In the first two iterations of this monthly column, we took a look at a pair of classic Mopars from diametrically opposing sides of the size spectrum, the barge-like 1970 Chrysler 300 Hurst, and the diminutive but fast 1969 Dodge Dart GTS M-Code 440.
In the interest of shaking things up a tad, I thought this month we’d look away from my beloved House of Pentastar, and instead focus on a very rare offering from the good folks at GM: the 1966 Chevrolet Biscayne L72 427.
Exploring the history and minutiae of this largely forgotten example of American muscle first requires a bit of backstory on the history of the car from which it evolved.
The Chevrolet Biscayne initially made its debut in 1958. It was named after a show car unveiled at the 1955 GM Motorama at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, which in turn was named after Biscayne Bay, an idyllic locale near Miami, Florida.
The Biscayne name covered a series of full-sized cars, including two and four-door sedans and a four-door station wagon available for several model years. They were aimed at buyers interested in a low-cost and no-frills, yet roomy and powerful car. As such, the Biscayne slotted in at the bottom of Chevrolet’s full-size line, beneath the iconic Bel-Air and top-of-the-line Impala.
All power niceties and convenience options including windows and door locks were not available on the Biscayne. What was really important to the buyer in this segment was: a host of high-output, big-block GM V8s and performance transmissions from which to choose.
A total of four distinct generations of Biscayne were manufactured throughout its production run, which spanned the 1958 to 1975 model years. By far, the most popular variant – both in terms of sales as well as enthusiast popularity – was, the third generation. Introduced in 1965 and supplanted in 1970, it constituted a fairly long run for the era.
The gen-three Biscayne featured crisp new lines that instantly resonated with car buyers of the time, and offered the largest selection of optional engines to date. Those powerplants ranged from a rather anemic 230 cubic-inch (3.8 liter) inline six-cylinder, all the way up to the classic 427 cubic-inch (7.0 liter) big-block V-8 monster. It is a variant of this last engine in which we will be turning our attention.
By 1966, the muscle-car era was in full swing. Virtually every American manufacturer was pumping out as many full-sized cars with mammoth motors as they could to satiate the desires of a new generation of lead-footed enthusiasts.
While GM had instituted a 400ci limit on its intermediate cars, no such rule existed on the full-sized offerings. But, unlike most other brands from the Big Three, Chevrolet did not offer a specific performance package for its full-sized cars. Instead, it let the consumer build their own by ticking off the right option boxes at ordering time.
It didn’t take long for hardcore Chevy enthusiasts to figure out that the stripped-down, base-model two-door Biscayne would make the ideal basis for a serious muscle car. When Chevrolet announced it was introducing a high-performance 425-hp version of the 427 – code named L72 – it became a no-brainer that it would be the lump to put under the hood.
A handful of savvy drag-strip aficionados did just that, and were amply rewarded with a light, rigid, and powerful beast that was just as suited for the street as it was for the strip.
Equipped with the L72 427, the Biscayne’s weight was a spartan 3895 pounds. An additional 22 pounds could be removed by selecting the heater-delete option. Unsurprisingly, air conditioning was not an available option.
The L72 was rated at 425hp at 5,600 rpm and 460 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. It had a 4.251-inch bore, a 3.76-inch stroke and an 11.0:1 compression ratio. It featured a forged-steel crank with hardened journals, forged steel rods, aluminum domed pistons, cast-iron high-performance rectangle-port heads, and an aluminum dual-plane intake manifold.
Combusted fuel and air passed through cast-iron manifolds into 2-inch exhaust replete with dual reverse-flow mufflers.
Keeping things nice and cool were an 18-inch cooling fan and a four-core, heavy-duty radiator.
Chevy’s M13 heavy-duty three-speed manual was the standard transmission when one ticked the L72 box. However, buyers could opt for the M20 wide-ratio four-speed, the M21 close-ratio four-speed, or the mighty M22 “Rock Crusher” heavy-duty, close-ratio four speed.
Power was sent to the pavement via Chevrolet’s 12-bolt differential with 3.31:1 gears regardless of transmission. Posi-traction was an available option.
The 1966 Biscayne had a 119-inch wheelbase, a front tread of 62.5 inches and a 62.4-inch rear. Standard suspension for the 213-inch long, 79-inch wide, and 54-inch tall car was an independent-front setup. Upper A-arms and lower control arms attached to the spindles with ball joints. Heavy-duty springs, shocks, and an anti-roll bar were standard with the L72.
Out back, the solid axle was propped up with dual upper and lower control arms and a Panhard link to control sway. This was accompanied by coil springs and shocks.
Optional was the F41 suspension package, which brought a thicker front anti-roll bar, with an additional one for the rear, and severe-duty springs and shocks.
Stopping power for this bad boy were 11-inch drums that could be fitted with optional metallic shoes. Curiously for such a stripper car, power brakes were also an option.
An L72-equipped Biscayne came with 14x5J wheels with bias-ply tires, while 14x6JK steel wheels could be had as a stand-alone option and were included in the aforementioned F41 suspension package.
Aesthetically, Biscayne buyers could choose from 15 solid colors and three choices of two-tone schemes with the roof in a complementing hue. Three cloth interior colors were the only option inside. The only hint on the car’s exterior as to what lurked under the hood was a small call-out on the front fenders.
Chevrolet did not keep records of model/option combinations at the time, so no exact numbers of Biscayne L72s are available to us today. Suffice to say, since only 1,856 L72s were installed across the entire Chevy full-sized line, the number of Biscaynes accordingly equipped is likely fairly small. Small enough for us to call it one cool Rare Ride.
See you next time!