A revisit to the horsepower and muscle car wars of the 1960’s. Specifically, we’re going to look at obscure, rare and perhaps forgotten classic american muscle cars from Chevrolet that could be ordered from the factory with high horsepower engines in non-muscle car trim levels. Let me explain; most people know what a 1960’s era Chevrolet muscle car is when they see it. These are cars like the Camaro SS and the Chevelle SS 396. But, did you know that back then, sometimes one could order a plain jane stripped down trim level sleeper version with the largest engine and horsepower that was offered for that model. In many cases you could order a Corvette engine in the most basic ride imaginable.
If you were the stealthy type who liked having serious performance under the hood, but didn’t like to advertise it, these cars were the ultimate factory sleepers that looked like grandma’s grocery getter and Sunday ride to church but were secretly fast. Why would someone want that? A few reasons come to mind; they might be more economical to buy than the muscle car version of the same model, or they were usually lighter than the muscle car version which was better for racing, or they might lull your street racing nemesis into a false sense of superiority when a stoplight racing challenge was issued. Personally, I think they are the coolest performance cars from the 60’s because they are unique, rare and have a clean, uncluttered appearance that give little warning as to what lies beneath…. Kind of like a venomous kitten… .all cute and harmless looking, but utterly lethal.
These cars were rare on the ground because not many people ordered them this way, and these days command big dollars for all-original documented collector-grade examples in pristine or professionally restored condition. Because they’re not making any more of them, even beat-up, non- modified original cars like these don’t come cheap.
So, lets get on with it… These aren’t listed in order of importance. I may have left some out and you may not agree with these. Leave a comment and let me know what your favorite ones are even if they didn’t make it into this video. I might use your suggestions and make this into a series and look at stealthy sleeper cars from other manufacturers and brands.
Here were go… Stealthy Chevrolet Factory Surprise Sleeper Cars
First up is a car that could be ordered with a new for 1965 high-output 327 cubic inch motor coded as the L79 option, rated at 350 horsepower. The E-ticket ride to stealthy super-stardom back in 1965 was to order this engine in the lightest mid-size stripped down plain janer you could find in the Chevrolet brochure. That would be … the Chevelle 300 2-door sedan. This was not a Malibu or SS version, but the most basic Chevelle you could get.
In 1965, Chevrolet debuted the L79 327 cubic inch engine with a 4-barrel carburetor. These could be ordered for installation in any Chevelle body style or trim configuration except the SS396’s. So what did people in search of the best power to weight ratio do who wanted to go racing on a budget? They ordered a stripped down Chevelle 300 series with the L79 together with a 4 speed and Posi-traction differential and not much else. Some people took the low-key sleeper mindset to an even higher level by ordering a 4-door 300 series Chevelle with the L79. t is estimated that only 79 cars were ever produced this way making it as rare as a cuddly rattlesnake.
This lightweight car could do the quarter mile in 13.5 seconds and could get to 60 mph from a dead stop in 5.7 seconds ensuring that grandma could get home from the grocery store before her TV stories started.
The ultra-sneaky L79 300 Chevelle sleeper might be even rarer than the Chevelle SS Z16, of which there were only 201 produced.
Next up is a large-bodied Chevrolet that gets recognition for being a secret factory muscle car from the 1963-1964 model years. This one included the 409 cubic inch engine with dual 4-barrel carburetors that put out 425 horsepower. Only 96 of these cars were ever ordered in this sleeper mode configuration. Very few survive to this day and are highly sought after by collectors. In fact, one of the 96 used to reside in baseball hall of famer Reggie Jackson’s car collection.
Can you guess what it might be?
It … is .. the … 1963-1964 CHEVROLET Biscayne 409 425 hp – 4 speed
This is the car that the Beach Boys sang about in their song.. “409”.
These brutish Biscaynes came without power steering, air conditioning or power brakes and kept one on their toes when it came time to put the power down. These could accelerate 0- 60 mph in 6 seconds flat and do the 1/4 mile in 14.5 seconds. Not to shabby for a large Chevy in 1964….
These occasionally come up at auction where their rarity and desirability are reflected in the prices they can get; They can go for well over $100,000.