When airline pilot Terry Stevens built his 406ci '78 Caprice as a high-rolling Pro Touring car 10 years ago, and long before there was such a term in the hobby lexicon, we looked it straight in the grille and said "no way". Terry (aka Twitch) slipped us the keys with a look in his eye that said "so long, suckers". Five minutes later we felt like chumps. He'd attended all the car's systems, balancing torque and power with equal measures of braking, ride quality, and handling. The Caprice was better than it had a right to be. The wise guys had been told.
Maybe a dozen years later, Terry retired from the grind, hungry to build a car or two at his "hobby shop" outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. He had all the tools and know-how and was surrounded by proponents who twirl NASCAR wrenches and we-can-make-anything fabricators. One of those guys was Kurt Binkley, ex-Detroiter who relocated in the area to be as close to the NASCAR mantle as (a wrench and fabricator) he could be. He worked with Terry on the LS2-powered '68 Camaro drop-top we cover-featured in the Oct. '05 issue. Henry D. and I were able to get a gut feeling of Terry's sincerity and work ethic and met everyone involved with the build, including Kurt and the rest of his crew. They were self-effacing and worked like machines. They smoked our brains.
"I owned a yellow '67 Chevelle all throughout high school. I had to give the car up to move my family from Detroit to Charlotte and have missed the car ever since," Binkley said wistfully. "When I began helping Terry build cars, we both exclaimed our secret love for the '67 Chevelle."
This writer was also enamored of the same creature, laid down $2,900 for a new L79 small-block powered, M21 four-speed Malibu, not the big-block Super Sport that everyone in the state lusted after. Save for the solid-lifter 375/396 that you never saw on the street, the L79 made as much horsepower as the two lesser big-blocks in a lighter and (to me) cleaner-appearing, no-nonsense package that didn't scream "look at me". Call it stealth.
Binkley: "Before I knew it, Terry bought one and we all thrashed on it to make the '06 SEMA show. The 'we' was Mark Auten (interior detail and helped dismantle, handled wiring, and hung doors), Kevin Bryde, Steve Webb, and Bobby Persinger (fabrication), Shane Brown (painted the firewall), Elbert Efird (trunk lining and carpet), and me. Terry had become the East Coast rep for Hotchkis and the car wore Hotchkis colors. About this time, Terry was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. That changed just about everything.
"We had big plans, including Power Tours, car shows, and so on, but Terry's health was failing and goals and deadlines were getting harder to reach. We won the '08 Goodguys Autocross Street Machines Division in Charlotte, North Carolina," said Binkley. "Had three great days and the car performed wonderfully. That made Terry very happy."
After a courageous two-and-a-half years of fighting the odds with experimental treatments, all in hopes of finding a cure for others, Terry voluntarily refused his meds and chemotherapy, stared the Reaper in the face and told him to bring it on. He passed on July 22, 2009. "Terry left the Chevelle to me in his will," Binkley said. "For that I'm eternally grateful."
Terry's car-building philosophy was one of balance and a penchant for details, something he probably always adhered to but being a pilot with the lives of thousands under his auspice, his attention to the fusion and the function of the whole became his mantra. He never bragged. The cars he built did that for him. His engines were powerful but never stupid. He used as many factory parts as possible. He built all of the systems robust so that they would contribute equally and seamlessly to the whole. His cars could be driven anywhere. He loved revving up, popping the clutch and going sideways, certainly, but he loved using the tires, suspension, steering, and brakes to hold the car to the road in precise, surgical lines. He loved that concert more than anything.