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427

Few numbers in the automotive realm carry the mystique of 427.  Chevy and Ford are newly mindful of this and getting serious about leveraging the value of the 427 moniker.  Ford recently built a (well-received) concept sedan named the 427, but it’s Chevy who deserves the most props.  When the C6 Corvette Z06 was introduced in 2006, Chevy resurrected the 427 as RPO LS-7.  With a staggering 505 horsepower, 7,000 RPM and 11.8 second quarter mile capability it more than appropriately honored the 427 legend.

The 427 reputation was hard fought and legitimately earned by Ford and Chevy from 1963-69, based on the performance of their uber-big block on the world’s racetracks and American streets.  Hanging the 427 name on anything less than spectacular just wouldn’t do.

Certainly there were potent big blocks other than the 427, but for every 396 L-78, 390 Tri-power, or 440 Six-Pack that prowled the avenues, thousands of low performance versions of those big blocks pushed around station wagons, sedans and pickups in a most lethargic fashion.  In contrast, the 427 was born a race engine and generally remained that way throughout its 6 year lifespan.

Both Ford and Chevy equipped their 427s with the very best race proven parts; steel cranks, cross bolted main bearings, 7/16” rod bolts, sodium filled valves, big port heads, transistorized ignitions, Holley 4150 carbs, cast iron headers, and nasty solid lifter cams.  Depending on configuration, the 427s were all well over 400 rated horsepower – and some versions (e.g., Chevy ZL-1, L-88 and Ford 427 SOHC) generated close to 600 crankshaft horsepower.  Manufacturers weren't naive, they knew how these engines would be driven – and some 427s came without warrantees of any kind.

Grannies never “accidently” ordered a 427 for their LTD sedan.  A buyer made a big investment and, in some cases, had to overcome major bureaucratic hurdles to order a 427.   So a Ford or Chevy 427 nestled between the frame rails always signified a savvy buyer who wanted maximum, all out, heavy duty Detroit iron built for one purpose; slamming gobs of 7,000 RPM horsepower through a 4 speed tranny and turning tires into obscene plumes of smoke. 

The 427 was lights-out in a street race, unless you had a good running 426 Hemi under hood.  Upon spotting 427 fender flags alongside at the traffic light, the face saving strategy was to look away and turn off at the nearest opportunity.

The 1966-69 Chevrolet Impala and 1964-67 Ford Galaxie were readily available with 427 engines, including the range topping L-72 Chevy and R-Code Ford conservatively rated at 425 horsepower apiece.   These full sized machines were the 1960’s analogue to today’s Taurus SHO - grown up hotrods with high performance,  comfort and style.

The path to getting a 427 in a ponycar was a bunch more convoluted.  Except for low production and costly COPO specials – the 427 wasn't available in the Camaro as a regular production option because GM management deemed the combination too lethal to make widely available.  Since the 427 was a simple bolt in replacement for a stock 396 big block, a number of Chevy dealers (e.g., Baldwin-Motion, Yenko, Nickey, Berger and Dana) offered their own conversion 427 Camaros in L-72, L-88 and ZL-1 spec.

It was a similar story at Ford.  Mustang literature listed the 390 HP W-code 427 as an available option in 1968 (alongside the similarly stillborn 302 Tunnel Port “sedan racing” engine) but the combination never came to fruition.  Instead, the 427 W code found a home in a several hundred Cougar GT-E models.

Few people appreciate the legacy and mystique of Chevy’s 427 more than Mike Gilon.  He’s the owner of 2 legendary 427 powered Bowties – a 1967 SS/RS Camaro with a dealer installed 425 horsepower L-72 and a 1969 Impala SS with a 390 horsepower L-36.

Mike acquired the green-on-green Impala in July, 2010 with a mere 22k miles on the clock.  He was able to trace three generations of ownership  through Pennsylvania and Ohio, and discovered it was purchased new by a Doctor at Marve Minneman Chevrolet in Youngstown, Ohio.  Marve Minneman was known for its willingness to order performance cars for the area’s enthusiast and Youngstown was a hotbed of Detroit performance iron back in the 60’s.

 

The Impala still has its original 390hp 427CID L-36 power plant and 4 speed Muncie transmission. The rear end was ordered with 3:73s and posi-traction as evidenced by the DM code on the axle tube. In the interest of street drivability, Mike swapped out the 3.73 gears for more docile 3:31 cogs.  The car also boast sports bucket seats and a console.  Other than the Z-20 SS427 package and speed minder, it has no additional options. Mike added  a factory AM/FM radio as well as the extraordinarily rare T-83 hidden headlamp option which was only available on the Caprice.

Although a salt belt car, it’s apparent the Impala was never subjected to the elements and the car remains in fantastic #2 shape. You can still clearly read the manufacturer, part number and date of manufacture stamping on the frame – Budd, 093911, 12/10/68.

Although green wasn't Mike's first choice of colors,  it suits the angular lines of the Impala quite well. According to Mike; "coming of age back in the late 60’s, I always found the 69 Impala design to be the high point of GM’s full size styling – a large car, yet not bloated in appearance like the boats of the 70’s, but tastefully executed."  We agree with Mike's assessment - particularly in conjunction with the added appeal of the hidden headlamps.

Mike reports the car is a joy to drive thanks to the combination of big block thrust, 4 speed, milder 3:31 gears, long wheelbase, 4 link rear suspension and tremendous amount of elbow room in the mile wide buckets.  Cruise nights  are also a lot of fun knowing that his will be the only Impala in a sea of Camaros and Chevelles.

© Gyrhead & Sons Restoration Parts 2012.  If you like this article, feel free to share it with your friends.  Just remember to cite the source, or else you'll have 7 years of bad luck..

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