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Bill Pritchard Bill Pritchard is offline
Yenko Contributing Member
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: Valley of the Sun, AZ
Posts: 5,850
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Bill's Monkey Business Garage

Wow, this goes WAY back. My mom tells me that by the time I was 2 years old, I could name the make and sometimes model of many cars on the road, undoubtedly learned from my dad and grandfathers. Until I was 4 years old, my parents rented a house that backed up to a busy highway, so I had plenty of material to study from. As a young child, I played with cars and trucks a lot, and built many plastic scale model cars up into my early teens. Had a subscription to Hot Rod magazine by the time I was 13. I sometimes talked my dad into taking me to new car shows in Chicago (see picture of me at 14 or 15 years old, sitting in either a 66 or 67 Coronet or Belvedere convertible, mesmerized, with my right hand on the 4 speed shifter).....while I looked at the new car models, he kept busy taking pictures of the female models that were showing off the cars ;-) On Sunday mornings, our next door neighbor often drove to visit a friend of his, and that drive just happened to take him right past the drag strip in Oswego IL, a fact which his son and I used to exploit by having him drop us off along the highway that ran past the strip. We would hop the fence and go in and watch the races for a while until a pre-arranged time when we would be picked up for the trip back home. Also while in my early teens, my mom would often grocery shop at a store that just so happened to be right next door to our local Chevrolet dealership, Ed Fanning Chevy in Aurora IL. I would accompany her on shopping trips, and while she grocery shopped, I would 'car shop' and dream. The cars in their large showroom always had the keys in the ashtray or under a floor mat, and I would find a suitably cool 'test driver' (which always had a 4 speed on the floor) and sit in there listening to the radio tuned to WLS and pretend I was cruisin' the local streets. By the time I was able to drive, my parents had a 61 Corvair Monza 2 door coupe, white with red interior and 4 on the floor. Had a lot of fun with that car, Ralph Nader be damned. Was there a person (friend, older brother or father) event, TV commercial racing program, or just seeing certain car drive by that caught your eye??

I couldn't begin to either remember or list all the cars that 'caught my eye', but suffice it to say there were many. There were, however, two cars that cemented my love of a white interior in a car. First came my dad's cousin Gary Hamilton, who bought a new 63 Corvair, a dark red color with white interior. I thought it was gorgeous. The following year, my dad's friend and co-worker Bob Rehak totalled his Corvair and went out and bought a new 64 Chevelle Malibu SS, red with white interior, 220hp 283, 4 speed, bucket seats and console. I was in love.

 If you only focus on one brand or model, why? What drew you to that brand/model? When did you get started? (We all have had both pleasant and unpleasant experiences, especially when we started out).

Although I like, and have owned, many different makes and models, in the past 20+ years I have focused on 69 Chevelles. The reason for that started in 1974, when I bought a 68 El Camino SS396 without an engine to use as everyday transportation. It always impressed me as a very comfortable vehicle to drive, and in fact my wife and I drove it from our home in the Chicago suburbs to central Florida and back, non-stop both ways, over the Christmas and New Year holidays at the end of 1975. Fast forward to the early 2000's, when I was preparing to retire, I wanted to get down to having only one collector car, after having three for many years. The pleasant driving experience of that El Camino years earlier stuck with me, and I prefer the 69 Chevelle to other years, so that's what I chose to find.

What was your first musclecar, and how long have you been in the hobby and why?

My first car was a brand new Hugger orange 70 Nova with a 307 and floor mounted 3 speed, but that really doesn't qualify as a 'musclecar'. Sold the Nova after only 5 months, and not long afterwards bought a 69 Dodge Dart Swinger 340, 4 speed, and 3.55 Sure-Grip rear axle. So, if owning that car qualifies as "being in the hobby", I've been in the hobby since December 1970. Why? Because it's a disease I can't seem to get rid of.

Are any of your family members involved (i.e. parents, siblings or children)?

No. I have no kids and neither of my brothers were ever interested.

Do you restore or maintain your cars and how did you acquire the skills?

Fairly early on, I started doing my own maintenance because I was not happy with the quality of work I was paying to have done. I have done an every-nut-and-bolt restoration on two cars (70 Dodge Hemi Challenger, 69 Impala convertible) and maintained all my cars, both daily drivers and hobby cars, until the last few years. Failing eyesight, arthritis, and general old age maladies prevent me from being able to do all but basic maintenance on my Chevelle, and I don't even attempt to work on any of the late model daily drivers any more. Any work I've done over the years has been either self-taught or learned by helping friends.

Where do your interests lie? Restored, survivor or day two cars?

I like and appreciate them all, but I tend to gravitate to either survivors or cars restored to original condition.

Did/do you race any cars over the years?

