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 Jeff’s 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 owner’s manual and Protect-O-Plate. As Jeff puts it, “Doing cartwheels prior to negotiating a deal isn’t the best approach, but what the heck.”

Soon after, Frank and Jeff transported the newly acquired Chevelle back to Ventura. With the combination of Jeff’s enthusiasm and Frank’s 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 today’s 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 gearbox’s 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, Jeff’s story has a different ending. This time, he’s keeping the car.