Paul Tortorici’s old-school A-body is a howlin’ wolf
Perseverance. If there was ever a word to describe what a car builder/owner must have in their psychic makeup it would be that word. You stick to the task absolutely until it is completed, no matter the punji pits or the Claymore mines in your road, and when everything that conspires against your forward motion, you don’t quit. Paul Tortorici is one of those kind. It was like he was working with the Murphy’s law encyclopedia. Virtually anything that could go wrong did, but none of it caused by him. As a young fish, Paul’s indoctrination included his dad’s 1967 Riviera GS and his uncle’s 1966 4-4-2 when they were new cars. It was graphic. “I’ll always remember [them] going out on Route 80 and racing one another.”
His fable began more than a dozen years ago when the kid from northern New Jersey bought a car way out in freakin’ Oregon. It was a genuine 138 SS396 Super Sport Chevelle, replete with bucket seats and a console. It had a tarpaper roof that has capped four paints: gold, red, white, and the glassy obsidian sheen it has now, and he declares that he’ll defend that patch of vinyl forever.
So the car is thousands of miles from New Jersey, may as well be on the moon, and all he had to go by were images he saw on the Internet. Of course, he discovered too late that the whole thing was misrepresented. The seller told Paul the car didn’t need any bodywork, wasn’t slathered with Bondo, and was ready to go cruising right now. But any hope of a complete numbers-matching deal was lost in the ozone. The engine wasn’t original. The quarter-panel on the
driver-side and both front fenders he had to replace with N.O.S. pieces. But there was a lot more that made Paul’s stomach do a dirty boogie.
“Though the seller told me that everything worked, the car arrived with two flat tires and no brakes,” he gasped. “You step on the brake pedal and all the lights would go on.” It’s only encouraging aspect was a clean, unmolested interior, which Paul could leave intact and save money doing it. “I decided to do a body-off restoration and mediablasted the body shell and the frame.”
Paul makes his living from his screen printing business in Hackensack called S&P Tees, but long before this adventure consumed seven straight years, Paul knew he’d have to be wise and frugal. He and his son Pino would build the engine from a 540-cubic-inch Bow Tie block and a forged rotating assembly. They sent the pieces to B&B Automotive Machine down in Rahway. Bob did the machine work; Dave Jack prepped the Canfield cylinder heads.
Between the shaping of the combustion chambers and the configuration of the corresponding piston domes they tailored the compression ratio at 8.5:1 in anticipation of the world’s most formidable-looking power-adder. Blower Drive Services (BDS) provided more than 40 years of experience along with its specific intake manifold and 8-71 smokestack that Paul decorated with Demon carburetors and an airscoop that’s about as subtle as an elbow in your eye socket.
He and Pino built the drivetrain unorthodox, again shunning the typical stuff for things people would likely remember about his car.
Instead of the noted TREMEC five- or six-speed transmission, they were enthused about a McLeod flywheel and pressure plate assembly and a Richmond Gear Super Street five-speed overdrive. Rather than a power-eating Ford third member, they put up the minimally parasitic Moser 12-bolt knowing that they had nine inches of small-tire failsafe that would erupt long before anything could compromise the mechanicals.
Paul wouldn’t be intimidated by popular notion or current trend. He gathered some truly ’60’s cues and did the throwback. After setting the stance with conventional coil springs (not
coilover adjustable shock absorbers), he went after the candy. He found the eye-popping polished Tri-Ribb rims at Radir Custom Wheels just down the road in Montville, New Jersey, and stacked them with modern Mickey Sportsman Front tires and really oldschool bias-ply Pro-Trac 60 skins.
The glassy exterior was created in two places. Colors Auto Body in Budd Lake, New Jersey, purified the sheetmetal, where Ryan (son) and Steve Korek (dad) of Korek Designs assembled and finished the front clip. Then they sealed the contract at their shop in New Berlin, Pennsylvania, worrying over the mile-deep Mercedes Black.
So what did Paul’s perseverance reveal? A capital offense, that’s what. Buying something sight unseen often means disappointment along with a lot of expense that could have been avoided. On the other hand, sticking to his guns was an experience he’ll never forget. “Taking the car out for the first time after seven long years of working on it when I had time and trying to run my screen printing business at the same time.”
And at that stage of the game that’s all that really mattered. CHP