I definitely did years ago. In addition to making passes at the drag strip with several daily drivers back in the day, I built a 69 Camaro Z28 as a dedicated street/strip car. Last time I raced at the strip was in 1976, with a 69 Nova we had at the time. Original big block 4 speed car that had been street raced prior to my acquisition. When we got it, it had a bone stock 2 barrel 283 engine, but still had the 5.13 gear in the 12 bolt from its street racing days. My wife used to drive it to work at Sears in a local shopping mall which was still under construction. She would bang gears thru the parking lot and the construction workers would hoot and holler at her in approval. When I raced it at the strip, it was wound out in 4th gear by the eighth mile!

What show(s) do you attend and/or what clubs do you belong to?

I went to so many car shows and cruise nights from the mid 1970's thru the early 2000's that they really hold no appeal for me to participate any more. Was heavily involved in a very active car club from the late 70's thru the late 80's, but don't do that any more either.

Best car related story you can share. Worst car related story you can share

OMG, that's a tough one. Have to give that some thought. Many to choose from.

If you could have ANY car, no matter the cost, what would be your "DREAM"car to own?

Too many possibilities. Don't know that I could narrow it down to any particular one.

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May 1, 1963

My dad's cousin Gary Hamilton with his brand new 63 Corvair. I found the color combination very appealing, especially the white interior.

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April 15, 1964

This 64 Malibu SS belonged to my dad's friend Bob. He bought it after totaling a Corvair that he had. In addition to loving the color combination here too, the fact that it was a 220hp 283 (largest engine available at the time), 4 speed, with bucket seats and console, was all the more incentive for me to like it. My dad told me it came from the factory with a 'California rake' (back end slightly higher than the front, according to him). My dad borrowed this car a time or two and showed me how to 'speed shift' from first to second gear. Considering my dad was definitely not the gearhead type, I was suitably impressed. 

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June 1, 1968

No picture here, but an important milestone in my motoring history, as I got my first vehicle....a 1967 Suzuki X6 Hustler motorcycle, 250cc 2 stroke with a 6 speed trans. My dad was an insurance salesman, and he found this at one of his customers whose son had gone into the military and off to Vietnam. It was a quick little bike. Learned how to ride on this bike, and used it to commute to my part time job as a stock clerk at our local KMart Foods grocery store. Also rode it to classes at my senior year in high school in 68-69. 

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May 18, 1970

After attending one year of college, I decided it wasn't for me, so I re-entered the working world. Needed wheels to get to and from work. Really wanted the new Citrus green 70 Z28 that was at our local Chevy dealership, but $140/month payments scared me off. Wound up buying this Hugger orange 70 Nova, 307 with floor mounted 3 speed trans. Payments on that were only $77/month.....and I wound up making double payments on it every month. Within a couple weeks, the Rally wheels were gone, replaced by some Keystone mags that were similar to Torq-Thrusts but had darker spokes. Soon after that, the original single exhaust was gone, replaced by duals with glasspack mufflers from the local Midas shop. Wound up selling it after only 5 months because it wasn't fast enough, plus my dad was dying and with that uncertainty hanging over my head, decided to cut it loose.

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December 13, 1970

My dad died in early December 1970 and it became quickly apparent that the rest of our family was going to be OK, so I ditched the beater that I bought after selling my 70 Nova, and bought this 69 Dodge Dart Swinger 340. It was on the used car lot at our local Volkswagen dealership, which just so happened to be owned by the neighbor across the street from my mom's house. He sold it to me for what they had in it, $1700. Dark red, black vinyl top, 4 speed, 3.55 Sure-Grip rear axle, and no tail stripe. The only decent picture I had of it I gave to a friend many years later so he could use it for this story he did for our local newspaper. He took a bit of artistic license by saying it was one of the fastest cars around the area, but it was pretty quick for a pure stock small block powered car. I eventually installed some huge cam in it and swiched the rear to a 4.56 gear. It sounded great at idle but the cam was not well matched to the rest of the engine components, so it really did it no favors. Traded it in May of 72 to a friend for his 68 Olds 442, which I kept for all of 3 weeks because I found something I wanted more....

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June 1, 1972

70 Z28 Camaro that I bought from the original owner in June of 72. Cortez silver, black stripes, black standard interior, 4 speed, 3.73 posi. In August I pulled the heads and had them refreshed, also taking that opportunity to install a set of Appliance headers. In September, my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I drove it to South Carolina and back to visit a friend who was stationed there in the Army. In January of 73 I bought a 210hp 327 out of a 67 Camaro and rebuilt it minus the intake and carb. Pulled the LT1 out of my Camaro (for subsequent use...) and dropped the 327 into it, using the intake, air cleaner, and aluminum valve covers from the LT1 along with an L79 cam and a 600 Holley carb. So, at a glance, it still appeared to have the original LT1 in it. Traded it in on a new 73 Z28 in March of 73.

