Mike Ardizzone could have dropped a real heavy bundle on his ’64 Malibu Super Sport, but he did nearly everything himself except for stitching up the upholstery. Mike built the motor, modified the frame and suspension, did the bodywork and paint under less than ideal conditions, and screwed the whole package together properly. He learned from it. He was very happy about the first car he’d ever fathered.
Mike is tight with his dad, Mark. His dad helped a lot. Mike’s friend Louis and brother-in-law Paul did their time, too. Even with the support of this small, dedicated squad, the build cost was more than Mike likes to think about. Imagine what he’d have forked over to have someone else do it all? This man is like us: He finds just as much pleasure in doing and learning from the building phases as he does wiggling behind the wheel. Mike gives props to Griffin’s Auto Parts, Center Paint, CS Restorations, E Transmissions, and Lemons Headers for their help and understanding.
As you might have guessed, the whole wet burrito took some time to fix–yes, nearly 20 winters to wrap up and get ready to scarf. “The car was purchased from a friend of my father’s in May of 1992, my sophomore year in high school,” Mike says. “I drove it on a daily basis. My father and I changed out the 283 and the ’Glide for a 350 and Turbo 350 automatic. Actually, we did this a couple of times. I had a heavy foot.
“In January of 2000, I had an accident in it. Crushed the front end. The car sat in the garage until 2006. By that time, I’d gathered up all the parts as well as the hours to rebuild it. The motor is out of a boat that had sunk. There were two engines in it with about three hours running time on them. We sawed the thing in half and dragged the part with the motors home. Mine was still full of water when I opened it up.”
Mike lives in Santa Clara, California, a bedroom community southeast of San Francisco between San Jose and Sunnyvale. At the very least, the California Air Resources Board frowns upon spray painting anything larger than a decklid outdoors, but some Americans naturally feel constrained by certain laws, so they make amends—something like bootleggers did and still do.
“All bodywork and customizing was done in my garage, by me, my father, and my best friend, Louis. The bodywork took about a year. I painted it in a booth that my father and I put up in a secret location,” Mike says. “He used it to paint his ’65 Chevelle convertible. The homemade booth was great. It just made weather a very important factor.” Guerilla tactics for guerilla warfare. We aren’t condoning this practice. We’re stating a simple fact about an ongoing process that is part of hot rod lore.
Drive time is precious, but Mike indulges two or three times a week. He cruises with the Wrenched Rodz Nor Cal “driving” club, but he often makes the ride solo with nobody prattling from the shotgun seat. Mike built his car to drive, not to be the focus of geezers in lawn chairs in a parking lot. He didn’t aspire to any particular niche; he simply built the car to salve his psyche. Therefore, there are some brilliant dichotomies: steel wheels with minimal tires, small disc brakes, air-filled suspension components, no air conditioning, no mini-tubs.
Is Mike married? Got kids? Under “spouse’s name” he wrote “Car is my spouse.” No more questions? Light ’em up, bro.
Prior to the interior attack, Mike replaced the frazzled factory stuff with a modern Painless harness. Though he contracted Sew Monkey Upholstery in Santa Clara, California, to do the seats in black vinyl and charcoal tweed, lay out new carpet, headliner, and door and side panels, he constructed the custom dash insert for the Auto Meter Phantom gauges. He went to work on a custom console, fastened with button-head screws, to accept the air suspension adjustment keypad and the Alpine audio system (head, twin 51/4-inch front speakers, 6x9 rears, a 10-inch woofer, and a five-channel amp). Mike fiddled with the Gennie shifter (Minneapolis, Minnesota) and got it to come up through the floor right where it should. The tiller is a two-tone (aluminum and leather) Grant Heritage nutted to an ididit adjustable steering column. Nothing über-sensational here, just a good, crisp fit managed by tidy workmanship.
Mike and his pop boxed the frame, smoothed the welds, and made ready for the air bladders and the attendant hardware. The quick-ratio steering box (12:1) masters 21/2-inch drop RideTech spindles attached to tubular Strong Arms for the airbags and the double-adjustable shock absorbers. Mike completed the scheme with a 11/4-inch diameter RideTech antisway bar. At the rear, the suspension components are identical, save for the 3/4-inch bar. No, it ain’t no scraper, but there’s nothing quite like being able to belly flop your ride out in the world and in a blink, the world becomes an even crazier place.
That boat-anchor 454 wound up at Griffin’s Auto Parts in Santa Clara for the machining and the basic get-ready work. Mike envisioned immutable grunt more than high-end whizzing, and the parts reflect that brilliantly. The would-be dragon is an all-iron, four-bolt main bearing construction filled with forged crankshaft, connecting rods, and Keith Black pistons wrapped with Federal-Mogul ring packs. A cleanup plunge of 0.02 inch made the final displacement 458 ci. Valves in the rectangular-port heads are the usual 2.19/1.88 intakes and exhausts and the compression ratio as calculated with an 118cc combustion chamber reveals a mild 9.25:1. Regular fuel, anyone? Mike closed the bottom end with a high-volume oil pump and a Milodon six-quart pan. The COMP Cams Xtreme is a hydraulic roller featuring 0.510/0.540-inch lift and 218/224 degrees of duration at 0.050 inch. Mike’s dad milled the rocker stud bosses 3/16-inch to accept the roller-tipped 1.7:1 stamped steel rocker arms. The entirety of the valvetrain sub-strata is COMP equipment and the cam went home behind a COMP double-roller timing gear. On top, a 850-cfm Holley stands on an Edelbrock intake and pulls air through a K&N filter. Hydrocarbons are sucked out through Lemons Pro Tour headers with 2-inch primaries by 31/2-inch collectors and into a custom stainless system that Mike built and snaked through the Chevelle’s underbelly. Flash comes from a PerTronix ignition system (Taylor primary leads) with timing set at 6 degrees BTDC. Output has never been officially quantified, but figure at least 450 hp and 525 lb-ft of torque at the flywheel, all of it below 5,500 rpm. With a torque curve that is more like a straight line (no less than 450 lb-ft from 1,750 until it crosses over at 5,250 rpm) that’s just the ticket for robust low-speed throttle response. Ask Mike how much he likes it.
Before rolling the car out under the sun, Mike smoothed the firewall, removed some trim bits, and welded up the body seams. Out in the driveway, he rubbed and rubbed. Then he rubbed some more. After a year or so, the tidy little carcass was ready for some glory, albeit a bit dusky. First-time painter Mike shot the PPG Street Silks Black Diamond polyurethane. “It was fun to learn how to do it,” he says.
Rather than fall for the very typical and very expensive Pro Touring tire and wheel combination, Mike reverted to basics, choosing smooth and simple steel 16x7 and 17x7 Wheel Vintiques Rally 66 rims and posing them with 205/55 and 235/55 Goodyear Eagles. Why so conservative? Maybe it’s because that’s all the tire the Chevelle needs with that stone-cold RideTech suspension. Less friction equals better mileage. For the brakes, Mike chose 12.1-inch, four-piston Wilwood Forged DynaLites for both ends of the car. CHP