my favorite drink is synthetic oil

CHRISTOPHER MCKITTERICK

1968 Chevelle SS396 Project:
Transforming a Muscle Machine
into a Sports Car

Chevelle Pages Index:

On the Road

Video Tour

Removing the Rear

Tutorial: Remove Stuck Lower Control Arms

Unboxing New Rear and Transmission

My goal? Take a 1980s-style street/strip big-block, 4-speed Chevelle that drives like a scary truck and turn it into a classic that handles like a modern sports car that's every-day reliable - oh, and efficient(-er than stock), too! I want it to hook up at the drag strip but also compete in autocross without embarassing itself. Heck, I want it to kick modern sports-car butt! And I want to be able to use it as a daily driver. Sound impossible? We'll see!

Steps along the way include swapping out the flimsy and ill-handling 1960s suspension, front and rear; dropping the car front and rear; swapping the weak drums for modern disk brakes all around; swapping out the messed-up 4-speed (don't worry; it's not a Muncie) for a double-overdrive 6-speed; swapping out the one-leg 10-bolt rear for a Moser 12-bolt posi; and installing fuel injection for consistent, reliable fueling year-round. I'll probably do a lot of other things, too. Stay tuned. I'll add new pages of updates here as the transformation progresses, so if you're into this sort of thing, follow me on my ridiculous mission to make this thing into a daily driver with sporting potential!

Look what just arrived this morning (Feb. 15, 2012)! A badass 1968 Chevelle SS396! Okay, almost certainly it's a "tribute" car rather than a factory SS model - which would have cost about $10-20 grand more - but it is an original 396 4-speed, and now it's even faster than stock!

Here it is the morning it arrived, after a 600-mile trip from Milwaukee. The fellows who delivered it are great and brought it here for half what others charge (can't find a website, but they're Double-D Hauling from Milwaukee, I believe, and I found them through Progressive Auto Relocation). Everything about the delivery was perfect once I finally found a shipper... that part was a huge pain. If you ever need to have something delivered fast, affordably, and with good humor, these are your guys! Here they are backing the Chevelle off the trailer, driver in the car and helper guiding him off (photo on left).

I love how the only color in that shot is the Chevelle. After a minute or so of warm-up (it's actually winter in Kansas now), he backed it right off and parked it in the street, where I got this requisite "Hooray my car arrived and it's as nice as I hoped!" photo!

Yes, this is the first time I bought a car off eBay without being able to inspect it first. Scary. Also scary was having it delivered by people I'd never worked with before. Let me tell you, but did I ever do my research. Even so, I still had nightmares about shippers turning out to be car-thieves, or the car getting here and turning out to have been totally misrepresented in the ad, and so forth. *whew*

I had been looking at and occasionally bidding on Chevelles for months now, particularly the 1968 model (my favorite because of the angled nose, sleek tail treatment, cool interior design, and elegant body shape), and had actually bid on this one a few times. Yes, it's a sort of hobby. I didn't want to pay a lot, which was tough because I preferred a 4-speed and the big-block, both of which add big-time to cost. This one had been relisted several times, with a pretty horrible ad that used photos taken with a cell-phone camera. The seller never updated his ad with more description or better photos for the month or two I kept track of it, though he did lower the reserve a little each time. Finally, after the bidding once more ended without a winner, I got a "Second Chance Offer" matching my high bid (almost $4000 off the reserve price!). HOORAY!

We exchanged a few emails and calls, and he sent me a much nicer photo he had from when he first bought the car. Though it wore the wrong wheels (and too big, in my opinion), it revealed that this was not a complete basket-case. I should point out that I paid about half of book value in medium condition, so I figured that even if it needs some work, whatev! I can spend some time and moolah to fix it up and even improve it. See, I wanted something awesome to use as a regular driver, so it didn't need to be perfect and we both kind of preferred it that way - it's a little scary to think of driving an expensive, historically significant car in the rain! There's little more satisfying than having been part of the restoration and customization process of your classic car!

This came at a really good time, too, because the Saab's fuel-injection is once again failing. *sigh*

Anyhow, its condition is about what I expected: a few areas of bubbling under the paint, a couple of small holes in the trunk floor, tires need to be replaced, driver's-side door panel needs to be replaced, the shifter linkage is a bit wonky, it needs to have one of those aftermarket AC/heater systems installed, and a few other things need to be addressed. On the other hand, the engine is clearly newly rebuilt - and built to the back teeth! It uses a gear drive (what an incredible sound!) to drive a hot cam, the heads are ported and polished to flow more air, it has new long-tube headers, and the power it puts down is pretty awesome to feel. Who needs first gear? Well, it'll be nice to get that fixed, but still - WOW! And even though it delivers about 450 horsepower to the wheels (way more than stock), it's a little quieter than the hot-rod Newport because it has Cherry Bomb mufflers that dump right before the rear axle, which is located using drag-race-style ladder bars. What a sound it barks out the exhaust, by the way!

Oh, and I took it for a spin around the block. I discovered that it'll go a little sideways in all the gears when the roads are damp and you give it a little throttle... heh heh.

Once I got it back to the garage I spent some time wiping off the wet road grime and inspecting it. First things to do include hooking up a new  AC/heater, fixing the shifter (though I'm tempted to update to a modern 5- or 6-speed), installing front lowering spindles, improving the springs (feels a bit soft), fixing the trunk floor, and doing a bunch of cosmetic stuff including sealing the underside and fixing the rust. Progress reports with new photos to come soon!

Verdict: I'm happy with the new addition to the stable. WOOHOO!



A few more shots:

 

Next: On the road!

NEXT
MAIN PAGE
MAIL