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January 3, 1973

Triple green 69 Z28 that I bought in January of 73 for $300 (!) minus engine, trans, hood, grille, and probably several other items. Had green Deluxe interior and AM-FM Blue light stereo radio, none of which I cared about since I was making a car to drag race. Also had factory 4.10 rear axle which I eventually traded to a guy for one with a 4.88 gear. The LT-1 from my 70 Z28 went into this car, with the '140' off-road cam, an Edelbrock Tarantula manifold, Mallory dual point distributor, 750 Holley double pumper, and Hooker headers. After getting it all sorted, it ran a best of 11.98, twice.

First two pictures as-bought, with the M22 trans (out of a Corvette) that went in it, on the garage floor in front of it. Third picture is powertrain installation day on my mom's driveway in the spring of 73. I had plenty of moral support as well as helping hands! My wife-to-be is on the far right.

Pictures #4 and 5 are at Byron IL drag strip in fall of 73. 13.00 dial-in painted on the window was when it still had the 4.10 gear and before getting it all dialed in.

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March 12, 1973

The 73 Z28 which I bought new in March of 73, at Fencl-Tufo Chevrolet in Glendale Heights, IL. Sticker price of $4300.75. Swore to my bride-to-be that I would leave it completely stock so it would be dependable. That promise lasted about 3 years  Wound up keeping this car until August of 2000. Third picture is my wife and I on the way home from our honeymoon in April 74.

Funny story....I went to Fencl-Tufo because a friend had just recently purchased a new 73 Z28 there. I had found a different 73 Z28 at another dealership, but we were about $200 apart from closing a deal, so thought I might get a better deal here. I drove my silver 70 Z28 there, to hopefully trade it in. My friend's salesman was busy with another customer so I was waiting to see him. While I was waiting, another salesman comes walking through the showroom hollering "Who owns a silver Z28 out in the parking lot?" I said, "I do." I thought, oh crap, somebody ran into it or something like that. He said, "We have it sold." I said, "It's not yours to sell!" He says, "Are you buying a car here today? If you are, we'll make you a really good deal." Long story short, Fencl-Tufo was not able to dealer trade for the other car I had found because that dealer had already sold it by the time they got in contact, and this blue one had just become available because someone who had ordered it could not get financing, so I ended up with it.

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January 30, 1974

1968 El Camino SS396. Bought this minus engine. Bought a 350 small block that came out of a 69 Kingswood station wagon and rebuilt it, adding headers, an Edelbrock Torker intake and 600 Holley carb. My future bride had sold her 73 Nova hatchback because: 1) she did not like it, and; 2) our wedding was coming up in a couple months and we didn't want two car payments. I gave her my 73 Z28 to drive, and I drove this El Camino. This picture was taken in Florida in late December 1975, as we had driven it down there over the Christmas & New Year holidays to escape the Chicago area winter for a while. Sold it in May of 76 when I bought a new Chevy half ton short-bed pickup.

Pictures 2 and 3 were taken at the church right after our wedding in April 1974. My wife was expecting to go on the post-wedding procession being chauffered in some sizable family sedan. HA! Nope, we're going in the El Camino, and I'm driving. I was almost late to the wedding because I had some important pre-wedding business to take care of, namely opening the headers on the El Camino. While the wedding photographer was still hunched down inside taking picture #3, I started the engine and the roar of open headers startled him so he raised up and smacked his head on the top of the door opening. Note wildly optimistic drag strip dial-in time painted on the windshield by my friends. 

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June 2, 1975

Pictures of the green 69 Z28 after I had paint & body work done on it. Paint & body work were excellent, done by my former college roommate, as he and his brother and their dad had opened a body shop in Virden, IL. My underhood handiwork was rather crude by today's standards, but I was happy with it at the time.

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October 25, 1977

By early 1976 we had stopped driving the 73Z daily with about 32000 miles on it. Late spring of 77, I pulled the intake and heads off of it, replaced by a set of angle plug heads, a 70 Z28 cam & solid lifters, an Edelbrock Torker intake, a 780 Holley, and Hooker headers. Also put a B&M shift kit in the T400 trans, and added American 200S wheels. Didn't quite have it done in time for the inaugural Car Craft Street Machine Nationals in Indianapolis in June of 77, but did enter it in the NSRA Street Machine & Van Nationals (remember those shows???) in St. Paul MN in July of 77. Took it to every Car Craft Nats from 78 thru 82, and many many other car shows all over the Midwest up until I sold it. Pictures 4 thru 7 were taken at a car show in Madison WI in the early 80's. I was beatin' on it pretty good, running thru a timed course outlined with hay bales. Fun!  

In late 1977 had it repainted the original Midnight blue metallic color but with blue pearl flames replacing the white stripes, and added a 70 Z28 spoiler. It stayed just like this until I sold it to a friend of mine in August 2000. He still owns it.

