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1969 Camaro SS 396 Coupe

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by Bruce Caldwell  More from Author

375hp of L78 Big-Block Muscle

Photos by Jerry Heasley


1969 was a banner year for Camaros. Due to the late introduction of the 1970 second generation Camaros, the model year ran long. The model run started in September 1968 and lasted until February 26, 1970. During that period, just short of a quarter million 1969 Camaros were produced.

Chevrolet was well known for restyling cars in cycles of two years or more, so it was a little unusual that the 1969 Camaro got as much of a facelift as it did. GM obviously knew that the 1970 Camaro would be radically different.

Big-block engines were big news in 1969, and Camaros were very competitive with their cross-town rivals. There were four RPO 396 choices (plus the COPO 427 cars): the L35 325hp, the L34 350hp, the L78 375hp, and the L89, which was also rated at 375 hp. The L89 had aluminum cylinder heads, which eliminated valuable weight from the already nose-heavy Camaros.

We chose the L78 as a sure bet, because it was produced in far greater numbers (4,889 vs. 311) than the L89. That means chances of finding a nice one at a fair price are much improved. The L78 has the cachet of being the top horsepower Camaro (besides the vastly more expensive COPO cars) without the added cost of the L89 rarity. Our feature car has the favored 4-speed manual transmission, which better suits the hi-po image. An automatic-equipped L78 Camaro in excellent condition is still a good investment.

Even though an L78 convertible is a solid investment choice, we’re still partial to the coupe because of its similarities to the vaunted COPO coupes. Big-block Camaros were drag-race-oriented, and the more rigid coupes have always been better suited than the convertibles.

The L78 396 was also available in 1967 (1,138 produced) and 1968 (4,575 sold). Either of these Camaros would also be excellent investments, as would the 1968 L89 (272 sold).

The 1969 L78 SS 396 coupe tops our sure bet list because of its reasonable attainability and the overall popularity of 1969 Camaros.

 

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