10 of the Most Powerful and Fastest Chevy Cars of Their Time
GM’s volume badge at its finest when it comes to performance
Let’s be honest; this list can easily be populated by 21st century Corvettes and nothing else. But, where’s the fun in that? It’s much more rewarding digging out some of the forgotten Bow Tie brand’s performance gems and compiling a list that takes at least one additional factor into consideration. Production year. After all, 650-horsepower Corvette Z06 available today was something unimaginable back in the sixties, for instance. But someone had to be crowned performance king even then. That’s what this list is all about. Like previous similar Mopar and Buick lists, this fastest Chevy list also brings the most powerful and unique performance models of the GM’s volume badge.
Although Chevrolet was never actually considered GM’s performance branch, it actually sported the fastest and most powerful GM models more often than not. With famous race car driver Louis Chevrolet as one of its founders, that doesn’t really come as a surprise. Chevrolet might have been GM’s volume brand for the most part, but performance roots were always deep in Bow Tie’s conscience and philosophy.
1957 Corvette C1
Corvette wasn’t only Chevrolet’s first sports car. It was also their first true performance car. Although it debuted in 1953, it wasn’t until 1957 that it finally started exhibiting its true potential. Six-cylinder was gone and only 283ci small-block V8 in various tunes remained. Depending on choice of options, ’57 ‘Vette developed 220 hp, 245 hp, 250 hp, 270 hp or 283 hp. Of course, our favorite is the latest of the mentioned models.
You’ll also notice that total horsepower equals the engine’s displacement. This was the first time in history that a GM mass production engine has managed to achieve the landmark of having 1 horsepower per 1 cubic inch. Thus, Zora Arkus-Duntov and Ed Cole had finally achieved their long-time goal. But all this wouldn’t have been possible without one expensive optional feature. Code 579B was responsible for this Corvette’s success. And behind that code was Rochester mechanical fuel injection. It added around 10 percent to the total price tag and came in short supply, but around 750 ‘Vettes still came with it. Another 284 Corvettes would receive fuel injection for this year, but their final outputs were lowered.
Speaking of output, ’57 ‘Vette with Rochester injection was actually slightly underrated. It developed around 290 horsepower, but that figure clashed with, at that time, present rule of not having more than 1 hp per cubic inch. Aside from fuel injection, these special ’57 Corvettes featured 3-speed manual transmission or optional 4-speed manual, optional heavy duty suspension, optional power windows, etc. They also featured new body carried over from 1956 model, which helped finally cementing Corvette’s place as one of the best sports cars available in the US market.
1961 Impala SS
Impala SS deserves to be mentioned for two reasons. One: it was one of the most powerful and fastest Chevy models during its heyday. Two: this is where the SS badge actually comes from. Although it only started as a special performance package on the third generation Impala, Super Sport would become Chevrolet’s seal of performance. 55 years and counting – SS is still around and shows no signs of going away.
For its first year, the SS package came, more or less without limitations. Sedans and station wagons alike were candidates for conversion. Engine choices were similarly colorful. Although only 348ci V8 and 409ci V8 were available, former came in three setups. two-barrel option developed 305 horsepower, while four-barrel version raised either 340 or 350 ponies. However, it was the 409ci Turbo-Fire V8 that garnered the most interest. Only paired with 3 or 4-speed manual, big-block generated 360 horsepower. Moreover, this engine was exclusively available with convertibles and hardtop sport sedans. 2-door sedans and station wagons had to remain content with the 348 cubic inch.
For its first year, SS package didn’t attract too many buyers. 453 of them ticked the optional box, while only 142 of them did so with the 409 cubic inch. At least, that’s as far as factory-installed SS package goes. Dealers exerted the option to add the SS trim themselves, but those were only cosmetic upgrades. Even though performance upgrades weren’t obligatory this way, some people still proceeded with this practice on their ’61 Impalas.
1965 Chevelle Z16
This mid-year special wasn’t only one of the fastest Chevy models ever made, but also one of the rarest. Only 200 coupes and 1 convertible have been built, and no more than 70 are still in existence today. Before you ask; no, the convertible hasn’t been accounted for. It would have commanded a huge price tag had it been found.
Z16 Chevelle was based on Chevelle SS 396. It had the same displacement 396ci V8, but the engine itself was taken from the Corvette. Since, at that time (and still today), Corvette used to represent the pinnacle of Chevrolet’s performance, brass at Bow Tie brand decided to undermine the Chevelle. They rated the car at 375 horsepower, although the same setup in Corvette yielded 425 ponies. 4-speed Muncie manual trans was carried over as well, and Chevelle Z16 packed almost all available options as standard. Heavy duty suspension was there, and so were power brakes and steering, front and rear anti-roll bars, and unique speedometer engraved to 160-mph. Rare ’65 Chevelle also benefited from Firestone gold-line tires, AM/FM Multiplex radio, specific interior trim, and remote mirror. Only three color options were available on the outside: Black, Regal Red and Crocus Yellow.