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January 3, 1980

In a previous post here I made mention of a friend's 68 Camaro SS396 L89, one of 272 produced that year. Here are some pictures of it when I bought it in early 1980, from another friend. Back story.....I've known this car since 1972, when my friend Bruce bought it from a salvage yard as a running, driving car. He went thru the motor and added headers, a Hurst Super Shifter, and probably a few other goodies that I've forgotten. Factory 4.10 gear, and I think it's an M21, not M22. This thing ran really strong. I had planned to do a total resto on it, but a couple months after I bought it, I had the opportunity to buy a 70 Dodge Hemi Challenger from the original owner, a guy that I worked with. So, I jumped on that opportunity and sold the Camaro to my friend Brian, who still owns the car.

Back at that time, a person could still do a title search on a car in IL. Brian did that, and got in contact with the original owner, who confirmed that it was indeed an original L89 car. He had to have the short block replaced when the car was still under warranty. The garage where he kept the car was somewhat below grade, and the garage flooded in some very heavy rain in the early 70's, inundating the car. His insurance company gave him the option of having the car repaired or totalling it. He chose totalling it, and that's how it ended up at the salvage yard.

In early 2007, after doing practically nothing with this Camaro in the 27 years since I sold it to him, another friend and I shamed Brian into having bodywork and paint done to the car. We hauled it down to a shop in Springfield MO, and pictures 7 thru 10 show the results after they finished with it. It was returned to Brian's shop building where, sadly, it sits in exactly this condition today, buried in dust and 'stuff'. 

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March 25, 1980

Here’s the story on the 1970 Dodge Hemi Challenger that I used to own. Rather lengthy, but I think there’s a lot that is interesting, so please forgive me if it gets too lengthy for you.

I bought it from the original owner in March of 1980. We worked at the same place, but it was a huge factory and I never really knew him prior to buying the car. I paid $900 (talked him down from $1000) for it. It had 64000+ miles on it, it was his everyday go-to-work car. He stopped driving it in 1975 and had intentions of having the engine rebuilt and just using it for pleasure afterwards. He had the motor pulled out of the car and sent it for machine work. The shop doing the machine work turned the crank and took too much off the sides of the crank journals, which would have resulted in excessive side clearance. They deemed the crankshaft junk, which put a halt to the progress. In the meantime, he and his wife built a new house plus had another child unexpectedly, so the car just ended up sitting in his garage. At some point, the radiator, air cleaner assy, and distributor had gone missing from the shop that took it apart, so that was another roadblock to him. He eventually lost interest and that’s when I heard from another co-worker that he was going to sell it.

OO special ordered it from Grand Spaulding Dodge in early fall of 1969. Per the build sheet that I found under the rear seat (at least the portions that the mice had not chewed up), it was built on Veteran’s Day, November 11, 1969. It was triple black, no stripe, 426 Hemi, 4 speed, Super Track Pack (4.10 Dana and power disc brakes), console, AM radio with 8 track tape player, Rally wheels, and 6 way adjustable driver’s seat. (Regarding the seat, I believe I have seen our resident E-body Mopar expert njsteve describe it as offering ‘6 positions in which to be uncomfortable’ or something to that effect, and I would not disagree.) I owned it for 16 years, the first seven doing an every-nut-and-bolt restoration on it.

While beginning the deconstruction process, I made what turned out to be a wise decision. I had a good friend who was the Parts Manager at the local Chrysler-Plymouth dealership, and we went thru the parts book and ordered all new emblems, moldings, front fenders, exhaust tips, and many other small parts. Hadn’t yet resolved how I was going to have the body shell stripped so held off on ordering new rear quarters. By the time I decided I did need them, they had been discontinued. Eventually wound up driving to Columbus OH to Mitchell Motor Parts to get those (paying a lot more than if I had got them thru my friend) and also got a NOS H-pipe for the exhaust from them.

After I had it stripped down to the bare shell, I was considering taking it to Redi-Strip for immersion to remove all traces of rust. But I had heard, especially on unibody cars, that the stripping solution would remain in cracks and crevices and seep out after paint, ruining it. A friend had heard of a place in Chicago that did “water blasting”, which was sand mixed with water, the idea being that the water would keep the metal cooler to prevent warpage of the sheet metal. Sounded promising, so I decided to go with that. I took them the bare shell, hood, and doors. When done, I went to pick it up and was horrified. They obviously used way too much pressure when blasting, and the roof and hood had dips more than an inch deep. Doors were somewhat saved due to the side impact beams behind the outer skin. I didn’t even bother to bring the hood home. Using a die grinder and small cutoff wheels, I ground off every spot weld holding the roof skin to the sub-structure and removed the damaged roof skin. Went to a junkyard and had them cut the complete roof structure off another Challenger, where I repeated the process to remove the good roof skin.

In the early 80’s, there were virtually no reproduction parts being made for Chrysler E-bodies, so it was a challenge (pun intended) to find what was needed to progress. I bought a complete running driving Challenger just to cut out a portion of the drivers front floor pan to replace the rusted section on my car. Bought another one just to get the vent tube for the fuel filler neck. Had to weld in small sheet metal patch panels in the front inner fenders, the passenger side rear seat footwell, and trunk floor.

