The story of my car...
I found my Chevelle in the summer of 1985. When I first saw it, all I knew was that it was a red SS with very good sheet metal and it still wore the sport stripes. After contacting the owner and inquiring about the car, he told me the 396 had the large port heads. The carburetor had recently disappeared and the Chevelle was now in a storage building. He really wasn’t looking to sell it, but after many phone calls and offers it was mine.
Once the Chevelle was setting in my driveway, I began a search for numbers and if possible, some factory documentation. The numbers and parts seemed to verify that this was a real 375hp car even though some of the original parts were missing. More searching and the removal of the back seat cushion revealed the piece of paper I was looking for. A build sheet in good condition that showed this Chevelle was factory built with the L78 396, M21 Muncie, 4.10 Positraction rear axle, chambered exhaust, bucket seats, console and gauge package. The odometer, at that time, was showing 19,911 miles.
Since the engine did not run, the first thing on my mind was to rebuild the 396 and find the correct pieces to replace the Hooker headers, Torker intake and missing carburetor. The engine was soon built back to factory specs with new TRW 11:1 pistons and Chevrolet solid lift cam. A correct Winters intake, a new reproduction Holley carburetor and the right exhaust manifolds completed the engine.
A good cleaning found the interior to be in excellent condition, with the exception of the front door panels, which had speakers mounted in them, and the carpet that had a large rectangular spot on the passenger floor where a battery had been stored. The seats, headliner and dash all cleaned up very nicely.
By the end of 1985 I was driving the Chevelle and the next year I had a new coat of Garnet Red lacquer paint applied to the body. A used set of SS wheels and tires were added soon after. I was having fun with my newest Chevelle and received several offers to sell, but I was keeping this one.
I wanted to know more about this car so I requested a “title history” from the State. What I received was copies of all titles and registrations from 1969 to the present. With this information, I soon found and talked to the previous owners, and what I found was very interesting.
The first owner bought the Chevelle in August of 1969 from Reliable Chevrolet in Springfield, Missouri. Being a radio delete car, and at the new owners request, it was at this time the dealer installed an AM radio and antenna. In December of the same year he traded it back to Reliable for a 1969 Corvette.
Owner number two bought the SS from Reliable’s used car lot and was impressed how quick the car would run. He later added a Hurst shifter, Hooker headers, 800cmf Holley and 4.56 gears. The Chevelle was named the “Red Rocket” and would launch from the start line at 6000rpm. On a ¼ mile track the big block would send the Chevelle to the finish line in 12:35 seconds. In 1975 the car was sold and it found a new home about 20 miles away.
The third owner had little good to say about the SS and it was he who left the car out in the elements for many years after the clutch failed. The paint became faded with a few spots of surface rust showing. Open headers let moisture into the engine and the wrist pins and pistons became stuck from corrosion. On the plus side, the Chevelle was kept off of city streets and avoided possible damage to the sheet metal.
Owner four collected ‘69 big block Chevelles and liked the fact that this one had the large port heads. In 1983 he bought the car and towed it back to Springfield, but did nothing else to it. It sat in the front yard of his girlfriend’s house until the carburetor was taken one night. It was then that he put the Chevelle in a storage building where no one else would see it.
That brings us back to 1985 where I first saw this Chevelle setting in a front yard just before it went into storage. Something about it caught my attention and I eventually had to have it. It was my first experience with an L78 Chevelle.
I kept in touch with the second owner and his brother. They told many stories of racing their Chevelle and what a great car it turned out to be. At one point they felt the engine had to be something extra special because of the way it ran (maybe a 427?), but when it was checked, all they found was a stock 396.
Years later I got a call from them asking if I would be interested in some papers they had found belonging to the car. Of course I said yes! What they found was the dealer invoice, dealer check off sheet, transfer of warranty form (with an imprint of the protect-o-plate), owners manual, a copy of the sales contract, pink slip and the warranty card minus the protect-o-plate. I also got a couple of newspaper clippings showing the times run at a local track along with a few pictures.
In 1995 I took the Chevelle completely apart and did a frame off restoration. My goal was to make sure everything would be correct and appear the way it did from the factory. I did allow two changes, which are the rosewood steering wheel and a correct Delco AM radio with rear mounted antenna.
My Chevelle has attended many NCOA events, as well as ACES shows, and has almost always done well in competition. It has given me many hours of enjoyment going to local shows and cruises, meeting friends and researching/collecting Chevelle data for 1969. I have met many great Chevelle owners over the years and always look forward to the next Chevelle event to see new and old faces.
I’m so lucky to own such a special car, and no, it’s not for sale.