MUS­CLE CAR

John Proven­zano’s 1968 Pure Stock time cap­sule

Chevy High Performance - - Contents - TEXT: Ro McGone­gal | PHO­TOS: Grant Cox

John Proven­zano’s 1968 Pure Stock time cap­sule

For more than two hun­dred mil­lion years, di­nosaurs pum­meled the Juras­sic land­scape. Yikes, they were all over the place. They thun­dered. They bel­lowed. They shook the ground. They shook the trees and re­ally were om­nipo­tent. But their pack­ag­ing was wrong. Their sheer size ul­ti­mately doomed them due to in­ef­fi­ciency; “nat­u­ral” causes brought them down and even­tu­ally turned the muck into fos­sil fuel.

The time was right and the price was cheap, but if you’ve just plowed into your 40s you weren’t around when Amer­i­can di­nosaurs roamed the realm. Their manic pop­u­lar­ity rep­re­sented an orgy of na­tional in­se­cu­rity jux­ta­posed with na­tional pride and cursed by car­cino­genic en­trails. Yikes, but they were rais­ing hell all over the place. Even in our lim­ited and prim­i­tive view of the world, we had a nag­ging sus­pi­cion that this stomp­ing, snarling pig iron just wouldn’t make it. In the end, it was geopol­i­tics and overzeal­ous in­sur­ance wanks driv­ing four-cylin­der turds that brought them down.

You’ll have to re­mem­ber that part about beauty be­ing in the eye of the be­holder.

Maybe John Proven­zano will start a trend here. His Chevelle is an orig­i­nal SS 396 and he in­tends to keep it that way. Though it may rep­re­sent stock, all pri­mary sys­tems have been re­built to fight physics. Out there on the Kansas plains John isn’t ex­cited about flog­ging his Chebby be­yond any­thing that would have gone down when it was show­room new. These boats ripped won­der­fully as long as the line was straight, but their brakes weren’t very good and their sus­pen­sions didn’t yield much be­yond rudi­men­tary “han­dling.” The bias-ply tires were laugh­able.

What is the car’s most en­dear­ing qual­ity? Sim­ply that it doesn’t shout. It whis­pers. To see it to­day as it was when it came out of the oven is sober­ing. We’ve been cap­tured (trained) by the ideas and the hand­i­work of many, many thou­sands of hot rod­ders driven to change ev­ery­thing to per­son­al­ize their rides so it’s a lit­tle un­set­tling to see a new build that has been up­dated and looks fresher, but re­ally is no dif­fer­ent. So you add some fa­mil­iar cues, like the pe­riod-cor­rect Cra­gar S/S chromies and the tall as­pect-ra­tio BFG raised white let­ter Ra­dial T/A tires that faith­fully main­tain a soakedin-the-’60s aura.

You keep look­ing for the big changes. You look closer; check out the en­gine bay. Cast-iron logs. No head­ers. But be­ing who he is, John

Pro just couldn’t keep his hands off the en­gine. Nowa­days, the smooth, stream­lined fire­wall has be­come a neu­tral back­drop, a foil to cel­e­brate the almighty fire-breather and com­pared to what we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced for the last 15 years or so, the clut­ter here seems in­cred­u­lous. Still, John could do no less than re­vive the orig­i­nal (C60)

HVAC sys­tem that in­cluded a 61-amp al­ter­na­tor, heavy-duty ra­di­a­tor, and a tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled fan.

John’s al­most 60 now and has been las­soed by this stuff since he was a young teen. “My brother, who is eight years my se­nior bought a new

’69 Chevelle SS, which he still owns, and I wanted a Chevelle SS, too.” So he found the car in a penny pincher pulp. It was his first one and had 63,000 on the clock. He liked it be­cause the body was sound. In Au­gust 1974, his par­ents laid out $1,500. “It wasn’t the high­est bid,” said John with a wink, “but the owner thought I’d take care of it.” He got it the day he turned 15. In the first sweaty hours, he ped­aled it more than 100 miles. He says that the most chal­leng­ing part of the his­tory was build­ing the car the way he wanted it.

John’s main man in all of this is Mark Bauer, whose stel­lar con­stel­la­tion whirls in Wi­chita, Kansas. His shop han­dled the crit­i­cal chore. In 2005, Bauer per­formed a body-off restora­tion. They elected to re­play the orig­i­nal and re­painted the SS with PPG Tripoli Turquoise (GM Code KK). It is si­mul­ta­ne­ously chill­ing and cathar­tic to see this car now as it was 50 years ago. Look at the in­te­rior. To us it’s still fa­mil­iar and un­sul­lied but looks heavy

and a lit­tle over­bear­ing. There’s not a drop of hu­mor or whimsy peek­ing out of that fea­ture­less sea of N.O.S. black.

As for that big-block: roughly 97 per­cent of the SS cars built in 1968 were equipped with the RPO L35 325-horse­power ver­sion of the 396. For mod­ern life, Tracy Pedigo did the up­dates. He gave the cylin­der block a quar­ter-inch cleanup poke to make the to­tal 402. He stuck a flat tap­pet cam in it. He sealed the bores with Edel­brock cylin­der heads and capped the pile with an Edel­brock Per­former man­i­fold. He iced that cake with a Pro­form car­bu­re­tor.

“Now, I en­joy driv­ing the car on dry, sunny days and I dust it off once a month,” said John. “I do take it to lo­cal shows and I drive it very care­fully, but test its lim­its now and then, if you know what I mean. This is my own piece of Amer­i­cana.” CHP

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