Ford Started the postwar notion of cars as trucks with the Ranchero in 1957, and Chevrolet followed suit in 1959 with its Impala-based El Camino. Within a few years, both morphed onto their makers' midsize platform, the El Camino based on the Chevelle Malibu beginning in 1964. The Chevelle SS (and related El Camino) offered buyers a wide variety of performance options for model-year 1970, which was the zenith of American musclecar performance. Cubic inches were big, and compression ratios had yet to begin the slide that came with unleaded gas in 1971. Chevy offered the Chevelle coupe and convertible (and El Camino SS) in two forms for 1970, the SS396 and the SS454. The former transitioned to 402 cubes without a name change mid-year and the latter was offered in "standard" 360-horsepower LS5 trim, or in 450-horse LS6 Turbo Jet 454 guise, rated at an SAE gross 500 pound-feet of torque at 3600 rpm. LS6s are big game, high-dollar collectibles these days.

GM's El Camino SS396 is the more garden variety (but still plenty fast) 350-horsepower version, backed by a Turbo-HydraMatic 400 three-speed automatic transmission. Among its more fun options is the Cowl Induction hood and intake system. This includes a vacuum-operated cold air "flipper" near the trailing edge of the hood, which snaps open under hard throttle to draw air into the semi-open element air filter sealed to the hood. The flap is open when the engine is off, but closes upon startup. GM paid some attention to the look and sounds of SS exhaust systems, as the dual pipes exit out the back in the form of large, oval shaped, chromed exhaust tips. Handsome. And throaty sounding.

This is one of those cars that can make you happy just listening to the engine zing in a parking lot. GM's El Cam SS396 is particularly crisp, and very responsive. Cruise along at low speeds in high gear, give the throttle a firm push prompting a downshift to first, and this thing really jumps. Given the light loading over the rear axle, this car will roast its rear skins all day long if that's your mission. Driven normally, there's little to distinguish the driving experience from that of its coupe sibling. The Chevelle and El Camino SS package remained relatively unchanged (save for dropping compression ratios and performance, plus a new single headlight per side front-end design) for 1971-'72, although the SS396 designation disappeared. There was but a single SS big-block available in 1973, that being a 245-horsepower (SAE net), low-compression 454. The SS party appeared all but over.

1970 Chevrolet El Camino SS396
ENGINE: 402.2-cu-in/6590cc OHV V-8 1x4-bbl Rochester Carburetor
POWER AND TORQUE: (SAE gross) 350 hp @ 5200 rpm, 415 lb-ft @ 3400 rpm
DRIVETRAIN: 3-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
BRAKES FRONT/REAR: disc/drum
SUSPENSION FRONT/REAR: control arms, coil springs/ live axle, coil springs
DIMENSIONS: L: 206.8 in, W: 75.4 in, H: 54.4 in, Weight 3300 lb
PERFORMANCE: 0-60 MPH: 7.6 sec
QUARTER MILE: 15.4 sec @ 92.0 mph
60-0 MPH: 139 ft (MT, January 1969 -- Chevelle SS396 coupe running same powertrain)
Price when new $5624 (MTC est)
RESTORING/MAINTAINING
KNOWLEDGE: Plenty of accurate restoration information is available, as is good supply of GM restoration and aftermarket parts.
BEWARE: Non-authentic high-priced "clones" not really born as SS models or big-blocks.
EXPECT TO PAY: Concours-ready: $27,000; solid driver: $14,000; tired runner: $8000
JOIN THE CLUB: www.chevelles.net/yesterdays, www.elcaminoclassics.com

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