1969 Chevelle SS396
Any comments/corrections/additions please send them to me and be
sure to specify which year.
In 1969 the SS396 as a series was dropped and the 396 engine was relegated to being part of the RPO Z25, SS396 option. The 1969 model year is also the ONLY year to offer any SS Equipment option on anything other than the V8 Malibu sport coupe, convertible, and El Camino. For 1969 ONLY, the Z25 option could be ordered on the V8 300 Deluxe series 2-door coupe (13427) and 2-door sport coupe (13437).
Since the SS396 was relegated to an option and stopped being a separate series there is nothing on the Fisher Body Number plate nor the VIN to indicate the car was born with the Z25 SS396 option with one exception. Two exterior paint colors coded "72" for Monaco/Hugger Orange and "76" for Daytona Yellow were paint choices ONLY when the SS396 option was ordered. These two colors were certainly available on other 1969 Chevelles but did require option ZP3, special paint, to be ordered. When this was done, the trim tag would not show the "72" or "76" paint code but rather would show a dash character (-) in the appropriate lower or upper paint code position. Be alert for fake trim tags that may have one of these two paint codes added to "prove" the car is an SS.
The only way to truly document a 1969 Chevelle as having the SS396 option, aside from the two paint codes mentioned above, is with some sort of paperwork showing the option itself or the engine suffix code and the car's VIN. Examples would be the build sheet, Chassis Broadcast Copy sheet, warranty card Protect-O-Plate, or an original factory stamped engine where the partial VIN stamping is a match to the car's VIN sequence.
The 1969 SS396 option was available with the V8 300 Deluxe 2-door coupe (13427), 2-door sport coupe (13437), V8 Malibu sport coupe (13637), convertible (13667), or pickup (13680) models and the 396 cid Mark-IV engine was the base engine. As with all years of Super Sports, the VIN only depicts the base engine and does not indicate any optional engine. The base 396 engine was the (RPO L35) 325hp engine with two optional 396 engines, the RPO L34 350hp version and a RPO L78 375hp version. Since the SS396 option was just that, an option, the VINs on series & models that could be ordered with it simply show a V8 engine.
Contrary to popular belief bucket seats, gauges, and 4-speeds were not standard equipment. A front bench seat, no gauges (except speedometer and fuel gauge), and a 3-speed heavy duty floor-shifted transmission were standard with the RPO Z25 SS396 option.
It has been erroneously stated in several national car magazines and online articles the 1969 SS396 option included boxed rear lower control arms and rear sway bar under RPO F41 with the L78 engine. The F41 option was available on ANY 1969 Chevelle with the SS396 option but were not standard on the SS equipment packages until 1970. In fact, only 722 F41 options were ordered in 1969.
The Special Instrumentation option (RPO U14) was available on any SS-optioned Chevelle as well as any V8 Malibu sport coupe, convertible, or pickup.
The standard instrument cluster consisted of the speedometer/odometer and fuel gauge; note warning lamps for generator, oil pressure, and water temperature. The shift pattern in the center also indicates this was a column shifted 3-speed automatic. If there is no shift pattern indicator the Chevelle would be equipped with a manual transmission or a floor shifted automatic transmission.
Three examples of the Special Instrumentation option are shown here. Note redline for tachometer is based on the engine ordered; #6469404 5500 rpm on the left (L34 & L35 396 V8) and #6469408 6000 rpm on the two below (L78 396 V8) and a 3rd redline (#6469397 5000 rpm) was used with 307, 327, and 350 V8 engines. The warning lamps for generator, oil pressure, and water temperature have been replaced with an ammeter for the battery and gauges for oil pressure and water temperature. Not shown here, but the electric clock was also part of the Special Instrumentation option and would occupy the center pod in the cluster shown above the shift pattern indicator.
6469397 - All V8 except 396
6469404 - 396 V8 325hp and 350hp
6469408 - 396 V8 375hp
Note the circuit boards on these two units. The one on the left with the circular board is an original GM unit while the one on the right with the rectangular board is an aftermarket unit. Nothing wrong with an aftermarket unit but you can see the difference.
Suspect reproduction tachometer - note 5700 redline
All SS396-optioned Chevelles came with a 12-bolt rear end but Positraction was still an option; an open rear end was standard. However, a 12-bolt rear end, as well as Positraction, was available on non-SS396-optioned Chevelles as well so the presence of a 12-bolt (with or without Positraction) is not an indication of a 1969 SS396-optioned Chevelle.
The RPO Z25 SS396 option included the base 325hp, Turbo-Jet 396 V8, black-accented grille, special hood, ornamentation and suspension plus sport wheels and wide-oval tires white lettered tires, power disc brakes, and special 3-speed manual transmission. RPO D96 side stripes were optional and came in black, white, blue, or red and the stripe color were dependent on the color of the car, on in the case of a convertible or vinyl top option, the convertible's top color or sport coupe's vinyl top color and interior colors. See Exterior-Interior Combinations/Seat Belts/Stripe Colors for more details.
