You know how it is. The yen comes over you like a blanket and there's no stopping it, no ignoring it off. And once you find the object of your desire-or a close facsimile-you put your bread on the table, drag it home, and the real work begins. The time you spend with it becomes the near-palpable investment. Money you can always recover, but when time is gone you can't ever get it back.
At CHP we strive to find material that is owner vested. We see that sweat equity. We see the late nights. We see the all-nighters. What we don't see are the strain it puts on your family, the broken promises to your wife and kids, and the missed birthdays and anniversaries, all for the love of an inanimate thing. Jim Baker tried hard for none of that to happen, so his '66 Chevelle SS took a little longer than some to finish. Maybe it's more resto than restomod and doesn't have all the really cool stuff he envisioned, but it represents just as much validation as a ride costing three times as much.
To keep the lid on uncontrolled expenses, Jim did everything himself except for putting on the paint and hanging the headliner, right there on the floor of his garage. He was not without the assistance of the proverbial cavalry, though. "I had much help from True Connections for many of the N.O.S. parts I needed," he says. And man, did he need them.
His SS was a basket case. "I really didn't want such a project," he says. "I had looked for four years and I had a budget. Everything else I'd seen was extremely rusty. I bought this one because it had a straight body, good bumpers, a good grille, and a four-speed transmission. It was a real 138 car [first numbers of an SS VIN]. The dash was missing, but everything else-the wiring, chrome bits, driveshaft, console and many boxes of parts-was in the trunk."
He found his Chevelle Named Desire not far from his Southern California digs. It was being held captive by a car nut just like him, who had way too many projects he wasn't about to finish. Jim peeled off $3,400, basically the cost of a piano the guy wanted for his wife. The car was originally from the Bakersfield area and it had been inert for more than 20 years. The factory Madeira Maroon Metallic it had worn proudly 40 years hence had been all but obliterated by the natural elements and bad karma out on the flats.
The hope for a numbers-matching drivetrain went all to hell too. The engine Jim got was from a '67 Corvette or B-body Chevy, a hydraulic-lifter 385hp 427. The bogus motor also had an appendage; a Turbo 400 hung off the end of it. Jim kept the block but lost the transvestite transmission. The collective reaction from those close to him was less than heartening. He may as well have tugged a manure wagon home.
"My family, friends, and neighbors could not believe I'd bought it. They couldn't see the potential at all. I stripped the car to a shell and had it sandblasted, then had it painted by my friend Randy at the Body Palace [pole dancing verboten] in Huntington Beach. After it was painted, it took four years and a lot of sleepless night to finish. It took so long because my three boys [Ryan, Scott, and Jason] play a lot of sports."
So our man Jim stays true to what's really important. Doesn't forsake his family. Busts his hump for the cause. Car comes out lookin' pin-neat fresh. And he'll never regret the relatively small amount of money he spent ($23,000 total). And what's his car worth now, built mostly with elbow grease instead of unnecessarily shoveling his hard-earned bucks into a black hole? The payoff is a crisp, straight ride that's scored in the top 15 at the Southern California Chevelle Camino Club two years running. Best part is that his family unit and his credit rating are still intact.
Jim is a man of few words. The Body Palace in Huntington Beach finished the body in Boyd Red then buffed out and reinstalled all the original chrome trim.
Santa Ana Speed (Santa Ana, California) cleaned up the holes with a 0.030-inch overbore, balanced the block and rotating assembly, and sunk ARP studs in the deck. The short-block was then assembled with Speed-Pro 10.5:1 pistons and rings, pinned to the stock 427 connecting rods, and put to bed with the stock forged crankshaft in the 2-bolt main bearing cylinder case. Santa Ana finished the short-block with a complete Comp Cams hydraulic-lifter valvetrain system: 224/230 degrees duration at 0.050, 0.515/0.521 inch lift, valvesprings, 3/8-inch pushrods, guideplates, and timing chain. They paired the stock 5-quart oil pan with a Melling oil pump and sealed the bottom end. Jim capped the block with the stock (but pocket-ported) oval-port cylinder heads assembled by Santa Ana with 2.19/1.72 valves and Comp Pro Magnum roller rocker arms. A worked-over Edelbrock 750-cfm carb is matched to an Edelbrock RPM intake manifold. An MSD Pro Billet HEI ignition system provides 20 degrees of timing at idle and 38 degrees full out. Those heat-coated Hedman headers measure 1 3/4 inches at the primary pipes. The big-block, notorious for operating hot, runs temperate due to a Mattson radiator sporting twin thermostatically controlled fans. A Centerforce clutch assembly passes torque to the M20 wide-ratio four-speed, 1350-series U-joints, and a 3.31:1-geared 12-bolt. "I have two other 12-bolts built by JS Gear in Huntington Beach fitted with 3.73 and 4.11 gears. I swap them in and out depending on my mood," says Jimbo.
The frame features a 115-inch wheelbase and is augmented by Hotchkis components. In the rear, lowering coils, a 1-inch antisway bar, and control arms (the upper ones adjustable) cohabit with Edelbrock shock absorbers. Baer Track 12-inch discs replace the old drum brakes. Up front, Hotchkis coils are paired with Edelbrock shocks and a 1 3/8-inch antisway bar. Jim's Chevelle acquired a quicker directional reaction via a '74 Trans Am steering box.
Hoops & Rubber
While Jim could have easily blown the budget right here with more than he really needed, he propped moderately priced 17x8 Intro wheels with moderately priced sticky 245/45 and 255/50 Kumho rubber. Braking is by a Baer Track system posing 13-inch discs on the stock spindles and a 12-inch disc conversion at the rear.
It's 1966 all over again, only better. The only deviations from stock are the Auto Meter tachometer on the end of that custom mount, Auto Meter ancillaries, a Hurst Competition Plus shifter, and the spiffy Grant steering wheel. Fiber Technology in Huntington Beach sheathed the seats in stock vinyl.