1967 Corvette C2 Stingray L88
Extremely rare code L88 C2 is the holy grail of Corvettes. Yes, Stingray had featured 425-horsepower 396ci big-block V8 in 1965 and 427ci big-block V8 from 1966, but it was in 1967 that Corvette had reached its performance peak. It was then, that L89 option 427ci V8 with triple Holley two-barrel carbs (Tri-Power) had peaked at 435 horsepower. But L88, as already mentioned, made L89 look like child’s play. Not on the paper, though, where L88 generated “only” 430 horsepower at 4,600 rpm – 5 hp less than L89. In truth, however, L88 produced as much as 560 horsepower at 6,400 rpm. Supreme figures by today’s standards, let alone for 1967.
L88 option was imagined as a race track exclusive and Chevrolet, on Zora Arkus-Duntov’s behalf, even discouraged individuals from buying it. That explains extremely downgraded output figures and lack of any real advertising. And they succeeded, as only 216 L88 Corvettes were ordered between 1967 and 1969. Yes, L88 engine option was carried over onto the C3 Corvette. L88 was one unique engine sporting aluminum heads with larger 1.84-inch exhaust valves, hi-lift cam, 12.5:1 compression, and a single huge 850 CFM Holley carburetor. Only L88 Corvettes came with air intake at the back of the hood and air cleaner attached to the underside of the hood itself. They also demanded performance suspension, positraction rear end, and stronger brakes as special orders. However, you couldn’t have ordered the air conditioning and the radio with one.
1967 L88 Corvette C2 is the rarest of them all. Only 20 of them were made and they aren’t available for less than seven digits these days. It’s safe to say that, considering all the circumstances, this one was the most powerful and fastest Chevy ever produced.
1969 COPO ZL-1 Camaro
Although at the height of muscle car battle, Chevrolet actually forbade their dealers to offer anything larger than 400 cubic inches in Camaros. In order to bypass this ban, dealers wishing to offer something more had to go through the Central Office Production Order (COPO). This process allowed dealerships to order specialty cars (taxi cabs, trucks, etc) straight from the factory. Don Yenko, for instance, had used COPO in order to create the famous Yenko Camaro since 1967. In 1969, there were two such special orders numbered 9560 and 9561. Yenko ended up ordering 201 units through latter of these orders, and other dealerships across the country raised that number to a total of almost 1,000 Camaros. COPO number 9560, on the other hand, would turn out to become the holy grail of Camaros.
Both codes stood for 427ci big-block V8’s. While 9561 translated to L72 option rated at 425 horsepower, 9560 stood for drag strip-prepped ZL-1 powerplant. This all-aluminum 427ci V8 was, like many such engines, seriously underrated at 435 horsepower. In truth, it generated more than 500 ponies and weighted about the same as the 327ci small-block. With that kind of power to weight ratio, ’69 ZL-1 Camaro was able to eat a quarter-mile in around 13 seconds. Only minor modifications allowed it to do the same in deep 11 seconds range.
We have Fred Gibb of Gibb Chevrolet and Dick Harrell, a longtime Chevrolet drag racer to thank for, for ZL-1’s existence. They had to order at least 50 cars, but ultimately only managed to sell 13. Price tag of more than $7,200 probably had something to do with it. Most were returned to Chevrolet or exchanged with other dealers who replaced ZL-1’s with less expensive mills. In the end, a total of 69 COPO ZL-1 Camaros were assembled, and they’re among the most expensive Camaros and fastest Chevy cars in existence today.
1970 Chevelle SS LS6 454
Although introduced at the time when muscle car scene begun waning down, Chevelle SS 454 is still considered one of the ultimate muscle cars ever made. The famous LS6 was certainly one of the fastest Chevy cars ever produced. It definitely took some time for Chevrolet to catch up to the competition, but when they did, they did it with a flare.
Checking out the $503.45 RPO Z15 and $263.30 LS6 delivered 450 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of twist. Back in 1970, anything less was considered mediocre. Before this was made possible, Chevrolet first had to lift the 400ci maximum allowed displacement on their intermediate cars. We know how this resulted as Buick, Olds and Pontiac all decided to stuff their mid-sizers with 455ci big-blocks. Chevelle’s LS6 sported 800 CFM Holley four-barrel, 11.25:1 compression ratio, and hated Air Injection Reactor (A.I.R.) which reduced emissions at the expense of performance. Needless to say, this was the first part to be removed by owners upon delivery.
LS6 could have been had either with Muncie M22 4-speed manual or M40 Turbo Hydra-Matic 3-speed auto trans. Mandatory options (included with the Z15 package) consisted of power brakes, beefier suspension, and dual exhausts. On top of $750 for RPO Z15 and LS6, Muncie trans cost $221.80, while M40 required additional $290.40. In total, Chevelle LS6 warranted at least around $1,000 atop $2,800 which was the base car’s price tag.
