ever sold to the public.

The '70 & up SS now had a completely different dash than the non-SS models. The '70 SS would have either "SS/396" or "SS/454" emblems on the fenders (and on the tailgate of the El Camino). The Chevelle SS had a white "SS" logo in the black rubber pad on the rear bumper. Both the Chevelle SS and El Camino SS had a large "SS" grill emblem (without any engine size).

The SS models also had a hood with a large bulge in the rear center. Hood stripes were an extra cost option with this hood. There was also a "Cowl Induction" option available. It had "Cowl Induction" emblems on either side of the bulge and a door on the top of the bulge that would open automatically when the engine needed extra air. The Cowl Induction option was NOT standard on any SS - it was always an extra cost item. The Cowl Induction option came with hood stripes. You could, however, delete the Cowl Induction stripes at no cost.

The '70 SS came with the same wheels used on the '69s.




For 1971, there were two SS packages. One was the SS-454, and the other was simply the "SS" (available with either the 402, 350-4, or 350-2 engine). The unusual "Malibu 400" package was also available on the non-SS Chevelle and El Camino. It utilized the LS3 402 motor.

New for '71 was a "Heavy Chevy" package which featured special decals and some SS equipment. While the SS was based upon the Malibu, the Heavy Chevy was based upon the base Chevelle model, which had less trim. The Heavy Chevy could be ordered with any V8 engine except a 454. Like the Malibu 400 cars, many Heavy Chevys have been converted to SS clones.

The compression ratio on all GM engines was lowered to 8.5:1. 188 Corvettes were built with the 425 horsepower LS6 motor in '71. There have been rumors that a few LS6 Chevelles were built in '71, but these have all been proven to be false. The LS5 454 motor in the '71 Chevelle and El Camino was now rated 5 horsepower HIGHER than it was a year earlier, even though the compression ratio was lowered. This was accomplished partly by redesigning the heads. The increase was also a result of the overly conservative rating (in the Chevelle) of the previous year's LS5.

If the SS-454 package was ordered, the fenders (and tailgate on El Caminos) would sport "SS/454" emblems. If the 402 or 350 engine was ordered with the SS package, then there would simply be "SS" emblems all the way around (but no external engine size designation). The El Camino SS generally did NOT have any "SS" emblems on the door panels.

The SS hood was the same as in '70. The Cowl Induction package was still available. It was, however, not promoted as much as in '70. As a result, far fewer Cowl Induction equipped vehicles were produced in '71 than in '70. There is some conflicting information, but it appears that that the Cowl Induction package was only available with the 454 in '71.

The '71 SS came with 15" five-spoke rally wheels. These wheels were painted silver, with trim rings and center caps. These wheels are similar to those found on mid-70s Z28 Camaros. The latter 70's Z28 wheels were very similar, but the spokes were a bit flatter.

Another unusual vehicle was introduced in 1971. It was the GMC version of the El Camino called the GMC "Sprint". There were about 5600 Sprints produced in '71. Compared to the '71 El Camino production of over 40,000 the '71 Sprint is fairly rare in any form. There was an "SP" package available for the Sprint that had the same basic equipment as the El Camino SS. Only 249 '71 SPs were built. There was even an "SP-454" package available. In fact, it was also possible to order the Sprint with Cowl Induction, tachometer, bucket seats, positraction, etc. It is estimated that about 25 were ordered with the 454 and about 15 with Cowl Induction. It is unknown how many of those have survived intact, but the number is certainly very small. There are currently about 9 known.




This year, the government mandated that all engines be rated in "SAE NET" horsepower rather than the "GROSS" horsepower ratings used before. The "SS-454" package was still available, and although the '72 LS5 motor was virtually identical to the '71 LS5 motor, the '72 version was underrated at 270 horsepower due to governmental and insurance concerns. The '72 SS equipment was the same as in '71. It was, however, possible to order a '72 SS with any optional V8 (454, 402, 350-4, and 350-2). Some early sales literature implies that an SS-307 was available, but that is probably not the case since it was contradicted by some mid-year documents. Performance oriented options (especially hood stripes and Cowl Induction) were downplayed by all the Chevrolet literature. As a result, Cowl Induction production was even lower than in '71. The '72 Cowl Induction option could be ordered with the 454 or 402 engines. Interestingly, you could get a "Malibu 400" model with hood stripes even though these came with the non-SS "flat" hood. Only a few Malibus were ordered with hood stripes. This configuration was also available on the El Camino and Sprint.

The Heavy Chevy package was carried over, basically unchanged, from '71.

The '72 GMC Sprint was available with the same equipment as before, including the SP package. Production of '72 Sprints was slightly higher than in '71. A total of 749 '72 SPs were built.

Starting in 1972, the 5th character in the VIN number of all GM vehicles indicated the vehicle's engine type. The engine codes for 1972 are as follows :

"W" - LS5 454 V8 4bbl

"U" - LS3 402 V8 4-bbl

"J" - 350 V8 4bbl

"H" - 350 V8 2bbl

"F" - 307 V8 2bbl

"D" - 250 L6 1bbl

Since the 454 was only available as part of the SS (or SP) package, any Chevelle, El Camino, or Sprint with a "W" as the fifth character in the VIN is a genuine SS-454 (or SP-454 in the case of the Sprint). There was no SS package for the '72 Monte Carlo, but unlike the others, it could be ordered with a 454 without an SS package.




1972 was the last year for a lot of things. For example, it was the last year for the LS5 454, the 396/402, and the 307. In '73 the Chevelle line was completely redesigned with driving comfort being the major theme rather than performance. There was still an SS-454 package available. It used the small-port low-compression LS4 454 rated at 245 horsepower. In reality, this motor was far less powerful than the earlier LS5, although with the right tuning, head porting and pistons it could equal the LS5. Unlike the LS5, the LS4 used a cast crankshaft. There was also the "plain" SS package which utilized the 350 motor. Unlike previous years, it was possible to order the 454 without the SS package.

Around 1974 the "Laguna S-3" package was introduced. It was similar to the '73 Chevelle SS package. The "S-3" package was available only on the Chevelle, not the El Camino or Sprint. 1975 was the last year you could get a 454 in the Chevelle, El Camino, or Sprint. Like the earlier SS-454s, the '73-'75 SS-454s are scarce today. However, they are not in demand as much as the '72 and earlier SS-454s. The same is true for the SP-454, although it is even rarer than any '73-up SS-454.

The Sprint SP package was available until 1977. 1977 was also the last year of production for the Sprint.




When the El Camino was completely redesigned in 1978, the GMC version was renamed the "Caballero".

The El Camino SS package was resurrected, but by now it was basically just a "Super Sport" decal. Choo-Choo Customs in Tennessee built their El Camino SS in conjunction with Chevrolet. It could be ordered through a Chevrolet dealer, and consisted mostly of ground-effects body panels.

Other models of current interest include the '78 El Camino with the 350 V8 and 4-speed manual, the diesel El Camino, the "Royal Knight" El Camino, and the "Diablo" Caballero.

The Malibus of this era are almost completely devoid of any performance opions.


Written by:   Daniel Carr

PS... the image on the left is REAL... note the out of place SS in the clone image .... AL


Note: Dan Carr has features on a number of websites and owns a number of El Caminos himself.  For more information see the links page.  Special thanks go to Dan for allowing this article to be used.

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Last Updated:

08/31/99 04:03 PM