1968 El Camino SS 396 project
Greg, I am currently restoring a 1968 S/S 375 HP El Camino. It is black on black with the bucket seat interior and it has all the original components except the original motor. I am installing a 1969 396 motor, so do you have any idea of the current value of this car? Thanks, Jack, e-mail.
A: Jack, you'll have a great El Camino when it's finished, but make sure the 396 you install from that 1969 engine find is a 375 horse engine. There were huge differences between the hydraulic lifter 325 and 350 horsepower engines, so here's what you must make sure of.
First, the 375-horse engine is a solid lifter engine with an aluminum intake from the factory and four bolt main block. Also, the cylinder heads are completely different, with square port intakes and closed chamber combustion chambers. The valves should be 2.19 inch on the intake and 1.88 on the exhaust. The easy way to make sure you are headed in the right direction is to pull the intake manifold and look at the head's intake ports. If it's round, it's not a 375-horse engine, as the 325 horse and 350 horse engines had oval port heads and intake manifold. Many a "375" was a 325 or 350 with an aluminum intake and Holley carb, which came stock from the factory as an 800 cfm unit. (I had one in my 1968 Camaro SS 396-375.) The dead giveaway for the solid lifters is noise - when you start the engine, it should make noise over and above what a hydraulic lifter camshaft makes. You can cross check the block casting number also to make sure it's a four bolt main block. It should also have a forged steel 3.76 stroke crankshaft instead of the cast crank in the lesser horsepower engines. If the engine is apart and you can see the crank, the casting line is wide and it looks shaved while the cast crank with have a very slim and tight casting line.
Now, with all this said, as long as it's a 375 horse, honest to goodness engine, you should be fine and the value of the car shouldn't drop that much. As for production, from a total of nearly 381,000 El Caminos produced in 1968, only 5,190 were SS 396 models, and less were the 375 horse version (I don't have that specific number). Your engine option is "L78" with an engine code of EG. Most important, too, is the first five digits of your VIN: it should be 13880. If it's not 13880 and is 13680, it's a clone and not really a true SS396, as the "138" codes were the real SS 396 machines.
Now here's the best part of all: 1968 was the ONLY year that the El Camino was available as an SS 396. This means regardless of that one year difference in the engine, you have a very rare piece of history on your hands, and maybe we'll see your El Camino on Barrett Jackson or Mecum Auto Auction one day! It could be worth some serious money. Currently, NADA lists the 396 with a low retail of $9,975 to a high retail of $27,440. However, no mention is given for the 375 option, which in my opinion would add another 15 to 20 percent to the price. I've also seen SS396 El Camino clones (non 13880 cars) selling for more than $20,000, so who knows, you might get way more than $27,500 if you ever sell.
Good luck, and your El Camino SS396-375 is worth the money you are going to spend on it.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 116 Main St., Towanda, PA 18848).