1989 Corvette C4 ZR-1
Almost 20 years would pass before austere seventies and eighties came to their end. At the end of latter of the two uninspiring (for performance) decades, Chevy marketed one of their most inspiring Corvettes. The lovely C4 King of the Hill code named ZR-1. They needed some help from the outside in order to do that, however. That’s why Chevy acquired Lotus in 1986. ZR-1’s V8 developed jointly by GM and Lotus, and built by Mercury Marine was dubbed LT5. Double-overhead-cam 5.7L 32-valve V8 made out of aluminum generated as much as 380 horsepower. It was also able to shut down the secondary intake ports and fuel injectors by push of the button. Moreover, only primary ports and injectors actually worked when there was no need for secondary ones (read city driving). This made LT5 one of the most versatile engines at the time – both powerful and efficient.
But the engine is only part of what made the ZR-1 so special. Chevrolet equipped this ‘Vette with ZF-sourced 6-speed manual transmission code-named ML9. Thanks to engine’s 370 lb-ft of torque and transmission’s ability to withstand up to 425 lb-ft, Corvette ZR-1 was capable of topping 175 mph and accelerating to 60 from standstill in 4.5 seconds. There was even faster Corvette available back then, but that one was customized by John Lingenfelter in his Decatur, Indiana shop. It sported 6.3L V8, auto trans, and was capable of reaching 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. It also cost much less than overpriced ZR-1. Almost $20,000 less, in fact. And ZR-1’s initial $58,995 price tag quickly grew even more. It wasn’t only one of the fastest Chevy models ever produced, but also one of the most expensive ones.
1994 Callaway C8 SuperNatural Camaro
Much like the aforementioned Lingenfelter Corvette, there were other ‘Vettes and Camaros tuned by various great American automotive engineering minds. One such was Reeves Callaway whose twin turbo Corvettes were even available in Chevrolet dealerships as factory options. He then proceeded with upgrading the second most powerful Chevrolet – the Camaro.
Because it was his eighth project overall, Callaway Camaro received the C8 prefix. It was based on supernatural 6.3L V8 LT1 engine capable of making north of 400 horsepower. Supernatural 400 engine enabled Callaway Camaro to max out at 172 mph and accelerate from 0 to 60 in 4.6 seconds. At the time, Callaway was making both the aero body designed by Paul Deutschman and engines for the cars. They sold them separately, and only those sporting both the kit and the engine were given the C8 mark. There were only 17 such Camaros excluding one prototype. C8 also sported Hurst 6-speed manual transmission, Brembo brakes, Koni adjustable shocks, Callaway springs, etc. In true custom-tuned fashion, Callaway Camaro was, and still is one of the fastest Chevy cars ever produced.
2011 Camaro SLP ZL1
Street Legal Performance have created a special edition Camaro worthy of a supercar status. Back in 2011, fifth generation pony car was already reminiscent of its glory years, but for some, that still wasn’t enough. SLP took the new Camaro, plastered the iconic ZL1 badge on it, and turned the volume up. Volume meaning performance, of course.
Under SLP ZL1 Camaro’s giant bulging hood, sits 7.0L LS7 V8 mill which they’ve tuned to no less than 750 horsepower. Courtesy for such enormous power output goes to TVS 2300 supercharger with 10 psi of boost. They even threw in the specially tweaked 6-speed manual so that their owners would have full control of all that power. And that power translates to 0 to 60 time of 3.1 seconds, even with traction trying to spoil the fun. Truly supercar worthy. Apart from having 324 horsepower more than the stock 6.2L V8 Camaro, SLP ZL1 hits the 150 mph mark in less than 20 seconds. That makes it more than 15 seconds faster than the stock version. Being seriously quick off the line and fast down the line, Camaro SLP ZL1 has deservedly found its spot among the fastest Chevy cars ever made.
Problem with the SLP ZL1 is its price tag. While base V8 models back then went for around $35,000 on average, SLP’s beast wore a sticker that read $118,800. No surprise that only 32 units found their new owners (30 numbered and 2 unnumbered ones).
2015 Corvette C7 Z06 With Z07 Performance Package
Unlike Lingenfelter, Callaway and SLP-tuned Corvettes and Camaros, Z06 ‘Vette came straight from Chevy. Although Corvette was always considered a sports car, Z06’s performance suggests otherwise. With 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque coming out of 6.2L LT4 V8 and 1.7L Eaton R1740 TVS supercharger, it’s more of a supercar than sports car. When you add Z07 performance package to the equation, it truly becomes a supercar. 0 to 60 in 2.95 seconds, top speed of 185 mph, cornering G-force of 1.2 G’s… And all that for base price of $78,995 for a coupe or $83,995 for a roadster!
Of course, Z07 package adds $7,999 more to the price tag. With good reason at that, because it includes Brembo carbon ceramic brakes, Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup 2 tires and fully adjustable carbon fiber aero kit consisting of a front splitter, side skirts and a huge spoiler around the back. Apart from welcome choice between a coupe and a convertible, Z06 offers a choice between manual and 8-speed automatic transmissions. Ordering too many options, however, easily pushed the price into a six digit territory. Still, C7 ‘Vette Z06 with Z07 performance package represents the pinnacle of Chevy performance. And judging by the recent years, fastest Chevy beasts are getting ready for full swing bestial devastation of their opponents.