Finding the missing parts turned out to be not terribly difficult, even in pre-internet days. Got the air cleaner assembly from a guy in Indiana. I decided to use a Direct Connection electronic ignition kit, which came with a distributor. In the local “Tradin Times” paper, found a guy up in Grand Rapids Michigan who had the correct p/n radiator (2998956, still burned into my memory) so I drove up there to get that. He told me it came from a car that he had parted out….ready for this??....a Panther Pink 70 Cuda 440 six pack convertible! Even back then, I thought to myself, that’s gotta be a pretty rare and valuable car.

In June of 82 I was laid off from my job, and for the next 3+ years never had steady full time work, so restoration progress slowed considerably. Finally got to the point where it was time to build the engine. I mentioned previously about the crankshaft being deemed junk by the OO’s machine shop. Well, my experience had been that, as long as a crank wasn’t physically broken into pieces, it could be fixed. I took it to a reputable shop that did a lot of performance work, where they welded up the journal sides and remachined them, and it turned out fine. I had zero experience building a Hemi engine but figured as long as I followed my trusty “Motor” manual, I’d be OK. When it came time to install pistons and rods, that manual noted “notch or arrow on piston head toward front of engine”, so that’s what I did. Took my time and got everything buttoned up, engine installed into the car, and it was time to fire it up. It started with no issues, but there was a loud ticking noise, which I just assumed was the hydraulic lifters taking time to pump up. I was very nervous as this seemed to be taking too long to happen, so I had my hand on the ignition switch the whole time. After a few minutes, there was a loud “BANG” and I instantly flipped the switch off.

A couple days later I began the teardown process. IIRC, when I pulled the passenger side cylinder head, I found the problem. All the intake valves on that side had been hitting the pistons. One of the valves finally broke. The broken piece put a good gouge in the combustion chamber of the head, but thankfully not even a scratch in the cylinder wall. All the other intake valves were slightly bent, but not broken. Now the puzzling part; why did this happen? Eventually I noticed that on the other side, all the pistons had valve reliefs on the top (intake) side and on the damaged side, all the valve reliefs are on the bottom (exhaust) side. I found that strange. I noted that all 8 pistons had the stamped arrow pointing forward, just as the Motor manual had said they should be. I eventually found out that the 426 Hemi engines had different pistons for each bank of cylinders. The reason for this is there is a very slight (thinking it’s like .002” or something) offset in the piston pin hole. For whatever reason, this engine had originally been built with all 8 the same pistons and the Chrysler assemblers were smart enough to put the valve reliefs all at the top side, which meant that the arrows on top of the piston head were all pointing backwards on the passenger side bank instead of forward. Having the wrong offset pistons on one bank was good enough to get this car through 5 years and 64000 miles of use, so apparently not a big deal. Sure made a lot of work and expense for me though!

I found a guy who had the four correct pistons and got it all back together with new intake valves, and it ran fine. In the spring of 1986 I took it to my old college roommate who, along with his father and brother, ran a body shop south of Springfield IL. They did all the finish body and paint work and then I brought it back home and did all the final assembly. The car was completed in 1987. Sold it to a good friend in 1996 and he sold it 2 years later and it went to Bethesda MD to a guy who also had a black Hemi Road Runner.

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April 25, 1981

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July 3, 1983

By 1983, I had two collector type cars: the 73 Z28 that I had modified and was taking to car shows, and the 70 Dodge Hemi Challenger that was in process of restoration. My wife decided that she wanted a collector car of her own, and there were three requirements: 1) a convertible; 2) a white interior; and 3) it had to be LARGE. After searching for a few months, found this 69 Impala which checked all three boxes. Base 327 V8, Powerglide, 10 bolt Posi, and power seat. It was a good '20-footer', which was fine with us as she just wanted a fun summer driver. By the fall of 84 the stock wheels and generic wire wheel covers were gone, replaced by a set of 15x7 Rally wheels with G70-15 red stripe tires. We had loads of fun with this car, even taking it to a few car shows. By 1991, it was starting to look a little tired, so I set out to try and spiff it up a bit. Well, we all know how that goes, so before long all trim and major body panels were coming off, and then the body was coming off the frame. Over the coursse of three years, I did an every-nut-and-bolt restoration on it. Went so far as getting a totally undisturbed, but totally clapped out, 69 Impala Custom Coupe parts car so that I could have as many correct fasteners and other small parts as possible. It came out very nice and we continued to have fun driving and occasionally showing it. Sold it in July 2001.

