Cars We Remember: Reader recalls his first new car: the 1964 Chevelle SS
Q: Greg I read your car articles every time my newspaper publishes them. I find them very interesting and nostalgic for an old guy like me. Our newspaper is 'The Hawkeye' published in Burlington, Iowa.
In April 1964, I ordered a new 1964 Chevelle SS at Pine Motors Chevrolet in Wapello, Iowa, and I paid $3,061 for it. I took delivery in June of that year and my Chevelle had no options except a 327 cu. in. V8 engine and Muncie four-speed on the floor. Earlier in 1963, I read an article in Hot Rod Magazine about a ’64 Chevelle they tested and was equipped with a 365-horsepower Corvette 327 engine.
So, I ordered my Chevelle SS with that 365-horse engine. After a month, a GM representative said the 365 engine was no longer available but I could have a 300-horsepower 327 instead, which I finally accepted. The exterior color was Azure Aqua with an all black interior. Around Burlington it was the only Chevelle SS that had the “327” front fender emblems (the “V” with flags). My ’64 Chevelle was a great car that I drove to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, when I was in the Army and I drove it on many vacations including way out to Long Island, New York, and also Niagara Falls.
Because of my “street racing” and drag strip forays, I did have the clutch replaced once and used cheater slicks for the drag strip. Because of the smoky tire burnouts, my car was known as "Ol' Smoky" at the strip in Kahoka, Missouri, and I sure miss that car.
The Kahoka Drag Strip was an eighth-mile track and I remember my car ran in the eight-second range at about 80 mph. My eight-inch wide cheater slicks would smoke at launch and I remember a guy running an Oldsmobile who complained about my tires to no avail probably because I always outran him.
I kept that ’64 Chevelle for more than five years with nary a problem. Of course I had to replace the rear tires quite often. I read years later that GM made 206 of the 365-horse 327 Chevelle but can’t be sure. I did locate my old Chevelle but it was in a junk yard and not restorable. Those first Chevelle SS’s were often overlooked because Pontiac came out with their GTO that was similar but had the 389-V8 with 3-two-barrel-carbs. Regards and thanks for your great columns.
— Tom Jacobson, Burlington, Iowa
A: Tom, thank you very much for your interesting emails and kind words. That 1964 Chevelle you purchased sure brings back some great memories on my side, too.
First, I would opine the reason you weren’t “preferenced” on your 365-horse 327 order was due to a General Motors mandate on high-performance and its exit from organized racing and building fast cars. (At least that’s what they agreed to. In reality, they never stopped high performance applications). The 365-horse 327 appears under Corvette engines but does not appear on the “official” 1964 Chevelle engine list while the 300-horse version does.
However, this doesn’t mean Chevy didn’t build a few 365-327 Chevelles as your investigative work implies, but cannot be fully documented. The 365 does appear in ’64 Chevelle manufacturer literature as a “JS” code engine but without production numbers.
Now for some memories. One of my best friends in high school was Dave Dannenhoffer, he a car crazy guy just like me. His brother John, several years older than us, had a 1964 Chevelle SS and decided he was going to turn it into one of those 365-horse Chevelles that GM was going to build.
John ordered a 327 L84 Corvette crate motor from GM, less intake and induction that was rated at 375-horsepower. It was the same engine used in the fuel-injected Corvettes although John used a large Holley carb. I remember seeing the bright yellow engine sitting in the crate as John removed the 300 horse 327 engine in the Chevelle. He dropped in the L84 375-engine, attached it to the Muncie four-speed and then added a set of 5:13 rear gears to make it one very fast vehicle, at least on paper. (John was way ahead of the curve!)
The year now is 1966, when all those 389-GTOs. 442 Olds, 390 Mustangs, and SS396 Chevelles roamed the boulevards. The small block Chevelles, meanwhile, were overlooked when it came to competing against the big-block Chevelles … that is until the night John took on one of the fastest 396-375 horsepower, four-speed Chevelles in the area.
The stage was set for what many thought would be a major beating of a small block ’64 Chevelle against the new ‘66 SS396. Although I do not endorse any type of street racing these days, I remember the night at desolated Union Road, not far from my home in Vineland, which led to the shore points of south Jersey.
It was late September and a big crowd showed up, bonfires and all. It was the feature race of the night, one run, no excuses. All the money was on the big-block Chevelle and some even gave odds.
With open headers bellowing and slicks mounted, the starter dropped the flag. Next thing you know, John is out on the 396 by two car lengths and then extended the lead to over five cars at the finish. This proved to me right then that a well thought out combination is hard to beat, regardless of fewer cubic inches. I feel the 5:13 gears proved the big difference as the 396 had 4:10 gears.
Thanks so much Tom for the wonderful memories and I hope you one day find a ’64 Chevelle that you can again park in your garage. I’ve run out of space so I have to stop and remind my readers again to never street race.
— Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and other Gatehouse Media publications.
LISTEN TO THE BEST RIDE PODCAST