Call it a “Survivor™”

This Car Lives Up to the Name

John Gunnell - October 18, 2012 10:00 AM


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By 1970, Chevy knew that the SS-396 Chevelle was no longer the fastest muscle car in town — the town being Detroit, Michigan, birthplace of almighty American muscle.

The crusty and trusty old SS 396 had been around since “way back” in 1966 and muscle car years at that time were like computer years today, in that it doesn’t take long for something to become yesterday’s news. The SS 396 was still cool, butit was no longer king of the cubicinch monsters.

Muscular 400-cube-plus newcomers from other automakers were a bunch faster on the streets and dragstrips. To swing the balance back in the Chevelle’s favor, Chevy released a new SS-454. This combination is considered by many collectors to represent the ultimate development of the hot Chevelle Super Sport.

The 454-cid engine had a4.250 x 4.00-inch bore and stroke and was made available in two different versions. The LS5 featured a 10.25:1 compression ratio and a 750cfm Rochester Quadrajet carburetor. It was rated for 360 hp at 5,400 rpm and 500 lbs-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm. This engine was included in the SS-454 option, which had a $503.45 package price. Even more dominating was the LS6, which used an 11.25:1 compression ratio and a 780cfm Holley four-barrel carburetor. It developed 450 hp at 5,600 rpm and 500 lbs-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm. To get an LS6, you had to spend another $263.30 over an LS5.

The LS6 was a super-high-performance V-8 featuring items like four-bolt mains, nodular iron bearing caps, heavy-duty rods, big-diameter exhaust valves and a solid lifter cam. A test car powered by the LS6 engine moved from 0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds and did the standing start quarter mile in 13.81 sec. at 103.8 mph. That was with Turbo Hydra-Matic and a 3.77:1 rear axle. You could also order either 454-cid engine with one of three available four-speed gearboxes.

Only 3,773 of the SS Sport Coupes and convertibles built in 1970 had one of the 454-cid V-8s and only a relative handful were LS6 editions. That’s what helps makes this green LS6 very desirable to collectors.

But that’s not all that’s special about this particular Chevelle. In addition to being rare in term of assembly line production, it is even rarer because it’s in Survivor™ condition.

Coined by the organizers of the Bloomington Gold car show, the term Survivor™ has a particular meaning to many car enthusiasts. Survivor™ vehicles, as defined and codified by Bloomington Gold, are at least 20 years old and over 50 percent unrestored. Their finish and condition are so good that they allow their use as a reference for the authentic restoration of a similar vehicle.

Our featured Chevelle, with 16,000 original miles and no restoration ever done to it, is a great example of a Survivor™. In addition to its extremely nice state of condition, this car has almost all the goodies. It left the factory with the Z15 — or SS 454 — option, which includes bright engine accents, dual exhausts with bright tips, power front disc brakes, a black grille, wheel opening moldings, a special rear bumper with a resilient black insert, a special domed hood, a special heavy-duty suspension, 14x7-inch Sport wheels and F70x14 wide-oval tires. It has a Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission with a column shift and a bench-style front seat. Some enthusiasts might prefer bucket seats and a four-speed gearbox, but like we said, the car is original all the way and it is how it was ordered in 1970.

This SS 454 retains most of its original green paint, an original white vinyl interior and all its original drivetrain components. The car is documented with four factory build sheets and its original Protect-O-Plate. This is an embossed plate that dealers made up to track warranty work. It carries information about the car that matches all the details of the actual vehicle. The car also has a completely documented “chain of ownership” and comes with all titles issued to it. The original owner is still available to answer questions about the car.

Despite lacking a few typical muscle items, the car was sold with a number of rare options such as ZL2 Cowl Induction, a factory tach, a gauge package, a 3.31:1 posi rear axle and a Sport steering wheel. It won a Silver Spinner Award at the Chevy Vette Fest/Rick Nelson LS6 display in Rosemont, Illinois.

Original factory-placed production line markings show up all over the car. The frame has the inspection number 532 stamped on it. There are other factory numbers marked on the sheetmetal and other underhood components. The alternator is stamped with a CZ/4 code that proves it to be the original. Markings like these were made by assembly line workers and inspectors and usually wear off with age. Sometimes, restorers research them and replace them. According to the car’s current dealer owner, the markings of the Chevelle are original.

The car still has the correct type of power steering hoses with factory fittings, which is another sign that nothing was changed under the hood. The loop-type handle on the engine oil dipstick still has a telltale dab of “factory” yellow paint on its end. Some underhood and frame areas show slight surface rust, because the car has not been touched up. While not detailed, the engine looks practically new, other than rust on the exhaust manifolds and other parts. Owner Steve Bimbi, of Nickey Chicago, pointed out numbers stamped on the trunk lip that verify this car was built with a Chevelle hardtop body. Steve also showed us a factory flaw. During the car’s assembly, a line worker left a piece of weld wire in a corner of the trunk near a welded seam. When the car was spray painted, the paint went right over the welding wire. Steve said this was an “original error” that you don’t see on perfectly restored Chevelles.

All of the door stickers on the SS 454 show what collectors call “matching numbers.” In other words, the VIN on the door tag is the same one on the Fisher Body tag and on documentation like the Protect-O-Plate. Under the never-touched trunk lid is an original (not reproduction) factory sticker that cautions the owner about the correct procedure for jacking a car with a posi-traction rear axle. There is also a jacking instructions and spare tire stowing label. The flawless light gray textured trunk mat is the one in place when the car left the factory.

As a dealer who specializes in selling choice muscle cars, Steve Bimbi believes that top-notch Survivor™ cars like this SS 454 are “worth two to three times what normal cars are worth.” It’s why it is going to stay in his possession for a while.

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