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June 1, 2000

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By the mid 1990s, my wife and I had purchased a condo in Arizona, so we were spending a lot of our available time taking trips out there. Time spent going to car events was greatly reduced, so I decided it was time to start thinning the herd. First to go was the Hemi Challenger in 1996. We knew we wanted to move to Arizona when we retired, and wanted to get down to only one collector car when that time came. Neither the 73 Camaro or the 69 Impala were the car we wanted to have, so the difficult decision to sell them both was made. We had both liked the El Camino that we owned many years earlier, and we wanted a convertible with a white interior and an automatic trans (my wife could no longer drive a stick), but something more along the muscle car theme than the Impala was. So the search began in 1998 for a 69 Chevelle SS396 convertible. Finally found this one in May of 2000 out in California. It was originally Butternut yellow but was now painted a yellow closer to Daytona yellow. Bought it and had it shipped back to us in Illinois.

Suffice it to say, the car was not what I had expected. Paid a guy out in CA (who has advertised in Hemmings for years) $300 to inspect it, and he was obviously blind. Kept looking for another car but worked at this one in the meantime to try and improve it. My wife said, "this thing is like a pimple. You keep picking and picking at it, and it only gets worse." So from that point on it was known as "The Pimple". Sucked an intake gasket shortly after its arrival. I expected the interior to need redoing, and it did. The entire trunk compartment was a gooey, black, sticky mess. Worked at both of those things and made them very presentable. After about 2 years, I found another car to buy so it was time to send this one down the road. Who should call me as an interested buyer but Chuck Hanson. Tried my best to tell him that this was probably not the caliber of vehicle that he was accustomed to, but he would not be denied, so he bought it and drove it back to TN in August 2002.

I think Chuck figured out pretty quickly that this was not for him, so he ended up selling it to a guy who was a career Navy man. Chuck did him a huge favor by lining him up with a body shop down in TN who must have worked for about $1/hr. During the restoration process, they found the driver's side rear quarter panel to be six separate pieces of sheet metal, covered in liberal amounts of Bondo. They did an amazing job restoring the car, and the new owner kept me in the loop as the car progressed. He wanted it painted Monaco orange instead of the original Butternut yellow, so that's what color it became. Eventually sold at Barrett-Jackson Las Vegas in 2010 to a guy out in the Northeastern US.

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July 11, 2002

Another, even longer story here....

I first became acquainted with this car in the fall of 1983. In the summer of 1983, my wife Marilee and I were in the market for a convertible, to be “Marilee’s collector car”. I told many friends and acquaintances to be on the lookout for a late 1960’s vintage convertible. In August of 1983, we located and purchased a 1969 Chevrolet Impala convertible. Some time in the fall of 1983, a friend, believing we were still in the market for a convertible, let me know that his sister and brother-in-law had a black 1969 Chevelle SS396 convertible that they were thinking about selling. I told him that we had purchased the Impala, but the Chevelle sounded interesting, so I would go and look at it anyway. He and I went to his sister and brother-in-law’s home to look at the car. I looked it over, and we went for a short drive in it. For various reasons, I decided not to pursue the purchase of the car.


The thought of this car did not occur to me again until April of 2002. By that time, I had been searching for a 1969 Chevelle SS396 convertible for 3 ½ years. In fact, I had purchased another one in June of 2000, but it was just not the ‘right’ car, so I kept looking. I had been following a story on a prominent Chevelle website ( ‘Team Chevelle’, www.chevelles.com ) about a gentleman who had located a very nicely preserved example of a 1969 Chevelle SS396 coupe, with 19,000 original miles. For some strange reason, all of a sudden the black convertible that I had looked at about 18 years earlier just popped into my mind. I had never seen or heard of the car since, and I had not spoken to the friend who initially told me about it for several years. I decided to call my friend to see what ever became of the car. To my complete surprise, he told me that his brother-in-law still owned it. He said that he believed the car had somewhere right around 20,000 original miles on it, and that he knew the car had only been taken out of storage 2 or 3 times a year for short drives ever since he owned it.


During our phone conversation, he related an interesting anecdote regarding the Chevelle. Shortly after his sister and brother-in-law purchased the car, they were going to go for a ride in it. The car sat on an old piece of carpeting out in the garage. The owner went out and started the car up. It was on fast idle, and he put it in reverse, and the rear wheels kind of ‘threw’ the piece of carpet just as his wife stepped onto it. She lost her balance and fell down, with her leg just behind the rear tire of the car. He backed up and ran over his wife’s leg, breaking it. By this time she was yelling loudly. He thought that she was at the very back of the car, near the rear bumper, and he had knocked her down, so he put the car in drive and pulled forward – running over her leg a second time. From that point on, she would not set foot in the car, and essentially wanted nothing to do with it. That could help to explain the very low mileage on the car.


On April 27, 2002 (our 28th wedding anniversary), I went to the owner’s home. I told him that I understood he still had the black Chevelle convertible, and he indicated that he did. I asked if he would consider selling it. He said “Yes, but you won’t give me what I want for it”. We discussed his asking price, and although it was more than I had expected, it was not out of the realm of possibility. I asked to take a look at the car, and he opened the garage. It was cool and raining outside, so I did not ask him to back the car out for a better look. It was very dusty, but appeared to be a very solid and relatively unmolested car. There were just over 19,900 miles on the odometer. He told me that the car had around 18,000 miles on it when he purchased it. I looked it over as best as I could in the garage, and told him I would have to think about it for a while.


