The Driver’s Seat (Part 5)

Some Guys, Some Girls, and Their Chevelle
The story of a certain Lemans Blue 1969 Chevelle Super Sport

Now under another change of ownership, the ‘69 is to receive another“well-intentioned” overhaul from an inexperienced owner who is about to learn a valuable lesson! .

James couldn’t wait to get started with his project! As he drove it into his one-car garage, visions of a show winning Chevelle danced through his mind as well as making big bucks on its eventual sale. “But where to get started”, he thought. Armed with the requisite “how-to” books and “numbers” books, he began by checking the “pedigree” of his SS. .

Built at the Baltimore Plant on the first week in May of 1969, the SS was originally Lemans Blue with a Parchment Bucket Seat interior. There were also other numbers on the trim tag he was unable to find out what they meant. James was discouraged to find a small-block Chevy V8 with a suffix code his books did not show existed instead of a 396 big-block V8. Although buying an appropriate big block engine was not on his original “list” to do, James pressed on with his project.

The removal of the tattered bucket seat interior was the first item James attacked. All parts he removed that were worth keeping were tagged, bagged, and stored up in the garage attic. Upon removal of the dry-rotted shag-carpeting, James was discouraged to find two metal “for sale“ signs riveted over holes in the floor and an uncovered hole where the back seat used to be. Shrugging it off as a necessary repair, James proceeded to jack the Chevelle up and put it on jack stands to remove items from the chassis. Off came the tires and wheels, the rusted exhaust system, and the gas tank. As the gas tank fell to the floor, he noticed many holes drilled into the top. He looked up to the trunk floor and, as if an ominous message, a red “STOP” sign was riveted to the trunk floor. Further discouraged, James stopped what he was doing, walked out of the garage and locked the door! That thing in the garage was becoming a nightmare. .

Scouring the Chevelle Parts Catalogs, the price to restore the Chevelle greatly exceeded the $5000 he had budgeted for the project. Plus, it was time to get a professional opinion on what the body work would entail. He finally found a body shop technician willing to make a house call to appraise what he had. And the news certainly was NOT good! Jerry pointed out the extensive body-filler usage throughout the body, the extensive rust repair done to the rear quarter panels, the rotted inner and outer wheel houses, the trunk floor and braces, the rotted right side rocker, and the rotted doors and front fenders. Jerry also pointed out the rust bubbles beginning to form in the domed SS hood and under the rear window. The metal under the windshield on top of the dash seemed to be OK. Lots of sheet-metal surgery was required to make a quality repair. Jerry also pointed out that these items were what he could see and that additional repairs may be needed once he began disassembling the body. In addition, it was NOT uncommon to have repairs or even replacement of the frame once the body was in such bad shape. James was given a preliminary estimate of $8500 just for body repairs alone. Far exceeding his talents and budget, James decided to put his project on hold and reevaluate his goals.

Nine months later, a decision was made to sell the nightmare in the garage and cut his losses now. An ad was placed in Hemmings Motor News and James received many calls but many were scared off because of the Chevelle’s condition. Finally, in August of 1990, Doug called to inquire about the Chevelle. He was looking for a project where he could showcase his talents, document his progress, and thus create more business. Doug made the trip in his rollback so as to be prepared for the likelihood he bought the SS. James opened the garage doors and there it was, full of dust, cobwebs, and rabbit droppings from its current residents. Doug felt he could bring the SS back to life and agreed on a purchase price. James helped load his nightmare, and its parts, onto Doug’s rollback and thanked him. As he watched it go down his road, as many of the previous owners did, he was glad to be rid of the nightmare and resolved to buy a Chevelle that was “already done”.

Doug had been searching for a car to make into a nice “street machine” and showcase his talents. He would document the sheet metal surgery and prep work. A state-of-the-art paint job with modern graphics would be applied over the new sheet metal. And every- thing would be a right off as a business expense because this Chevelle was going to be his “rolling billboard”. .

Having more knowledge of Chevelles than the previous owner did, Doug began looking though the disassembled parts as he loaded the Chevelle into his body shop. When he picked up the back seat, he turned it over to see if the “build sheet” was still there. Much to his surprise, it was STILL there after all these years!

Doug couldn’t believe his luck! This was a real SS 396 with some cool options, including the very desirable 396-375 L78 engine option. Although long gone, Doug resolved to find a correct replace- ment engine, M22 4 speed transmission, and put the potentially valuable SS back to 100% factory original condition. Having done frame-off restorations on customers’ cars before, he had gained the knowledge and experience necessary to perform a state-of-the-art resto on his Chevelle.

And this one needed everything! He ordered what he could from the Chevy dealer and everything else from Chevelle Parts Houses. The list included floor pans and braces, trunk pans and braces, left and right quarter panels, left and right inner and outer wheel houses, trunk lid, rear window panel, SS hood, left and right doors, front fenders, core support, front valence, and a right side rocker panel. In addition, he ordered all trim and emblems that were still available through GM. He even got lucky and found NOS front and rear bumpers in perfect condition. This Chevelle would be his soul project during slow periods when business was slow or non-existent.

As he thought, extensive rust repair was needed as he found when the body was lifted off the frame. But Doug was prepared for a “worst case” scenario. Taking pictures every step of the way, he accumulated a detailed story of the restoration of the Chevelle.

Lots of patience and two years later, the sheet metal work on the body was correctly completed. Doug took an extreme amount of pride into his workmanship and was proud of his accomplishment. That same pride went into reconditioning the original frame, which he sandblasted, straightened, and powder coated. The suspension was once again rebuilt, but this time using NOS parts where he could find them. The original 4:10 12 bolt rear was rebuilt and new metal brake lines and fuel lines were installed on the frame. Doug decided to apply the Lemans Blue paint with the body apart and off the frame.

A 100 point concours restoration was his goal, and it showed through the reassembly process. Even the jams were hand sanded and polished. And a year later, the body was lowered back on the frame. Even though it was missing all the trim, weatherstrips, glass, drive-train, and tires and wheels, it was beautiful! The only bad news was that this restoration consumed so much of his time that he began experiencing financial problems as he was unable to pay his bills and maintain his business.

Forced into chapter 7 bankruptcy, Doug’s body shop and its contents were put up for auction to pay his creditors. And since the Chevelle was to be used as advertisement, it too was included in the auction as a separate lot. Doug’s heart was broken as he became yet another on the list of previous owners of the Lemans Blue ‘69 SS.

Click Here for part 6.