Cars We Remember column: The most collectable 1968 Chevelle SS 396 and the rarest of them all

Greg Zyla
More Content Now
Of the 428,585 Chevelles built in 1968, only 2,286 were SS396 convertibles. This low number makes this model one of the rare SS396 models ever produced.

Q: Greg, I have a few questions about your least favorite year of the 1966-1967-1968 Chevelles, namely the 1968 Chevelle SS396. I’m wondering how many 1968 Chevelles, overall, were produced and how many were Super Sport 396s? Which one is most valuable of the 68 Chevelle SS family?

- Eddie L., San Antonio, Texas

A: Eddie I’m happy to assist. According to my files, in 1968 a total of 428,585 Chevelles were built. Of them, 266,300 were Chevelle Malibus in numerous trims. As for the SS396 models that are not counted in the Malibu number, add another 60,499 Hardtop coupes along with just 2,286 SS396 Convertibles. When you add up these Malibu and SS396 trims, you come up with 329,085 units of which less than one percent (.069) were SS convertibles.

Also not included in the above totals are 45,500 Chevelle station wagons and 54,000 Chevelle 300 models built in 1968, resulting in the aforementioned 428,585 Chevelle total. Of this grand total, the SS396 convertible is now just .0053 percent of total.

Additionally, and to further solidify how rare the ’68 SS396 ragtop is, in 1966 the SS396 convertibles numbered 2,984, while in 1967 it grew to 3,033. Thus, the 1968 SS Convertible at 2,286 is the rarest of them all during the first three years (66-67-68) of Chevelle SS396 mass production. (I specify mass production for a reason. Please stay tuned).

The three 396 engines available back in 1966 came with horsepower ratings of 325, 360 and 375. Then in 1967 and 1968, they came in 325, 350 and 375 dress. In collector car circles, if any Chevelle SS has the 396/375, it is worth more than its lower horsepower siblings. Coded as an L78 option these 396/375 horsepower big blocks came with a high lift solid lifter cam, higher compression pistons, larger port heads, four bolt main bearings caps, aluminum intake and a Holley 800 carburetor.

As for pricing for that very rare ’68 SS396 Convertible, NADA has the 375 horse L78 convertible listed at a high retail of $109,475. For comparison, a 1967 SS396/375 Convertible has a high retail of $103,950 while a 1966 comes in at $105,840, respectively.

You mention that 1968 is my least favorite of the SS396 era, which is true as I have mentioned this before. For whatever reason, Chevy went away from the good looking SS396 fender badges and also revamped the rear taillights with very small units while the front end also featured a new grille that was basically OK. But back then, from 1965 to 1969, each and every year was a completely different design and all were pretty fine. I also mentioned I would be happy to own a 1968 SS396 with the L78 375 engine, so I want to make sure readers understand it might be my least favorite, but I’d still love to own one.

Always remember, however, the pricing you see in guides or even at respected auctions like Mecum and Barrett-Jackson are not always indicative of what you might get for the collector car you have sitting in your garage.

Now the reason I kept mentioning “mass production” Chevelles earlier is because I can’t end this column without mentioning the most valuable Chevelle ever built, namely the 1965 Chevelle SS396/375 Z16. This non-mass produced Chevelle featured a hydraulic cam instead of the solid lifter L78’s yet was still rated at 375 horsepower. Built between February and April 1965, Chevy approved an RPO Z16 build of 256 cars, but only 201 were ever built. Today it’s the most desirable of all the SS396 Chevelles and nearly impossible to acquire.

The Z16 is listed in the NADA Classic Car price guide at $349,280 for the convertible and $326,720 for the hardtops. Of the 201 built, 74 have been accounted for and only ONE, (correct just ONE) came off the assembly line as a convertible while 200 were hardtops. Also many times confusing is the 375 horse 396, as the Z16 engine is an L37 code engine while the 396/375 that went into the Corvette that year was the first L78 code. However, it was rated at 425 horses in the ’65 Corvette and then, beginning in 1966, the same L78 in the Chevelle was rated at 375 horses. A 396 would never again appear between the frame rails of a production Corvette as in 1966 the 427’s took over.

Thus, it seems the 1968 SS Convertible 396/375 and the 1965 Z16 are two of the most collectible Chevelles ever built.

Thanks for your letter Eddie and hope this all helped.

Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and Gannett Co. Inc. Contact him at greg@gregzyla.com or at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840.

The very first Chevelle SS396 Chevelle appeared in limited numbers in 1965 with a code of Z16. Only 201 were built and came with a 375 horsepower engine. Today, only 74 are known to exist.