SMOKESTACK LIGHTNIN’

Paul Tor­torici’s old-school A-body is a howlin’ wolf

Chevy High Performance - - Contents - TEXT: Ro McGone­gal | PHO­TOS: Bill Erd­man

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

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