The Mojo's Workin' Revisited
Build It Right and Get Lots of Insurance, A Cautionary Tale.
From the February, 2009 issue of Chevy High Performance
By John Nelson
Photography by Courtesy Of Hotrods to Hell, Jeremiah Scott, Patrick Wilson
It's not very often that a feature car gets a second shot in the CHP spotlight, but it does happen--especially when there's a new story to be told. We brought you Patrick Wilson's slick and fast '67 Chevelle in our Sept. '04 issue ("The Mojo's Workin'"). Wilson, drummer for the band Weezer (which just released a new album, Make Believe), commissioned Hotrods to Hell (www.hotrodstohell.net) to build him a car with "big power and predictable handling," an American classic alternative to the BMW M5 he was considering. Wilson got what he wanted, and then some, as the Centerdrive Truckarm-suspended Malibu, packed with a 500-horse small-block, clicked off 12.5-second quarters and pulled 63 mph through Motor Trend's 600-foot slalom. In the months that followed, however, two other facets of Wilson's vintage ride were dramatically put to the test: its safety features and insurability. The first literally saved lives--the second saved the car. We think there are lessons to be learned from Wilson's experience--things other owners of high-performance classics can learn from.
It Went Off Like a Tuning Fork
Now, Wilson may have been looking for--and gotten--M5-like performance numbers, but there are some areas in which a '67 Chevelle, no matter how trick, can't match a new Beemer. Safety features such as airbags, crumple zones, and rupture-resistant fuel tanks were years away from production when Wilson's Mali rolled off the assembly line. Wilson did add Corbeau seats and Deist harnesses, definite improvements over the original lap belts, but as it turns out it was the missus, Jen Wilson, who called for the most important piece of safety equipment. As we noted in our original article, Jen visited Hotrods to Hell during the car's construction and saw another--less fortunate--Malibu. This one had been rolled at triple-digit speeds, obliterating everything except the HTH rollcage and the area inside it. Mrs. Wilson quickly insisted on a similar cage for the '67. "She has an uncanny sense of our automotive needs," Patrick recently told us. We'd say so.
Here's what happens when a...
Here's what happens when a full-sized pickup hits a '67 Chevelle at 35 mph. Thanks to a stout rollcage that extends into the trunk, the accordion effect was limited and the fuel tank received just enough protection.
Cut to last fall, several months after our article and testing. As Patrick told us, "Me and the eight-month-pregnant wife are in the car. She's telling me not to drive it too fast; I'm saying all right. We come up to an intersection, and like most normal people, we stop. There's a truck in front of us. I looked up in the mirror, saw an F-250 getting bigger and bigger, and realize that it's not gonna stop. I said 'Oh ----!' and braced myself. He didn't even put his foot on the brake, and hit us doing 30 or 35 mph. It was pretty violent." Fortunately, though, everyone walked away. Jen Wilson spent a night in the hospital to make sure the baby was OK (six-month-old Charlie was and is), but the Wilsons avoided tragedy--thanks to that rollcage.
When the truck hit, Patrick recalls, the cage went "ting," and rang like a tuning fork. "There was absolute rigidity," he continued. "I don't think it moved at all." A good thing, too, since the Malibu still had its original fuel tank. The frame kickouts were bent, as was the fuel tank, but only slightly. Wilson gives credit to the HTH rollcage. "If it wasn't for those two rear bars, we probably would have had a fire," he declares.
Up front, the damage looks...
Up front, the damage looks bad, but was also limited by the snout bars of the rollcage . . .
Most musclecar builders don't include a rollcage in their classics, but Patrick and Jen Wilson are sure glad they did. "It's done right," Patrick says. "It's tucked in so you can't even tell it's there. It also makes the car so much more solid." And safer, to be sure. Does that mean everyone with a classic performance car needs a rollcage? We won't go that far, but Wilson built this car to be driven on a daily basis. More driving, of course, increases the odds of getting in an accident. Taking extra safety precautions ahead of time saved everyone involved a great deal of grief. You'll have to decide if you need this extra insurance.
You've Gotta Have It
Speaking of insurance . . . once it was established that all the people involved were OK, attention could be turned toward the wounded Malibu. Luckily, the stout rollcage that protected the car's occupants also limited the accordion effect to the Mali's nose and tail end. Still, what does it cost to repair a nearly 40-year-old, custom-built musclecar? And how do you get an insurance company to pay? "The appraisal I had done was key," Patrick asserted. "You've gotta have that; there's no leeway. They [the insurance companies] want to know. If I hadn't had this, they wouldn't have fixed it. They would have paid blue book, which is only about $6,000." The bottom line is this: Whether you're trying to collect from an "at fault" party or simply make sure that your own insurance policy covers your investment, it is essential that the value of your pride and joy be established.
. . . as shown in this in-progress...
. . . as shown in this in-progress photo. This cage kept Patrick Wilson's Malibu in the land of the living; more importantly, it quite possibly did the same for his wife and then-unborn son.
The best way to do this, as demonstrated by Pat Wilson's experience, is by having a professional appraisal done. We talked to Robert Petricca of California Dream Cars, (818) 895-9906, who evaluated Patrick's Malibu, and asked him what consumers should look for in an appraiser. "You want somebody with a good background and experience in cars," he told us. "I've owned shops that have done mechanical work, body and paint, and also restoration." This experience enables an appraiser to recognize what's been put into the car, the quality of the work, and most of all, what it's worth. "It's about knowin' what you know," Petricca baldly put it. You also want an appraiser who is licensed by the state he's practicing in, recognized by the banks you're likely to deal with, and also bonded.
With the bumper and trim stripped...
With the bumper and trim stripped off, we can see just how close the runaway truck came to pushing all the way into the Chevelle's stock fuel tank, which was damaged in the collision, though not ruptured. Credit that rollcage again.
The biggest mistake many people make, Petricca told us, is that they just call their regular insurance company and have them add on their newly built, high-dollar classic hot rod. "You need proper insurance for a new toy or a restoration," he told us. This means getting an appraisal for insurance purposes that covers a vehicle for stated value. Companies such as Hagerty Insurance (www.hagerty.com), Condon & Skelly (www.condonskelly.com), and American National Properties (www.anpac.com) specialize in insuring specialty cars for a stated, appraised value.
Thanks to a thorough and professional...
Thanks to a thorough and professional appraisal, Wilson's Malibu ended up even better than it started, with a perfect body and flawless paint, along with shaved emblems and trim. And while the rollcage protected the stock fuel tank this time, Wilson is taking no chances in the future--note the new fuel cell, visible at the rear of the car.
In our example case, California Dream Cars provided Wilson with a seven- page report that evaluated the Malibu's condition, described the custom work done to the car, the cost of this work (based on receipts), and included pictures of the car. The faulty party's insurance company, faced with documentation that this custom Malibu had a replacement cost of $50,000, quickly wrote a check for the substantially lower amount it cost Patrick to have the car repaired at Studio Auto Body (Glendale, California, (818) 242-6684). Petricca laid out the situation succinctly: "Without a proper appraisal, you get into disputes and low-balling, and it's hard to get proper replacement value."
All's Well That Ends Well
In the end, everything has turned out well. A little extra attention in the safety department did a lot of good for the Wilson family, and getting a proper appraisal took care of the Malibu. In fact, Wilson says the car is better than ever, with a fiberglass hood and trunk, perfect body and paint--and now a fuel cell, just in case. We've revisited this car because it's cool, but also because the story illustrates a fundamental truth: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.