I gave it a lot of thought over the next couple of months. Finally on July 5th, I went back to his house and made a purchase offer for it. He made a counter-offer. I told him since I had last looked at it, I made a list of things I wanted to inspect on the car. Since it was a nice day, he backed it out of the garage and I looked it over very thoroughly. I took it for a short drive down the street and back. During the time I was looking at it, he said on several occasions that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to sell the car. He kept asking me to make him another offer. I finally agreed to his counter-offer price, but he again countered with a higher price. I said no, I would go home and think about it some more. On July 13th, I came back with checks made payable to him, in the amount of his original counter-offer price. He accepted and I took the car home.


A cursory inspection revealed the only non-original appearing items on the car to be dual stripe whitewall tires, Holley aluminum valve covers, a blue distributor cap, orange silicone spark plug wires, and chrome spark plug wire loom brackets. Radiator hoses, heater hoses, and clamps had also been replaced with aftermarket items. The original valve covers were in the trunk, inside the box that the Holley pieces came in. The owner had pointed out to me before I purchased the car that the original radio speaker had become inoperative, so a replacement had been installed. Again, the original speaker was retained in the car’s trunk.


The car still had the original Chevrolet ‘Protecto-Plate’ warranty card, listing the original owner’s name and address. It also shows the date of original sale as 1-17-69. I thought the last name of the original owner sounded familiar, but I could not place it. Then one day it occurred to me that name is the married name of a girl that I grew up with. I called her up, and after introducing myself (she remembered me) and giving a little background info, I got to the purpose of my call. It went something like this:

"I bought an old car last weekend, and the original warranty card has the same last name as yours on it. I was wondering if you might..."

(she breaks me off in mid-sentence)

"Is it a Chevelle?"


"A black SS396 convertible?"


(she's speaking very excitedly now)


               Immediately I knew whom the original owner was. The woman to whom I was speaking was married to the original owner’s brother. The original owner and her husband lived 2 blocks away from me. We worked together planning and producing our town’s annual car show for 10 years, so I know them well. To say I was flabbergasted would be an understatement!


               I spoke with Molly a short time later. She kept saying, over and over, “You found my car! You found my car!”  I asked her how many miles it had on it when she sold it, and she said “around 18,000”, which is exactly what the second owner told me it had when he purchased it. Molly got married in 1973 and she and her husband didn’t need to use the car, so she just left it parked in the old garage at her parents’ house. She was fond of the car and was reluctant to sell, so it pretty much just sat there for 5 years. This is where the second owner saw it sitting and finally purchased it in late fall of 1978.


               Shortly after purchasing the car, I removed the Holley valve covers, and cleaned and reinstalled the original valve covers with new gaskets. I purchased and installed a new original type distributor cap and original style, date coded reproduction spark plug wires. After filling the gas tank and driving the car a few miles, I noticed that there was a gas leak somewhere just in front of the gas tank. Gas would drip onto the right rear tail pipe; not a good thing. I suspected that the short pieces of rubber fuel line hose connecting the sending unit to the metal lines were probably still the originals, and might be dry rotted, so I decided to replace them. As I raised the rear end of the car up high in the air, I noticed a large quantity of gas leaking up near the engine. I discovered that the diaphragm in the fuel pump had burst. So now it seemed like a good time to replace the short sections of rubber fuel line in the engine compartment along with the fuel pump. While I was at it, I ordered and installed all new original style replacement radiator and heater hoses, clamps, and battery cables. I also ordered reproduction Firestone F70-14 Wide Oval tires, since the vintage dual stripe whitewalls were both unattractive and somewhat dry rotted. The original wheels were rusty, so I dismounted the old tires from the rims, had the rims sandblasted and painted as original, and installed the new Firestones.


               Early in 2003, Molly found some pictures of the car taken in 1969 shortly after she purchased it. She also found a few more from the fall of 1978 just prior to her selling it. I have made copies of them for posterity.


We found the black interior in the car to be unbearably hot when driving around on sunny days with the top down. Our former Impala convertible had a white interior and it was far cooler on warm days. So, I purchased another complete interior (seats and interior door panels) for the car and had them reupholstered in correct reproduction material for the car, only in the Parchment color as would have been originally available in 1969. That interior looked right at home in the car with its white convertible top and white side stripes. I kept the original black seats and interior panels safely stored away, intact, in case I ever wanted to put it back to completely original. We sold the car in April 2021 with both complete interiors.

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February 14, 2015

And this, at long last, brings me up to the present: the 69 Chevelle 300 Deluxe SS396 Post Sedan that I currently own. Roughly 1400 made in 1969; less than 100 known to exist today. Bought this from an ad on yenko.net!

