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3-On-The-Tree Big Block? 1966 Chevrolet Impala SS 396

Whenever I see an old car with an unusual combination of options like this, I always wonder what the original purchaser had in mind when he bought it. I don’t believe he would have been a performance enthusiast. If so, wouldn’t he buy a 4-speed? Perhaps he only wanted the big block power for towing. If that were the case, why an SS? Why not a non-SS version of an Impala which was also available with the 396? The answers to those questions will probably never be known, but this is bound to be quite the rare bird, or shall I say rare Impala. However, I doubt that rare translates into added value in this case. Most people I know who want to row their own gears would much rather have a four-speed manual as opposed to a column shifted three-speed. The seller reports that the car is complete, has been parked for 25 years, and that he is only the third owner. He has a clean and clear title to go. This find is located in South Austin, TX and it’s listed for $7,500 here on craigslist.

The car is practically covered with surface rust, but I see little in the way of body damage. There’s some obvious rust through in the trunk floor but trunk pans are readily available. In the process of stripping the car, one could reasonably expect to find some additional rust through in the rockers, quarters, and fenders.

I see some chicken wire on the inside of the left quarter. Evidence of some amateur body work performed sometime in the past, or just a piece of chicken wire in the trunk? I can’t tell.

The grill and both bumpers appear to be in good condition. Even the highly vulnerable front valence panel appears to have somehow avoided trouble.

Oftentimes a vehicle of this vintage has had the valve covers and breather replaced with cheap aftermarket bits, but this one appears to be unmolested under the hood. The radiator fan appears to be OEM also. Judging from the overall look of things, I’m guessing the engine has never been apart. The seller doesn’t state whether the engine turns over or not. His instructions are to “Call or text with questions.” I see it has the original, single circuit brake master cylinder on the fire wall. I’m a big fan originality, but that’s one area where I would deviate from stock. I would convert it to a much safer dual circuit master cylinder.

The interior appears to be complete including the hard-to-find and expensive-when-you-find-it center console. Check out those factory gauges mounted between the console and the dashboard! The passenger side door panel actually looks like it could be reused with a little cleaning. Can’t say that for any of the rest of the upholstery.

Overall, I see a car that’s not in need of a great deal of parts. It is, as the seller states, almost all there. It’s mostly in need of a lot of material and a lot of labor. What’s there needs to be rebuilt, refinished, reupholstered, and replated. Someone will bring this full size SS back to its former glory.

If you were restoring this car, would you savor the oddball status of your 3-on-the-tree SS-396, or would you convert it to a more performance oriented but more common 4-speed?

Comments

  1. jw454

    Saw it. Check back a couple of months.

    Like 4
  2. 86 Vette Convertible

    What he said.

    Like 5
  3. ccrvtt

    I think the left rear & right front wheel covers match.

    Like 3
  4. Mountainwoodie

    Crispy critter. lets see………..recipe for making bank. Let it sit outside for 25 years……..totally destroy the interior and fry the exterior…..in a humid hot climate. Sell it for whatever to clever buyer who becomes third seller..who picks sales price number out of the thin air…..and advertises it for a price you MIGHT pay if the car was running, complete with a decent paint job and had been taken care of……….

    Then wait for the whales to swim by…………..

    Like 9
  5. Tom

    My uncle who is 3 years older than me, had one just like this that he bought new. In fact this could be that car except his was a silver gray, 396/325 with 3 speed on the column. I don’t remember if he ordered it that way or if it was just a car the dealer in Tulsa had on the lot but there can’t be many out there like that. Very nice car although I was never a big fan of the 325 hp 396’s especially in a heavy car. They just could not get it done in the quarter mile. Back then I was driving a 66 GTO with tripower and never lost a race to a 396, even the 375 hp.

    Like 8
    • Gary Reiter

      Well. You obviously never ran against my chevelle! In 1966 i had a ss 396 325. Never lost a race to a Goat, Mustang, Firebird, or a 426 wedge. It was all on the street and strip. This had all taken place in California during the years ’66 – ’68.

      Like 0
      • Tom

        I beat many 66-67 396 Chevelles in the GTO.

        Like 0
  6. Troy s

    If you needed more pulling power than the 327 could provide this would be your next step. Not all big block powered Chevy’s were destined to become street/strip cars, although some people think that nowadays.

    Like 7
  7. Mike

    If your going to deviate from the original three speed manual trans , I suggest skipping the four gear and go straight to a five or six gear .
    If there’s any funds left after the metal work I would request A/C , power disc brakes ,and power steering .

    Like 4
  8. Michael Proulx

    My dad owned a 1965 Impala SS , 396, turbo 400. , I wish I could find that car , I was just a kid but it was cool , I miss my parents , love them while you can . Would love to find that car and restore it in memory of dad , this is a cool car just like it is.

    Like 9
  9. Suttree

    I can’t explain the SS part of this car. That said, back then I saw a lot more manual transmissions than I see today. Of those a floor shift was outnumbered by the column shift by a good bit. A floor shift in the 60s was pretty Exotic. For a car crazy kid that is.

    Like 3
  10. Pat

    Column shift wasn’t that unique in the 60’s. I had a teacher that drove a 65 Catalina 2 door with a 3 speed, 389 and air conditioning. And one of my baseball coaches drove a 66 skylark convertible with a 3 speed and a v8. My neighbor had a 63 galaxy 2 door sedan with a 3 speed and a 390.

    Like 4
  11. Del

    Keep it original

    Like 3
  12. Del

    Keep it original

    Like 3
  13. Terry

    Three on the tree was quite common in the sixties, keep in mind that most of the people buying these cars were taught to drive with manual transmissions. If driven properly they were more economical that automatics. It was all about control. Frankly if I were buying a car like this brand new I would have opted for the automatic.

    Like 2
  14. Terry L Johnson

    Back in the 60’s checking the box that ordered a 4 speed was a quick way to get your insurance rates jacked. Had a pal who bought a new Pontiac Bonneville convertible with a 421 and a 3 speed (on the floor). Get this: A Ford top loader 3 speed no less. That very tough transmission was found in lots of GM cars. Probably what came in this Chevy . :-) Terry J

    Like 0
  15. Terry L Johnson

    Back in the 60’s checking the “4 speed” box resulted in an immediate insurance rate hike in many cases. I had a pal who bought a new Bonneville convertible with a 421 and a 3 speed on the floor because of that. The tough Ford top loader 3 speed was used in GM cars back then. :-) Terry J

    Like 0
  16. Bing

    Crispy critter indeed! For the asking price, if I were a potential buyer, I would just keep on looking. Yes, the car is complete, but just about any level of work that would get the car back to any presentable condition would put you way past what one would pay for a suitably equipped car in drivable condition would cost.
    Regarding the GTO comment. I agree. Had a friend who had a 396 Chevelle who kept getting his doors blown off by a local 67 GTO. He took his Chevy down to the Goat dealer and they would not give him enough for the trade for him to swing the deal. When he asked the sales guy what he should do the reply was classic… Guy said, “if you can’t afford the GTO and you keep this car, just buy yourself a set of blinders”. We were country boys and knew exactly what he was saying.

    Like 4
  17. 68custom

    interesting but not at 7500! looks like some joker ordered it that way, odd.
    note the block of plate where the 4 speed shifter usually was and the guage package but no tachometer. strange beast!

    Like 1
  18. Ed Smith

    My dad had 1967 bel air wagon 396 auto trans with a posi rear end He out ran my Uncle 68/ 390 Torino with no problem I loved it and would smoke the tires off it

    Like 0

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