Somewhere In Time
The SS 396 Reputation
From the February, 2009 issue of Chevy High Performance
By Bob Mehlhoff
Photography by Bob Mehlhoff
Jeff Paulin at work shifting...
Jeff Paulin at work shifting his first 396 Chevelle to a low-12-second pass in the 60s. In this outing, his best was 12.08 at 118 mph. Notice the rear of the hood is adjusted well above the fender line. This was common practice on Chevelles in the 60s to ventilate the engine compartment.
Jeff rescued the second Chevelle...
Jeff rescued the second Chevelle from the ravages of a storage locker.
The SS 396 Chevelle sat dormant...
The SS 396 Chevelle sat dormant in Palmdale, California, for years underneath boxes.
Nothing was left untouched...
Nothing was left untouched during the restoration. With the help of Frank Saenz (left), the SS 396 underwent a complete renovation.
Frank detailed the engine...
Frank detailed the engine compartment to show- quality standards. The engine in Jeffs Chevelle today is the same one he ran in his first Chevelle during the 60s. Keeping it over the years must have been fate.
Today, Jeffs Chevelle...
Today, Jeffs Chevelle has clocked just over 20,000 miles. Notice the factory gauges and the tachometer factory-mounted to the right of the steering column.
Today, the original California...
Today, the original California black plates remain in pristine condition. Notice the remaining year tag.
The L78 375hp/396ci engine...
The L78 375hp/396ci engine came equipped with a host of performance parts. At Chevrolet, a mechanical-lifter camshaft, 800-cfm Holley carburetor, aluminum intake manifold, four-bolt mains, forged pistons, and a forged Tufftrided steel crankshaft spelled special high performance.
Restoration expert Frank Saenz...
Restoration expert Frank Saenz detailed the entire undercarriage. The original 12-bolt housing contains a 3.42 Posi-traction unit.
By the early 70s, Jeff...
By the early 70s, Jeff still drove his first SS 396 daily (upper). Today, Jeff enjoys his second SS 396 (lower).
Except for the custom paint...
Except for the custom paint on the C-pillars, his second SS 396 is almost identical.
The SS 396 Chevelle put the musclecar movement into Fourth gear in 1966. The middleweight Chevrolet contender had a host of available big-block options with three levels of horsepower ratings (325 hp, 360 hp, and 375 hp). The newly released big-block Chevelle had a résumé packed with available parts for low e.t.s. High-lift camshafts, a Muncie four-speed, and deep gears helped the A-body negotiate the dragstrip very quickly.
Race at any Southern California dragstrip back then and you would eventually square off against Jeff Paulin. Jeff and his red 66 Chevelle were regular contenders on that asphalt aisle. His brand-new SS 396 with its 375hp big-block frequented Ramona Raceway, Carlsbad, Orange County International Raceway, and others. To guarantee those low e.t.s, Jeff installed 4.88 gears, headers, a 40-pound flywheel, and 10-inch slicks. The speed equipment installations paid off and the street-driven 375hp Rat Chevelle frequently clocked low 12-second e.t.s. By 1975, Jeff tamed down his SS 396 Chevelle for commuting. The 375hp motor made way for a milder, oval-port big-block with taller, fuel-friendly 3.08 gears. The mid-70s fuel-efficient mindset eventually got the best of Jeff, and he regretfully sold the Chevelle.
Fast-forward to 1998. One afternoon Jeff and his close friend Frank Saenz were talking about the cars that ruled the quarter-mile when Frank said he knew the whereabouts of a 20,000-mile red SS Chevelle that might be for sale. The car had the factory knee-knocker tachometer, black bucket seats, factory gauges, and a woodgrain two-spoke steering wheel. During the 60s, this particular SS had earned a reputation as the fastest Chevelle in Ventura, California. Now with a broken motor, the Chevelle was parked in a storage locker in Palmdale, California. Jeff wasted no time calling the owner of the dormant Chevelle and a Saturday morning trip to Palmdale proved rewarding. The men dug the SS Chevelle out from beneath piles of empty boxes to find an original-paint car that was almost a twin to Jeffs first Chevelle. The 66-issued gold-on-black California plates still looked new. The four-speed console had been removed and placed on the back seat. The glovebox still contained the original owners manual and Protect-O-Plate. As Jeff puts it, Doing cartwheels prior to negotiating a deal isnt the best approach, but what the heck.
Soon after, Frank and Jeff transported the newly acquired Chevelle back to Ventura. With the combination of Jeffs enthusiasm and Franks expertise, the Chevelle underwent a year-and-a-half transformation. Working with the original lacquer paint, Frank carefully sanded the drag-racing lettering off the car. The gold-leaf paint on each C-pillar proved too risky to remove, so Frank and Jeff decided that it reflected the 60s drag-racing period and they left it alone.
Jeff still had the original 375hp/396ci engine from his first SS 396, and now had a perfect home for it. In 1966, the 375hp Rat came equipped with massive rectangular-port heads, a mechanical high-lift camshaft, 2.19-inch intake valves, an aluminum intake manifold, and a larger Holley carburetor. To operate the original 11:1 pistons on todays fuel, Jeff had 0.125 inch milled from the piston domes. To totally restore the SS, Frank pulled the frame out from under the car and completely detailed it. The factory 12-bolt rearend received a set of 3.42 gears. For shifting duties, Jeff installed a period-correct M22 transmission. The M22 transmission is a close-ratio unit with a 2.20 First gear identical in all ratios to an M21, except the M22 gears have a straighter helix angle on the main gearset to provide added strength. Consequently, the M22 gearboxs first three gears are noisy, hence the nickname Rock Crusher.
Today, Jeff and his wife Tracie cruise the streets of Southern California in their SS 396 Chevelle. The American Racing five-spoke wheels, four-speed shifter, and knee-knocker tach all contribute to classic 60s style. This time though, Jeffs story has a different ending. This time, hes keeping the car.