Previous owner’s story: He owned the car for over 6 years and had no substantial issues with it. The car had a Muncie M22 ‘Rock Crusher’ 4 speed manual transmission in it, which he wanted to keep before selling the car. He had a Muncie M20 transmission to install in place of the M22. He sent the M20 off to a highly reputable rebuilder and had it completely rebuilt prior to installation. Since the M22 and the M20 have differently configured input shafts, the installation of the M20 necessitated having a new clutch also. He obtained a rebuilt clutch assembly (clutch disc, pressure plate, and release bearing) from NAPA and installed that with the rebuilt transmission. He also installed a different driveshaft, from another 69 Chevelle, in place of the one that had been in the car. When everything was reassembled, the car exhibited EXTREMELY bad shuddering when clutch engagement would begin. Previous owner thought it was because he did not have the flywheel resurfaced prior to new clutch and transmission installation, so he tore it all apart, had the flywheel resurfaced, and put everything back together. The problem was unchanged. This was the condition in which he sold it to me, with my full knowledge.

My story: After I received the car, I installed a new Hays clutch assembly (clutch disc, pressure plate, and release bearing). I did a very thorough examination of the clutch fork and bellhousing and saw nothing of concern. The entire area inside the bellhousing was completely dry – no oil leaks from either engine or transmission. Flywheel and pressure plate surfaces were wiped down thoroughly with acetone. I replaced the pilot bushing at the end of the crankshaft. Upon reassembly the problem continued as before. Subsequent to this, I had the driveshaft rebuilt and balanced, and even had another complete new driveshaft assembly (1/2” longer) made by a highly reputable shop that does nothing but driveshafts and differentials. I installed a new transmission mount and verified that the motor mounts are in good condition. I installed a new clutch adjustment rod. The problem still continued as before.

In the summer of 2015, I took the car to a reputable mechanic’s shop. He took everything in the driveline apart. He had the flywheel resurfaced again, and installed yet another new clutch assembly (third one!). He removed the transmission side cover and visually inspected the inside of the transmission from there, and saw nothing of concern. While the car was on a lift, he thought the rear control arm bushings looked worn, so he replaced all of them. Upon reassembly, the problem was completely gone. There was no more shuddering at all.

Over the course of driving the car the next several months, the shuddering began to come back very slowly, although not as bad as before. A friend had experienced similar minor shuddering during clutch engagement, and it was thought to be hard spots in the flywheel. A replacement flywheel solved his problem, so I ordered a new billet steel flywheel and had it installed, along with another new pilot bushing and another release bearing. There was no improvement. The transmission was removed and replaced with a completely different rebuilt Muncie 4 speed. There was no improvement, so the one that was previously rebuilt (the one that was in the car when I bought it) was reinstalled. At this point, the differential was disassembled and found to be worn enough that there was excessive backlash in the side gears and spider gears. A complete new differential carrier assembly was installed, using the original ring and pinion gears. Once again, no improvement, and after this latest repair work was completed, the problem was actually worse than it was when I brought it in for the latest repairs.

I subsequently took the car to yet another shop. While the car was up on a lift and running, with someone in the driver’s seat and starting to engage the clutch to produce the shuddering, another mechanic was under the car, feeling all of the clutch linkage. There was no substantial vibration felt in the clutch linkage. The mechanic also paid attention to the condition of the motor mounts from below while this was going on, and saw nothing of concern. I have also taken the car back to the driveshaft and differential specialist shop, who has equipment for checking driveline angles. They found no issues with the existing driveline angles. 

During my entire time of ownership - even when it is experiencing the severe shuddering problem - once the clutch is fully engaged, the car runs and drives very well. There is no other vibration, no strange noises, no shifting issues, nothing of concern. 

In the late fall of 2016, I took the car to yet another shop that came highly recommended by several well respected car restoration experts/enthusiasts in the Phoenix area. The following issues were noted:

1.       The new billet steel flywheel and the clutch disc were not compatible. Some of the rivets on the clutch disc had their outermost edges slightly ground away due to interference with the recessed area in the center of the flywheel where it is attached to the crankshaft. This should have been noticed by the shop that installed the billet steel flywheel.

2.       The front bearing retainer on the transmission (that the throwout bearing slides back and forth over in operation) had noticeable wear and was found to be undersize when measured.

3.       The clutch disc material had a sticky, greasy feeling, and there was a noticeable axial pattern of greasy material around the inside of the bellhousing. Once again, there was no leakage of any substance noted from either the front of the transmission or the rear of the engine.

A new front bearing retainer was installed on the transmission, a new clutch assembly (number four!) was installed using the original flywheel from the car, and all traces of grease and oil were cleaned from inside the bellhousing and all other surfaces of parts.

I got the car back in early December of 2016 and since then, there is no clutch shudder at all. The good news is that it's fixed....the bad news is, I'll never know exactly what fixed it.

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