Power disc brakes could also be ordered on ANY non-SS optioned Chevelle so the presence of front power disc brakes is not proof a Chevelle is an SS-optioned Chevelle but, on the other hand, any Chevelle with drum brakes is not an SS-optioned Chevelles. Fuel lines are another clue, to a point. Both the L34 and L35 engines used a fuel return line so there will be two fuel lines along the frame rail. Production (non-SS) Chevelles have a single fuel line. The one exception is the optional L78 engine available with the SS option, it also only has one fuel line.
Optional transmissions included both the M20 or M21 manual 4-speed transmission or the TH400 automatic. Depending on the rated horsepower of the engine selected, the appropriate TH400 would be selected. Three different versions of the TH400 were available and can be identified by the metal tag on passenger side of the case. A "CC" coded TH400 was installed behind the base 396/325hp engine, a "CE" coded TH400 was installed behind the optional L34 396/350hp engine, and a "CX" coded TH400 was installed behind the optional L78 396/375hp engine.
Blacked-out grille with single bright horizontal bar and SS396 emblem centered in the grille and SS396 badging on the rear of the front fender.
Blacked-out rear cove with SS396 badging centered between the tail lamps. See more about the tail lamp bezels below.
The 1969 SS396 came standard with special 5-spoke SS wheels and shown here with optional red stripe tires. The SS396 option also removed the engine size from the front side marker found on all V8 Chevelles (and the optional 250cid L6-equipped Chevelles) and now displayed the SS396 emblem behind the front wheels. The remaining front side marker is the same that came with all base 230cid L6 engines.
'YA' coded 1969 SS396 SS wheel.
When based on the 136xx Malibu series, the lower body molding was eliminated as part of the Z25 SS396 Equipment option package.
Tail Lamp Housing/Cove
Another trim difference appears on the 300 Deluxe series Chevelles when ordered with the SS396 option. This is sometimes found on build sheets as RPO T93, Deluxe Tail Lights. Just what are "Deluxe Tail Lights?" The Malibu series got these deluxe tail lights where the 300 Deluxe series did not. However, when a 300 Deluxe series coupe or sport coupe was ordered with the SS396 option, these deluxe tail lights were included. Basically the difference is in the bezel itself as you can see from the photos.
This is a non SS-optioned 300 Deluxe. Note lack of trim in the cove and 'plain' tail lamp bezels.
This is a 300 Deluxe coupe (13427) SS clone; note tail lamp bezels are the same as the non SS-optioned 300 Deluxe in the above photo even though it has the blacked out cove, SS396 emblem and cove trim.
This is a non SS-optioned Malibu sport coupe.
This is SS-optioned Malibu; same tail lamps as the non SS-optioned Malibu sport coupe above.
Finally, a true SS-optioned 300 Deluxe coupe.
Malibu (top and middle) and 300 Deluxe coupe (bottom)
The front parking lamps are another clue. Note parking lamps on the top two 1969 Chevelles and compare them to the parking lamps on the bottom two 1969 Chevelles. The SS optioned Chevelles have bright trim around the parking lamps where the non-SS Chevelles do not.
The Red El Camino is SS optioned, the Yellow El Camino is not. The headlamp "eyebrow" trim extends to the front wheel well on non-SS optioned Malibus, be they sport coupes, convertibles, or El Caminos where SS optioned Chevelles stop at the bottom of the grille. The 300 Deluxe does use the same trim here as an SS optioned Malibu (see photo below).
Grille Extensions & Filler Panel
The aftermarket never seems to catch up and restorers never seem to learn. Part of the black-out treatment with the SS option includes the grille extensions. Top photo is a 300 Deluxe/Malibu without the SS option, center photo is Malibu with SS option, and lower photo is Malibu with SS option but incorrect grille extension pieces.
Often overlooked is the blacked-out filler panel. Photo courtesy Chad Beeley.
Measurements taken of SS and 396 fender emblems. Courtesy Dean Call
Did you know that early SS optioned 1969 Malibus had M A L I B U script on the rear quarter panels?
Also of interest, at least 1288 (latest reported) 1969 Canadian Chevelles VIN sequence began with 100001. How many of these are SS optioned isn't known but the four above fit the criteria.
It is often asked how many Malibu sport coupes (or any of the other 4 series/body styles) were built with the SS396 option. Sadly those are figures we'll probably never know. One can calculate a mathematical distribution based on (1) the total number of Chevelles that could have been ordered with (2) the SS396 option [346,406] and get a percentage of each of the 5 series/body styles since those numbers are known as well.
For example it is known that 5,620 V8 300 Deluxe coupes (13427) were sold. This represents 1.62% of the 346,406 possible Chevelles that could order the SS396 option. Multiplying this 1.62% times the number of SS396 options sold (86,307) results in a mathematical calculated number of 1,398. One can then mathematically calculate the number of each 396 engine based on the number of those engines. Again using the 13427 series/body style percentage of 1.62%, multiplying that percentage by the total number of L34 engines reported results in 281.
Does this really mean that 281 of the 1,398 SS396 optioned 300 Deluxe coupes were built? No. First the 1,398 number is a calculated number based on the assumption that, indeed, 1.62% of all SS396s were 13427 Chevelles. Second the 281 L34 engines is based on the assumed calculated number of 1,398 13427 Chevelles.