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The Chevelle Project Page 2

The Chevelle monologue: The beginning of my love affair with Chevelles

The Chevelle monologue: The beginning of my love affair with Chevelles

They say the choices of our adulthood are based on the experiences of our childhood.

That sounds plausible to me. Although today I am a certified Chevy nut, my first automotive allegiances weren't necessarily towards the Chevrolet marque. My first lasting automotive impressions came around the formative age of eight years old, courtesy of a Limelight Yellow Dodge Charger which starred in the cult movie classic "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry." (click the link for more info)

I remember that night surprisingly well. My father had decided it would be a good night to take the family to the drive-in movies. He, my mother and I piled into our trusty 69 Plymouth Fury and headed out to our local drive-in movie theatre, the "Melody 49 Drive-In." Little did my father know that he was about to unwittingly introduce me to the world of hot rods!

I was still a bit too young to appreciate Peter Fonda's "attitude", much less Susan George's curves, but I do remember thinking to myself that the little blue Chevy they were tooling around in at the beginning of the movie sounded kinda cool. Hey, even an 8-year-old kid can recognize a cool-sounding car when he hears one.

For the first part of the movie, the popcorn and sodapop I was busy scarfing down in the back seat was holding my focus more than the movie was.

Then the Charger made its appearance.

Y'know that "thing" a dog does when it hears something it's never heard before?...that "ears-up, eyes wide-open, head tilted off to one side" thing? I vividly remember poking my head up over the back of that giant bench seat in similar fashion the minute Peter Fonda turned the Charger's ignition key and that 440 engine rumbled to life.

That obnoxious green Dodge Charger was the coolest thing since sliced bread as far as I was concerned. Needless to say I was riveted to the screen for the rest of the movie. The seed had been planted.

Over the next few years, my obsession with cars grew even stronger. I begged my parents to buy me every issue of Hot Rod, Popular Hot Rodding and Car Craft (et.al.) I saw on the news stands. By the time I was in my early teens, I probably had more than 100 car magazines at my disposal. While my buddies were busy swiping their fathers' PLAYBOY magazines, I was learning about the inner-workings of the internal combustion engine from the pages of my favorite magazines.

Several makes and models of automobiles caught my eye over those years, but nothing had really made an impression like that Charger did. However, that was soon to change.

Fast-forward to around 1979:

It was around this time that I made the acquaintence of "Steve", the resident neighborhood gear head. One day I was walking home from the local Stop-N-Go store, and as I passed an apartment complex where a friend lived, I saw someone working under the hood of a bright red `70 Camaro, complete with the obligatory 1970's "stinkbug" stance (courtesy of maxed-out air shocks no doubt), Cragar mags and giant 50-series tires protruding from the rear quarter panels. Naturally, I had to go take a look.

Steve and I struck up a conversation, and we soon became good friends. He was well-versed in the automotive field, and shared a great deal of knowledge with me that would have taken years for me to learn otherwise. Steve mentioned to me on several occasions over the next year or so of another car he had besides the Camaro, a car he simply referred to as "the old blue Chevelle." One day without notice he finally brought the Chevelle from his parents house to the apartment. The minute I laid eyes on it I fell in love with it. It was a "Charger moment" all over again, but the Chevelle had left a much deeper impression.

It was a Deepwater Blue 1967 Chevelle SS396 with a black bench seat interior and a 400 turbo transmission with a column shift. Steve informed me that the original 396 laid in hibernation on the garage floor at Steve's parents house, and in it's place was a rather stout (for the day) 355 small block Steve had just recently installed. Steve hopped in and fired it up for me. In that instant I was changed. Up until that moment, I had never actually experienced the audible and visual effects that a high compression engine with a giant camshaft had on the senses, I had only read about it in magazines. I stood there dumbfounded, listening with amazement to the wild cacophony of that 355 idling through open headers, and I took in the distinct aroma of spent high-test gasoline. My senses had officially been assaulted, and I was loving every moment of it.

