Cars We Remember: Mr. Hot Rod’s 1966 Chevelle 396
Q: Hi Greg. I had a 1966 Chevelle 396 with 360 horsepower. It had a 4-speed and thanks to your articles I now know what a “138” Chevelle is. Prior to your columns, I didn’t know that a Chevelle vehicle identification number starting with 138 meant it came with a 396 engine from the factory.
Back in my hot rod days, there were GTOs, 383 and 426 Hemi Roadrunners, GT Mustangs, 440 Magnum RTs and GTXs, and the Pontiac GTO Judge and more. I ran a lot of these cars with my ’66 Chevelle, and regardless of what the articles said on paper, I could beat them all. Then, I would be asked how I could beat the cars with more horsepower and bigger engines, so I would hop into the car I just beat and we would do a re-run. The result? I would win again and beat my own Chevelle 396.
I guess the saying goes “once a hot rod, always a hot rod,” and today I have a 1936 Ford five-window coupe and it is super fun. I’ll be waiting to see your articles as I really enjoy them. Have a super day, Merle “Tink” L., a long time hot rodder from Mechanicsburg, Pa.
A: “Tink,” thanks so much for your letter as it sure brings back memories for me, too. That ’66 Chevelle you had was one of three SS 396 Chevelle offerings that year, specifically in 325, 360 or 375 horse dress.
I had a 375 horse version in 1968 in my Camaro, and they were way faster than the 325 horse version. But your 360 was what everyone said was the perfect medium, as it did not have a solid lifter camshaft that required weekly valve adjustments and usually, if you ran it on the street like we did, bi-weekly spark plug changes.
The 1966 Chevelle engines were RPO L35 at 325 horsepower; RPO L34 rated at 360 horsepower and RPO L78, rated 375 horsepower. The 360 came with a cast iron intake manifold, 600 CFM Holley 4 barrel carb, 10.25 to 1 compression and hotter hydraulic cam which delivered the fuel mixture via closed chamber oval port heads. The 375 featured an aluminum intake, 800 CFM Holley, 11 to 1 compression, and a much hotter solid lifter cam that fed fuel through big, rectangular port heads with bigger valves.
As for your driving and winning, drag racing has a lot to do with driver ability, which is why you were able to take a friend’s car and beat your own. Knowing how to leave the starting line, cut a good reaction time and then shifting at the proper RPM points meant the difference between winning and losing. You knew this back then, and were ahead of the curve when it came to race driving skills. Too many “drag racers” back then thought the higher the RPM, the better. But in reality, all you got when you would over-rev the engine were broken valves or worse.
Thanks much for your letter, and in reminiscing I spent every Friday night from 1982 through 1990 at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa. as part of the “Dirt Trackin’” TV Sprint Car Racing show. I would think much of your racing took place at the former York US 30 Dragway, which isn’t that far from you.
Thanks much for your letter and kind remarks.
(Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and other GateHouse Media publications. He welcomes reader questions or comments on old cars, muscle cars and old time racing at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840 or email email@example.com).