Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An old friend

As some of you may have noticed in my profile, I make mention of the fact that I have a 1971 Chevelle Super Sport that I've owned for quite some time. 21 years to be exact. A long time to own anything in this day and age when most things are made to be used until they break and then disposed of. When people find out how long I've had it they are always surprised, and frankly I am too. The funny thing is, I don't have a good solid reason why. It just worked out this way. 

     I think some of what happened is that the longer I had it the less sense it made to sell it. Kind of a "well I've had it this long, I guess I'll keep it a little longer" mentality. It really wasn't until the last few years that I realized I'll probably have it forever. Not that this is a good reason to keep anything, but it's getting kind of novel, and that can be fun. I can't tell you how many people have launched into,"Oh, I'd give anything to have my first car back", and it feels kind of nice knowing that I still have mine because I know that I'd be saying that too if I'd sold it.

    Now, to be clear, it's somewhat debatable whether or not it actually is my "first" car. I stand by it somewhat because, well, here's the story. The first car I ever had that was mine to drive, pretty much anytime I needed it, was a 1964 Rambler Classic 770 4-door sedan. This was a car that our family had inherited from a great aunt who bought it new. It was actually a very nice low mileage survivor car that was well kept enough to place at local car shows, but it really wasn't mine, it was a family "extra car" that got passed around to whoever needed it. So, I think it's unfair to call that my first car. 

    Here's where it might get tricky. Observing how well my father did buying cars that needed a little attention and could be cleaned up and turned for a profit, I thought I'd give it a try and maybe that could get me into a respectable car that I was proud of. So, looking through the local paper I spotted a '77 Monte Carlo that sounded like a good candidate and had a very low price. I knew, because of where I lived at the time, I could sell this quickly when it was done. So, off I went and $650 dollars later I was the owner of a pretty clean old Monte that sounded like it was firing on 6 or 7 cylinders... at least that's what my Dad said when we started it. A set of plugs and wires fixed that first try and that was the only mechanical attention it needed. I remember that the passenger rear quarter had a scrape down it and I took my first body shop lessons from my Dad on that and got it to look and match pretty OK... in the shade. 

    Being honest, I never really thought of that as my car, I thought of it as a project. Almost as much as I would painting a house for some extra money. I don't remember how long I owned it but it was probably a few months. I did drive it for a while, always detailed to the 9s with a For Sale sign in it, and before I knew it I felt the tug on my line. $1,800 from a high school classmate and I was once again borrowing the extra family car. 
    The first time I saw my Chevelle was the same week I sold "project Monte". It passed me on high school road at an obscene rate of speed and I immediately set out to find the owner. See, our family already had a Chevelle in the garage and it was a car that I was a big fan of, so these cars were very much on my radar.( BTW, that car is the '69 L-78 convertible that is mentioned in my profile ). The next day at school I see it pull into the parking lot with a buddy of mine by the name of Daniel Sipes behind the wheel. After talking with Daniel about it I quickly learn that this was a customers car that had been sort of abandoned at his Dad's body shop. Apparently some kind of very strange deal was going on between the owner and Daniel's Dad. If memory serves, the guy dropped off the car to have it painted, had no idea what he was getting into, so he gave Mr. Sipes the title and told him to either sell it as is or paint it and they could split the profit above the bill. No kidding, it was something like that and it still doesn't make complete sense to me. I do remember Daniel saying he thought he was going to try and end up with it either way. It's funny to think back and realize that I saw the car, if just for that day, completely original, wearing its original Placer Gold paint with its vinyl top peeling up at the edges. I also remember that for whatever reason the grill was missing.   

     A few weeks go by and, just as I'm starting to forget about the car, I see it sitting out in front of Sipes body shop looking like it just rolled off the showroom floor. I can still see it, just gleaming in the sunlight, arrow straight body with fresh paint, a new shiny black vinyl top, and re-chromed bumpers front and rear. They even put an NOS grill in it... back when you could just get one from the local Chevy dealer. I couldn't have pulled in any faster. I walked around it several times and couldn't believe it was the same car. I ran up to the shop office and found Mr. Sipes to ask him what the story was on the Chevelle. He said the car was mine if I could come up with enough to pay the shop bill on it. Again, I'm sure I'll never know what really happened between this customer and Mr. Sipes but I do know that he seemed ready to just have it over with. The balance on the bill? $2,200.

      The next day I had my Dad at the shop at daybreak to inspect the car. He looked it over, drove it, thought it was a good deal, and loaned me the $400 I needed to make it to the asking price. We drove it home that day! ( See attached passenger rear three quarter shot taken same day ) 

      As I stated earlier in this post, that was 21 years ago... and how funny is it that I just returned to my house a couple of hours ago in that same car with a load of groceries in the trunk. No kidding. As you can see in the accompanying photos, it has had a major rebuild and face lift over the past three years... far and away the longest time I've ever gone without driving it and it is good to have it back, even with its whole new outer personality. It has been a fun journey, and I know it's a cliche', but that car really is full of memories. Too many high school adventures to count, including being my wheels for the senior prom. After a full under hood and under carriage detail, it exposed me to the world of the weekend car show as a participant, and then slowly morphed back into a street car by the early '90s, when it drove me to literally thousands of bar and club gigs all over the midwest. In 1993 it moved me, and more stuff than you'd believe could fit into a '71 Chevelle, to Nashville and continued to be my main car for several more years. Eventually, you realize you have to have a truck and then you end up with more and other cars, but the Chevelle has just never gone away, and as I've said, I like that idea more every year. 

P.S.   For those of you who care to know, I'll lay out some of the cars mechanical/ownership history here;

Sold new in Bedford, Indiana to a 17 year old Steve Pinick. He later sold it, via Sipes body shop,  to a 17 year old me. I remember that he liked that. We've had many good phone conversations over the years as he is always happy to talk about his first new car. One thing that always makes me cringe is that he once told me that, while filling out the order form for the car, he got to the point where he had enough money for one more option. It was between air conditioning and a vinyl top! I just spent the last 3 years, on and off, repairing all of the rust that the vinyl top caused. I'm also often reminded of this story when driving the car, windows down, in the sweltering heat of the Nashville summers. 

The car was delivered with the Super Sport option, Placer gold, no stripes, vinyl top, bucket seats with floor console, L-48 350 ci 270 hp engine, T-350 transmission, F41 suspension, power disc brakes, power steering, 2.73 posi, door edge guards, raised white letter tires, AM radio, remote mirror, sport steering wheel. Pretty bare bones. Cost on the original bill of sale, $3,114. I have the POP and build sheet in addition to the BOS. 

Car now has a mild 406 small block, same trans but with 3,500 conv., 3.73 posi. Oh, and as of this year, a radically new look.

I've really enjoyed today's reminiscing and I hope you did as well. I'll be taking the rest of the week off from the posts to celebrate the holiday in Indianapolis with my Mom. Good news for the blog is that I plan to visit several race and restoration shops while up there and will be reporting back in the coming weeks. Thanks again, and have a great holiday! 


1 comment:

biggearhead said...

Thanks for the story! I envy you for being able to make it a daily driver. I've lately had several moments of insanity where I thought I'd sell my minivan and use it to make bail on a beat up GTO that I would somehow make into a daily driver. Fortunately, I've come to my senses every time I contemplate this when I think that I have enough problems keeping the Chevelle running from one weekend to the next.