Thursday, December 18, 2008

My Chevelle

Our 1970 Chevelle Malibu Convertible
Murray and Joanne Stahl

Chevelle In Maine

It was March of 1987, an unusually sunny day in Rochester. We were driving down Spencerport road in the mid-afternoon and spotted a red Chevelle with a 4-sale sign on it. It must have been Kismet or maybe March madness for Joanne told me we should look at it! This was really uncharacteristic as she views cars; either old or new, in the same way that she sees a refrigerator. As long as it fulfills it basic purpose all is well, once it fails then it’s goodbye appliance. Still shaking my head about her actually wanting me to look at an old car we pulled over.

As it turned out the car was a 1970 Chevelle, Malibu Convertible nicely painted in Aztec red. The owner was a 17 year old kid (same vintage as car) who had gotten it from his dad; the original owner. He was in trade school and had made the car a school project. Everything was detailed, the top was new and the paint superb. The price was right and Joanne really wanted it so who was I to say no to another car. I did wonder, “who was this woman” as the car quickly became ours. By the way, it’s our only car registered to Joanne. At the time we owned a red 46 Dodge Convertible and we joked about our creating a red car club.

I think everyone who buys an antique car goes through what I think of as the “getting to know you” phase when the car first sets in your garage. We’ve all been surprised.
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In the Chevelle’s case it was all good, no unpleasant surprises. These young kids had done a great job on the mechanicals but a terrific job on the body. The car had always been garaged, never rusty and the paint was show quality lacquer, hand worked to a high sheen. As I write this we’ve added 35K miles to the 60 thousand we started with; the paint is now 24 years old and shows no bubbles from suspect preparation and is only checked in an area about 3 inches square.

My Chevelle in 1970 was Chevrolet’s answer to owning a convertible on the cheap. The car was originally sold with only a radio and automatic tranny. It had no power anything except for the top. No interior lights, no bucket seats, nada. On a trip to Lake Placid I had occasion to have to stop from 65 MPH. It was no fun; the original, undersized drum brakes w/o power assist had the braking power of an anchor, very scary. When we arrived home I was able to enjoy one of the underrated joys of owning a Chevelle or Corvette, Mustang or Model-A, all parts are available. I settled on a wrecking yard in NC that only dealt with Chevelle’s and was able to purchase original power brake and steering kits rebuilt and warranted. You can wait longer for parts on a modern car than you do with the popular marques, go figure. Most parts on my Studebaker are about as available as common sense in Congress.

In the twenty-three years we’ve owned this car it’s never broken down. Through 35 thousand miles there hasn’t even been a flat tire. The only incident was totally my fault. In a fit of madness I read the label on some million-mile antifreeze. I change antifreeze on all my cars every two years and I thought, hey, why not. Why not turned out to be a leak about two weeks later. The additive in the mix had eaten away most of the paper gasket between the block and water pump. As long as I had to remove the radiator I replaced the water pump, hoses, belts etc.. Once again the beauty of a popular marquee amazed me. The water pump for a small block Chevy was cheaper than the belts and right off the shelf.

We use the Chevelle as our tour car because it’s not as rare as our Speedster and is much more comfortable than our Vette which has just about enough storage space for Joanne’s purse. This year we drove the Chevelle to Nova Scotia, 3500 miles with about 800 of those with the top down, hoo-ray.

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