Steve backed the Chevelle from its parking spot, feathering the throttle to keep the 355 from stalling out against the too-tight factory torque converter. He turned the car towards the alley beside his apartment and the Chevelle gradually began to roll forward. Suddenly, without warning, it was as if all hell had just broke loose. Steve mashed the throttle, and in a mili-second I was greeted by the insane scream of that 355 turning what had to be close to 8000 rpm. Two solid white pillars of tire smoke immediately engulfed the alley and the entire apartment complex as that Blue Chevelle wagged its tail all the way down the alley.

I just stood there with a silly ear-to-ear grin, covered with goosebumps. That was officially the coolest thing I had ever witnessed in my life up to that point. Still ranks up there pretty high today as well.

Steve made a hasty about-face at the end of the alley and pulled the Chevelle back into its place of mooring. You could barely see the end of the alley from the tire smoke that was still lingering in the air. My ears must have rang for a good half-hour after that, but I didn't care. I'd just witnessed my first live demonstration of what a Musclecar was all about.

There are a few more stories relating to that Deepwater Blue Chevelle I could share, but lest I digress...

(Sadly, Steve sold that Chevelle a few years later. It quickly went through a couple more local owners, and tragically met it's end one evening in a broadside accident at a 4-way intersection. I had purchased the original 396 from Steve a while before that, and the owner parted out the remains of the car and sent the rest to the crusher.)

That was it. I was hopelessly bent on the notion that I too would soon have my own `67 Chevelle. The search was on, and it didn't take long before I found what I was looking for; the remains of a `67 Chevelle SS396 advertised in the local paper for a mere $200.00. I had just turned 16 when I purchased that `67 Chevelle in 1982. It was a true SS396 car, but had been liberated of its entire drivetrain and most of its interior by the time I got my hands on it. I drug it home and soon began my own `67 Chevelle journey.

The 396 from Steve's Chevelle was given a basic rebuild (with the obligatory lumpy cam of course) and found its way between the fenders of my Chevelle. A junkyard 400 turbo transmission and Vega torque converter were bolted to the engine, and a 12 bolt rear end with 4.56 gears and a posi was scored from the local classified paper for $400.00. I had the car up and running again within a few months after buying it.

While the car was now capable of movement again under its own power, to say the car was "cosmetically challenged" would be a bit of an understatement. No, make that a collossal understatement. Frankly, the car looked like hell. It had what remained of a black enamel paint job on it when I purchased it, but it was in very poor condition. Since what little money I had went into getting the car running again, I did the only decent thing I could think of at the time; I covered the car in rattle-can black primer. As hard as this may be to believe, it was an improvement.

Below are two pics of precious few I still have of that car. Please bear in mind that these pics were taken with a Polaroid camera over 20 years ago, and time hasn't been very kind to them. I cleaned them up as best I could. As I don't have many pictures to work with, I can't really put them in much of a chronological order.

The first pic is of the car sitting in the driveway after I'd just completed the installation an Edelbrock tunnel ram intake and a pair of Carter 750 cfm "competition series" carbs. This was a year or two after I'd gotten the car running.

1967 Chevelle in the driveway
I told you it was cosmetically challenged. Again, the rattle can paint job was a definite improvement over what it looked like when I first drug it home, so take that for what it's worth.

As soon as I'd finished installing the tunnel ram, much to my chagrin I discovered that my newly-purchased (junkyard) snorkle hood would not clear the intake and carbs as I had hoped, which explains the absence of the hood in the next picture. This was somewhere around the spring of 1984.

Tunnel Ram engine
At this point the car was equipped with the same 396 I had originally built (seen in it's original incarnation on the next page), but now boasted forged 11-1 pistons, reconditioned rods with good rod bolts, and I swapped the oval port closed chamber heads from the original build for a set of rectangle port closed chamber heads. I had an original 163 intake and an 800 Holley on the car for a short time, but I don't have any pictures of it in that state.

The square port head swap did basically what you would expect it to do; It killed off some low end torque (which wasn't necessarily a bad thing considering the Kelley Springfield M50 tires I was running on the back at the time) in exchange for a very noticeable improvement in top-end power. Whereas the engine was pretty much done around 6500 rpm with the oval ports, the square ports let the engine pull much harder well over 7000 rpm. The addition of the tunnel ram furthered the same trend.

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