© Mecum Auctions1965 Chevrolet Chevelle Z16 4
ZL1, COPO, L88, SS, RS, Z/28, Z06-without context, Chevy's mid-century order codes are about as evocative as reading the back of a once-a-day vitamin bottle. Unsurprisingly, the docket of Mecum Auction's upcoming sale of Rick Treworgy's sprawling Muscle Car City museum is loaded to the air cleaners with these alphanumeric codes, and while it's tempting to fixate on the incredible COPO Camaros and SS variants filling up the showfloor of the former grocery store, we can't tear our eyes from the rare and semi-obscure 1965 Chevrolet Chevelle Z16 that's up for grabs.
As demand for high-performance muscle car variants rose in the mid-1960s, Chevrolet realized the relatively staid Chevelle was at risk of falling behind its contemporaries as the big-block floodgates swung open. The popular small-block 327-cubic-inch (5.3-liter) V-8 was offered within the first year of Chevelle production in 1964. But its maximum output of 300 hp put it behind the competition, particularly as the Pontiac GTO's tri-power 389ci engine spun out 360 hp and a wicked 424 lb-ft by 1965. A 350-hp RPO L79 327 was made available in 1965, but the 360 lb-ft couldn't match the tri-power's tenderizing torque.
Of course, the legendary SS 396 was just a year away, but there was little promotion and fanfare yet for the forthcoming big-block Chevelle. To ramp-up interest for the future big-block package, Chevy slid the then-new 396-cubic-inch (6.5-liter) L37 big-block V-8 into a run of 200 Chevelle SS coupes and one convertible. This new hotrod carried the internal designation of "Z16" and was offered primarily to members of the media, Chevy VIPs, and other high-profile individuals the General deemed would effectively promote the big honkin' engine package just over the horizon. © Mecum Auctions
While the Z16 is more than just shoehorned big-block, it was all about that engine. 375 hp and a thick 420 lb-ft made it one of the most potent muscle cars of its day, with each 396 matched to a Muncie four-speed manual transmission. Interestingly enough, though the 396 shared a basic design with the same year's Corvette 396, the Z16's L37 utilized a more street-friendly hydraulic lifters versus the 'Vette's solid-lifter setup, owing to the Corvette's L78 396 425-hp rating.
Elsewhere, Chevelle Z16s were beefed up to handle the extra gumption. The frame was that of a Chevelle convertible, chosen for its additional structural reinforcement. Around back, the Z16 wore a narrower rear-axle and upgraded brakes from the Impala along with the customary "heavy-duty" suspension. Visually, good luck picking a Z16 out from a field of 1965 Chevelles; aesthetic differences were limited to a bespoke black-and-chrome rear panel with untrimmed taillights pulled from a lower-spec variant. A quick indicator of a potential Z16 is the color; whereas a regular Chevelle SS could be covered in any of the 15 paint options, Z16s arrived only in Tuxedo Black, Regal Red, or Crocus Yellow.
Of the 201 produced, only around 75 are accounted for, making any Z16 that comes to market a noteworthy occurrence. Treworgy's Z16 is one of the nicest out there, especially wearing rare Crocus Yellow paintwork. According to Mecum's listing, the car is still fresh from a past frame-off restoration, and carries documentation stretching back to the original owner. Interested? We thought so, but it won't come cheap. Make sure you register to bid before the Z16 crosses the auction block, as its currently on schedule for the first day of the sale on January 22.