Shuffling back and forth across a mall parking lot for three hours sounds like the behavior of a nut case, but if I was crazy on Friday at the Kansas City Chevelle and El Camino Show, hosted by the American Chevelle Enthusiasts Society, I was in good company. Of about 75 Chevelles, a handful of El Caminos, and even a GMC Sprint, most were restored and maintained to a fanatical extreme. Aside from one rust bucket Chevelle whose owner brought for a few laughs, (and to sit beside his gorgeous drag car) every single machine on the lot was a near flawless show piece.
Each of them had a story, but one stood out in particular. Roger Day bought his one-of-a-kind COPO Chevelle brand new off the lot in 1969. “My wife and I had our first date in it in May of 1970. Two weeks later we were engaged to be married.” But in October, the engine failed and had to be replaced, under warranty, and failed again 20,000 miles later, so Roger traded in the COPO. “In 1996, I started looking for it again.” His search took him from Independence, Missouri to Iowa to Ottawa, Illinois outside Chicago. “It was in need of a complete restoration.” The motor had been swapped twice, and the transmission and rear end had been switched out, as well. So Roger set to work, making sure every last detail was perfect, date- and part number-correct. “Everything that’s in the car…possibly could have gone through the production line the day it was built in July 1969.” The end result was shockingly beautiful.
Not every Chevy on the lot had been owned for so long, however. Bill Schultz bought his second-gen El Camino in 2005 on Ebay. It was beautifully restored, but one modification stuck out to me. “I’ve been in cars 35, 40 years,” Bill said, “and I’ve had big motors and small motors, and I know a lot of people who are into cars… And I just wanted to be different. And I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just put nitrous in it.’” That’s right. That famous blue bottle huddled in a front corner of the bed. Bill hasn’t used it yet, even after two years, since his restoration included a brand new 350 crate motor, and even now it’s only traveled around 500 miles. “I will eventually… Somebody messes with me enough…”
Nitrous wasn’t the only mod-con out there. Brake discs peeked out from between the spokes of rear wheels, custom stereos discreetly hid under dashes, and more than a few bright red MSD ignition controllers dotted the collection. Perhaps the most resto-modded Chevelle, however, belonged to Rick Byfield. He’s heavily customized his ’71 Malibu with a modern, fuel-injected 6.0 LSX swap, a digital dash, air conditioning, and four-wheel discs. His entire engine bay was awash with carbon-fiber print graphics, though the exterior was painted to match a Chevelle he’d owned in the ‘70s. “But I wanted something modern… It just makes the car very drivable… When you get older like this, you just want to enjoy the car running right, and not spend all your time working on it.”
Somewhere between the resto-modded daily driver and the numbers-matched gallery piece sat my personal favorite of the day, a heartbreaker-red, 1970 Chevelle, restored and owned by Jon and Cathy Hopkins. Under the hood sat a 396, its headers expertly chromed to match just about everything else in the engine bay, from the air filter hat to the radiator hose. It reminded me of the first time a saw a picture of Marilyn Monroe, or of the Earth from Space. For once, I had nothing to say.
As the owners prepped their masterpieces for their evening cruise and poker run, and I shuffled, once again, back to my car, I realized how sunburned and dehydrated I was. It had been a clear, early autumn day, after all, and I’d spent it on a parking lot. But I hadn’t noticed much, so dazed and impressed with the work displayed, the collage of cowl-induction under metallic fleck paint, and the sound – that heavenly, baritone V8 music ringing across the parking lot as the beauties filed in.