As most car folks know, the Pontiac GTO was thrust on the market in 1964 and is given credit by many as the first American musclecar. Chevrolet debuted the Chevelle in 1964 to compete with it’s sister GM division’s car, but the largest engine was the 327. The Goat had a 389. Chevelle’s 327 in the higher horsepower forms was certainly no slouch, but that old saying “there’s no substitute for cubic inches” must have been heard around Chevrolet Engineering as 1964 progressed.

 

The  396 c.i. Mark IV V8 was brand new and highly publicized in early 1965. Whether a conceived strategy on the part of Chevrolet marketing to whet the appetite of the buying public by installing the new 396 engine in the mid-size Chevelle, or an effort to simply garner interest in the Chevrolet brand, the Z16 was born!

 

Z16 was the RPO (Regular Production Option) code given to the 396 engine option in the 1965 Chevelle and was used internally by Chevrolet. The Z16 is the 1965 Malibu SS 396 and was almost never referred to by the Z16 RPO number except in a few non-public Chevrolet documents.

 

But the Z16 was much more than just the big 396 in the Chevelle SS. It was a complete package with many special and heavy duty chassis components including: Heavy duty suspension, special heavy duty rear axle, 4 speed transmission, special frame, special heavy duty power brakes, and unique power steering components. The interior was very special too. A 160 mph speedometer was only available with the SS 396. Mandatory options included a tachometer, deluxe front and rear seat belts, AM/FM stereo radio, padded dash and remote mirror.

 

The 396 engine specified for the Z16 was the L37 375 horsepower version. The L37 was a heavy duty engine with forged crank and pistons, 4 bolt main bearing caps, large port heads, an aluminum intake manifold with a Holley carburetor and an hydraulic camshaft. Other Chevrolets would also receive the 396. The full size Chevrolet got the 325 hp and 425 hp version, the Corvette benefited from the 425 hp 396. The Z16’s L37 375 hp and the potent 425 hp engines differed only in their camshafts: the 425 hp version received a more radical, mechanical lifter design.

 

The new Z16 was promoted heavily by Chevrolet. Many automotive magazines road tested or reviewed the special Malibu in the late Spring and Summer of 1965. These include Motor Trend, Car Life, Popular Hot Rodding and Mechanix Illustrated. Celebrities were used for the Z16 promotion including Dan Blocker (“Hoss”) from the top-rated 1960’s television series “Bonanza”. Chevrolet was a major sponsor of the show and felt, apparently, that the muscular Z16 would be well touted in Dan’s hands. Blocker received a car to drive and was reportedly asked to share it with some of the other “Bonanza” stars. This very Z16 is in a collector’s hands today.

 

Not every dealer received a Z16 - since it was very limited in production - but they were spread out geographically around the country. New York, South Carolina, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Texas and California dealers all had the 1965 Malibu SS 396. While rare, a few dealers actually got more than one Z16! Naturally, some of the Chevy dealerships that specialized or would specialize in high performance, new Chevrolets would receive cars. Well known dealerships that sold a Z16 include Yenko Chevrolet and Armon R. Smith.

 

Total Malibu SS 396 production was 201 cars with one reportedly a convertible. It is not known to survive. About 65 Z16 coupes in restored or unrestored condition still exist making them one of the rarest and most desirable muscle cars.

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Information herein is presented for the enjoyment of the reader and is believed accurate. Many sources -  both contemporary and historical - have been utilized to educate the author. Errors made are not intentional -  they are mistakes!

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A freshly restored, real IX coded Z16 engine.

A Personal Chevrolet Story

 

In the mid 1960’s, my father was contacted by a Chevrolet ad agency to provide his 1919 Chevrolet 490 touring car for a television commercial. They wanted an old, open Chevrolet to use for a day of filming near Des Moines and their search led to my father.

 

Dad was one of those few, crazy guys that bought old cars in the ‘50’s. Cars like a 1929 Cadillac limo for $150 in good running and appearing condition. The 490 touring came along in about 1957 for an even $100 - from the original owner! Why, folks wondered, would anyone buy those 30 or 40 year old cars?!

 

A deal was struck with the ad agency, Dad borrowed a tandem trailer (his homemade single axle didn’t inspire enough confidence for this trip) and off we went with the little 490 touring in tow. Loaded with Mom, Dad and us kids, our white, two door ’66 Impala apparently proved adequate, but the 283 and Powerglide wasn't the best towing powertrain. We arrived the night before the scheduled full day of filming.

 

The storyline went something like this: Rip Van Winkle is shown in his old Chevy touring speeding down the interstate and also with it at his home. He wishes for a new vehicle to “slumber” in, and, magically, a brand new 1969 (or so) Chevy pickup with a camper body “pops” into place replacing the old Chevy touring.

 

Now, here I was, a junior motorhead about 7 years old. This was incredible stuff! I remember, very graphically, watching from the camera truck as “Rip” drove Dad’s 490 just a few feet from the back of this truck at 30-35 miles per hour. They ran the dickens out of that poor car for hours on end!

 

I was impressed by the trickery involved with making the new pickup appear in place of the touring. “Rip” read his lines with the touring in the background. Suddenly, after tapping his walking stick forcefully to the ground, Rip froze solid, the filming stopped, and there was a flurry of activity as the 490 was driven off camera. The new, bright red Chevy pickup camper was hurriedly driven into the exact same location, the filming restarted, and “Rip” looked shocked as he swung around to see the magically appearing, brand new Chevrolet! Just what he wished for!

 

Our family was told the commercial would likely air during the hit TV drama “Bonanza” since Chevrolet sponsored the show. Our family never missed a Sunday evening  episode after that, but we were disappointed. The commercial never aired.

Here’s Sis and I with Rip, himself! Note the front wheel and fender of Dad’s 1919 Chevrolet 490 Touring at extreme left. Wish I knew where those boots are…..