OCTOBER 2023: 1968 CHEVELLE SS396—IT’S HER STRESS RELIEF ZONE

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The car hobby is a natural escape route from today’s world.

One of the reasons is obvious—you’re escaping from today’s world in yesterday’s vehicle so it’s a time machine to the past.

This 1968 Chevelle SS396 is a classic example of how an old car can be a four-wheeled escape from reality.

Jerry Sutherland

The Chevelle SS396 was one of Chevy’s best ideas in the 60s because they introduced a mid-sized car to the muscle car wars of the mid-60s. The Pontiac GTO paved the way for the extremely rare ’65 Chevelle Malibu SS396. After that, the SS396 Chevelles became a household name in the muscle car world.    

Rhoda Heighton is the proud owner of this piece of Chevy history. She found the car during a search and learned it was going to be a bracket car project. The numbers showed this was an actual SS396 car, so Rhoda and her husband decided to reverse the process and bring this Chevelle back to a more stock form.

Rhoda explained how they already had a 350-horse ’69 Camaro SS396 big block in storage so that’s the direction they took with the Chevelle. They had the perfect opportunity to test the Camaro engine because the previous owner had it in a ’67 Chevelle. Rhoda and her husband were highly impressed with the performance of the Camaro engine. The engine was a big piece of the puzzle, but this SS396 needed a few other things to make it a solid driver.

The floor had a small hole so that was fixed. A fender needed some work and Rhoda replaced the hood as part of the cosmetics process on the car. The Chevelle also received new paint and the factory decals were added to bring this car back to the full 1968 SS396 look.

Rhoda said they also addressed the interior of the Chevelle. The car has a brand-new interior—including a headliner brought back to a “factory look”.   

They added a posi rear end to the Chevelle because big-block cars need a two-wheel launch—that’s rule number one. The posi is hooked up to a three-speed automatic so this SS396 has all the right parts for 1968.

Muscle cars from the 60s are notoriously bad when they’re idling in heat and heavy traffic–new gas  makes them even less cooperative. Rhoda added a flex fan to her SS396 and that has really helped cure its bad manners in heat and heavy traffic.  

That’s important to Rhoda because this car is a stress relief from her high-pressure nursing career. She takes her Chevelle out on the road regularly because it’s good for the car and more importantly—it’s good for her. This is definitely a fair-weather driver because Rhoda doesn’t want to expose this classic to nasty weather—everything about her time behind the wheel has to be stress-free.

Rhoda wanted to give full credit to her husband for this project because he did a lot of heavy lifting to make it work.

He knew how important this stress-free zone was to her.

Jerry Sutherland

By: Jerry Sutherland

Jerry Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer with a primary focus on the collector car hobby. His work has been published in many outlets and publications, including the National Post, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post,  Vancouver Sun and The Truth About Cars. He is also a regular contributor to Auto Roundup Publications.

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