1970 Chevelle SS 454 LS6: A Look Back at Chevy's HEMI-Slaying Muscle Car Legend (2024)

Unleased on public roads during what was quite possibly the most thrilling model year for America’s original supercars (now known as muscle cars), the Chevelle SS 454 was conceived as an alpha predator that feasted on other pack’s leaders such as HEMI-powered Mopars.

Today, muscle car enthusiasts are mourning since the second era of these terrific vehicles is ending. EVs are set to take over, but even if they will offer even more power and sing an artificial V8 tune, these new-age alternatives will never replace authentic muscle cars in the hearts and minds of true enthusiasts.

I firmly believe that eco-fuels will eventually bring American V8-powered muscle cars back to our local dealerships in the future. But until that happens, this agonizing second extinction we’re witnessing has been made easier to cope with thanks to Ford’s decision to continue developing a seventh-generation Mustang or Dodge’s release of the insane Demon 170 Challenger.

Similarly, back in 1970, the original muscle car era was coming to an abrupt end, yet unlike today, few anticipated that a global fuel crisis was set to decimate America’s beloved supercars in just a couple of years.

During the late 1960s, Detroit’s Big Three was caught up in a fierce horsepower war and as a result, they produced some of the greatest muscle cars ever built. Chrysler seemed to have an edge with its lethal 426 HEMI-powered, weapons, but for that epic 1970 model year, Chevrolet unleashed the Chevelle SS 454, a model capable of defeating the most powerful Mopars on both the street and the strip.

The ban is lifted

Photo: Chevrolet

Chevrolet had been battling for supremacy in the muscle car segment ever since the mid-1960s. Its V8-powered stars, the Camaro pony car, and the mid-size (intermediate) Chevelle (particularly the SS) helped the Bowtie brand eat a generous slice of the muscle car pie for years. However, enthusiasts who prioritized ludicrous stock performance and wanted a mid-size supercar were rushing into Dodge and Plymouth dealerships to get one that hid a HEMI under its hood.

Because GM had a 400 cubic inch (6.6 liters) ban for intermediate models, offering a worthy rival for the likes of the Elephant-powered Dodge Charger and Plymouth GTX was nearly impossible.

That finally changed in 1970 when the corporation’s higher-ups lifted the ban and gave all of its divisions carte blanche to develop the biggest, most powerful big-blocks they could fit inside the engine bays of their respective mid-size offerings.

Unlike today, when multiple brands that stand under the same corporate umbrella develop a single type of engine that’s used across the board in platform-sharing models, back then, each GM division involved in the muscle car segment developed its own heavy-hitter. While Pontiac, Olds, and Buick each added a 455 to their mid-size contenders, Chevy offered the Chevelle SS with the biggest engine it had ever fitted into a production car, a new version of the Mark IV big-block enlarged to 454 ci (7.4 liters).

The mighty LS6

Photo: Mecum

When ordering a Chevelle (or El Camino) with the Regular Production Option (RPO) Z15, among a hefty list of performance-oriented upgrades, customers received the new 454 Turbo-Jet as standard. Codenamed LS5, the humongous engine was rated at 360 hp (365 ps), which was a solid figure, but it didn’t quite lift the SS 454 to the top of the muscle car food chain.

However, with the addition of the LS6 Special Hi Performance option that didn’t show up on many brochures, the SS 454 was instantly transformed into a HEMI Mopar-slaying supercar. As the name implies, the option included the LS6 version of the 454 Turbo-Jet. It featured the same iron block as the standard 454, but it was beefed up with four-bolt mains, a forged steel crank, conrods made from the same bombproof alloy, and forged aluminum pistons capable of comfortably withstanding the 11.25:1 compression ratio. Furthermore, it came with deep groove accessory drive pulleys, solid lifters, a low-rise aluminum manifold, and a big, 800-cfm Holley four-barrel carb mounted on top.

Mated to either a Muncie Rock Crusher (M22) close-ratio four-speed manual or a Turbo Hydra-Matic (M40) three-speed auto, the behemoth was conservatively rated at 450 hp (456 ps) and a tire-shredding 500 lb-ft (678 Nm) of torque.

During multiple independent tests performed by the era’s most illustrious car magazines, the 1970 Chevelle SS 454 showed that it could sprint to 60 mph (97 kph) in no more than 5.5 seconds while running the quarter mile times in the low thirteens. On both the street and the strip, it became one of the only muscle cars that could beat a HEMI-powered Mopar and with a skilled driver behind the wheel, it did so in nine out of ten attempts.

Aesthetic and mechanical upgrades to match the performance

Photo: Mecum

The highest-powered Chevelle in model history and the only Chevy that had a higher horsepower rating than the Corvette in 1970, the LS6 454 was also one of the best-looking muscle cars of the era.

Like the entire Chevelle lineup, its body – available either in Sport Coupe orConvertible guises – received a thorough redesign that rounded out most of the sharp edges of the 1967-1969 models. Aggressiveness was taken to another level by the taller front grille, the wide, SS-only “Stereo Stripes” and the “Cowl Induction” hood flap that opened when the driver floored the throttle

To cope with the added power, the SS 454 was equipped with a bunch of extra goodies, including power front disc brakes and a heavy-duty rear suspension.

With all the required optional extras and a few add-ons like bucket seats, an LS6-powered SS could be had for around $4,300, which in today’s money translates to $34,115. It was by no means cheap, but compared to the current era when a Hellcat-powered Dodge exceeds $80,000, arguably the greatest muscle car available in 1970 was far more affordable for the average enthusiast.

One of the most sought-after muscle cars in the world

Photo: Mecum

Although Chevrolet initially announced that the LS6 option would return for the 1971 model year, it was eventually dropped so, unlike HEMI Mopar intermediates, the Chevelle SS 454 was a one-year wonder. According to the division’s records, 4,475 LS6-powered cars were produced, but there is no way of telling how many were Chevelles and how many were El Caminos.

Today, this legendary Chevy model is one of the most sought-after muscle cars in existence and the average value of a well-kept, low-mileage example stands around the $150,000 mark. The black 454 SS featured in the gallery is one such example that was auctioned off by Mecum in 2021, fetching $209,000.

While the original muscle car era gave us a multitude of epic vehicles, the LS6-powered Chevelle SS 454 stands in a league of its own and will continue to fascinate the hearts of enthusiasts all over the world even when ICE-powered cars will cease to exist.

You can learn more about this legendary muscle car in the excellent YouTube video below by OldCarMemories.com.

1970 Chevelle SS 454 LS6: A Look Back at Chevy's HEMI-Slaying Muscle Car Legend (5)
1970 Chevelle SS 454 LS6: A Look Back at Chevy's HEMI-Slaying Muscle Car Legend (2024)

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