For Chevrolet fans dueling against Hemis, nothing topped the 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 | The Online Automotive Marketplace | Hemmings (2024)

Cup holders? Zero. For “in-vehicle infotainment” there was an optional flap on the hood that flipped open whenever the driver mashed the throttle.

Traction control when that flap was locked in the upright, air-sucking position was determined by the operator’s right foot. Stability control? All courtesy of the driver’s hands at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions.

The LS6-powered 1970 Chevelle SS 454 had none of the conveniences that 21st century muscle car enthusiasts have come to expect. Its 450-hp rating even falls five short of the current SS Camaro’s 6.2-liter V-8.

But for legions of Chevrolet fans, this car has it all: limited production, the baddest engine available, and enduring styling.

What made the original LS6 special?

In 1970, if you had to pick a regular-production, steel-bodied car from the Bowtie camp to go heads-up against a Street Hemi, it would’ve been this one. Which is exactly why most of these cars were ordered–to go rounds at the track or on the street. As mass-produced cars like Chevrolets go, they’re scarce: There were 4,475 LS6-powered cars sold, but there’s no way of knowing for sure how many of the 4,475 were Chevelle hardtops, how many were convertibles, or how many were El Caminos.

The 454 was the biggest engine Chevrolet ever bolted into a production passenger car and, in LS6-tune, it made effortless horsepower and torque.

The LS6’s iron block was outfitted with four-bolt main caps for added strength. Inside, forged-aluminum pistons and forged-steel connecting rods swung from a forged-steel crankshaft.

The LS6 used solid lifters and an aggressive cam with .520 lift and 316 degrees duration. A set of closed-chamber heads with 2.19-inch intake and 1.88-inch exhaust valves capped off the short-block and conspired to deliver the engine’s lofty 11.25:1 compression ratio. On top, there was an aluminum low-rise intake, with a 780-cfm Holley four-barrel.

Buyers could opt for either the M-22 four-speed manual or a Turbo Hydra-Matic 400 automatic, while a heavy-duty 12-bolt axle was standard with buyer’s choice of 3.31 or 4.10 gears.

How were SS 454 Chevelles equipped?

The LS6’s wrapper was new for 1970, as well. The sharp angles of the 1968-’69 Chevelle were squared off and the full-width blacked-out grille replaced with body-color headlight surrounds and two thin horizontal grilles, bisected by a body-color bar. Out back, the chrome bumper incorporated rectangular taillights and a rubber insert branded with the SS logo.

The Super Sport option was available on the Sport Coupe, convertible, or El Camino, but now included the SS 396 as well as the new SS 454.

The SS 454, listed as option code Z15, cost $503.45 and included the 360-hp, LS5 454, heavy-duty suspension, SS wheels, power front disc brakes, dual exhausts with chrome tips, wheel arch moldings, blacked-out grilles and the SS rear bumper treatment.

Inside, SS Chevelles sported a unique instrument cluster with three large round openings in the center. The standard package got you a speedometer in the center flanked by a large fuel gauge, and a blanked-out opening. By ordering the special instrument option, a tach was inserted on the left of the speedo, a clock on the right, and the fuel gauge moved to a smaller array of gauges on the outer edges of the panel. Warning lights, too, were replaced with a water temperature gauge and an amp gauge.

Even in the sporty SS, bucket seats were an option, as was a console and floor shift (for automatics). A Muncie shifter was standard issue with four-speed transmissions, and, because it was mounted to the crossmember, it was notorious for binding. Still, magazine test drivers in 1970 rowed Muncie-equipped LS6 Chevelles to mid-13-second quarter-mile times on the stock F70-14 Firestone Wide Ovals.

An original LS6, risen from the ashes

This month’s 1970 Chevelle LS6 belongs to Ward Gappa, owner and president of Quality Muscle Car Restorations in Scottsdale, Arizona. In November, Ward’s Chevelle won a Gold Concours award at the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals in Rosemont, Illinois.

Ward has owned the car for 15 years, and uses it frequently, though not entirely without incident. In 2003, a few months after his first restoration of the car was finished, Ward was involved in a fender bender while driving the Chevelle. The grille, the front bumper, and the hood were damaged, but luckily nothing else.

“It was a miracle that it didn’t get into the fenders,” Ward said. “It kind of shaved the point off the front of the car. If it had been another few inches, it would’ve been a mess.”

Five years later, with the Chevelle back in show-winning condition, Ward watched in horror as flames shot out of the engine bay while the car was parked outside his home. Fortunately, the fire extinguished itself when a heater hose blew, spraying coolant all over the engine compartment. The culprit? He believes the wires to the TCS (transmission control spark) solenoid might’ve overheated and caught fire, igniting fumes from the carburetor.

“At least it didn’t burn to the ground,” Ward said. “I mean, how else are you going to look at it? It didn’t hurt the intake manifold or melt the original carburetor or distributor. The car had really good original wiring, but, of course, that was toast. But it didn’t get hot enough to ruin the hood. There were just so many things that could’ve happened.”

Ward’s LS6-powered Chevelle was purchased new at Ed Black’s Chevrolet Center, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on June 6, 1970, by Tom White, a 19-year-old pharmacy student enrolled at the University of New Mexico. Tom drove the Chevelle off the lot for $4,454.60, minus a $2,100 trade-in allowance for his 1967 Chevelle.

For the next 10 years, Tom drove the car daily, racking up 91,000 miles, until he sold it to Greg Compagnone of Albuquerque for $4,500. Greg put rings and bearings in the 454 because it was using oil, and had the car painted. He then sold the Chevelle to Jerry Cogswell of Los Lunas, New Mexico, in late 1984, for $5,500.

The car remained in storage from 1984 until 2001, and was driven less than 1,000 miles in that time before Ward bought it in 2002.

“I bought it at the Pavilions [car show in Scottsdale],” Ward said. “I remember it sitting there, all of the paperwork was included, and it had just one repaint. It took me a half hour to make the decision, and I thought, you know, I want one of these things, and I want one that’s had an easy life.”

Specifications

Engine Chevrolet Mark IV “big-block” V-8, cast-iron heads and block

Displacement 454-cu.in.

Compression 11.25:1

Horsepower 450 @ 5,600 rpm

Torque 500 lb-ft at 3,600

Chassis Perimeter frame with heavy-duty front and rear coil springs, tubular shock absorbers, boxed rear lower control arms and front and rear anti-roll bars

Brakes Front disc/rear drums with vacuum assist

Wheelbase 112 inches

Length 197.2 inches

Height 52.6 inches

Weight 3,759

Fuel capacity 20 gallons

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