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						L78 Chevelle
L78-Powered ’69 Chevelle SS

1969 Chevrolet Chevelle L78 SS396

By Dean Larson

Photos: Seller, BringaTrailer.com

Gaze upon the glory of an L78-powered 1969 Chevelle SS 396 and you’ll easily come to the conclusion that the original owner knew exactly what they wanted. Rated at 375 hp at 5,600 rpm, the L78 396 produced more than twice the power of the Chevelle’s standard six-cylinder engines, and other than a handful of 427 COPO cars, was the highest-rated engine available through a Regular Production Order form. Currently for auction on BringaTrailer.com, this L78-powered ’69 Chevelle SS is a stunning no-nonsense version of this iconic muscle machine with all the right equipment.

If you walked down to your local Chevrolet dealer to order a 1969 Chevelle and you wanted the fastest one, this is likely what you’d get (provided you had the right salesman). Skimming past the list of six-cylinders, 307s and 350s available in the Chevelle, you would have been greeted with four 396 ci big blocks. The L35 was the standard engine in the SS396, boasting oval-port iron heads, a cast iron intake, Rochester four-barrel carburetor and 10.25:1 compression — all good for 325 hp. Next, you could fork over an additional $121.15 for the L34 396, which improved on the L35 with a steel crank and a beefier hydraulic camshaft. That combo was rated at 350 hp and 415 lb-ft. Spend another $252.80 and you’d get the L78 package, which included four-bolt mains, rectangle-port iron heads with bigger valves, an aluminum intake, mechanical-lifter camshaft and a Holley 4150 four-barrel carburetor.

Way beyond your standard street car fare, the L78 package pushed GM’s Mark IV big block out to 11.0:1 compression with 375 hp and 415 lb-ft. Furthermore, you should consider those numbers to be conservative, as the L78 package was rated at 425 hp when introduced in 1965. It was reduced to 375 in all subsequent years despite its identical mechanical configuration.

The only way to get more engine in your Chevelle for 1969 using the standard RPO form, was to check off the L89 package, which added aluminum heads to the L78. This package was rated at the same 375 hp and 415 lb-ft as the L78, and would cost you $647.75 over the base engine. Otherwise, you had to be lucky enough to bag one of the 323 427 ci cars built through the special Central Office Production Order program.

For most buyers though, the L78 was the cream of the crop, and by the best estimates, Chevrolet sold around 9,500 L78-powered Chevelle SS396s in 1969. Equipped with the right transmissions and axles, these cars were capable of quarter-mile times under 14 seconds, and were a serious threat for most street cars of the day. But of course this penchant for performance means that a fair share of the SS396s out there didn’t survive with all their original components. An exceptional original example of the model, this L78-powered Chevelle on BringaTrailer.com is a bona fide blue-chip collector.

Even from a quick glance, you’ll pick up on the quintessential Chevrolet charm this ’69 Chevelle exudes. The LeMans blue paint is perfectly accented by a longitudinal white accent stripes, twin hood bulges, Super Sport wheels and Firestone Wide Oval rubber. The white Parchment vinyl upholstery looks comfortable and inviting, and the rest of the interior is fairly bare bones in spec, reminding you that this machine was built for speed.

And speed shouldn’t be much of a concern, seeing as this Chevelle is powered by its original L78 396, which was rebuilt in 2019 with forged pistons, a new solid-lifter cam, new bearings, gaskets and valvetrain parts. The Muncie M21 four-speed transmission sends power to a 4.10:1 ratio Positraction rear end, meaning that this SS will get to 60 with the best of ’em.

While the true mileage on this working-class muscle machine is unknown, the high degree of originality and caliber of the restoration ensures that it’s a good one. It’s hard to say what cash takes this car home, but it’s probably in the neighborhood of $60,000. See it here on BringaTrailer.com, where the current high bid is $41,000 with four days remaining in the auction.

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Chevrolet Muscle Cars