Dig­ging Out a Buried 1969 Chev­elle

Muscle Car Review - - Con­tents - By Steve Tem­ple and Rick Nel­son Pho­tos: Rick Nel­son

Dig­ging out a buried 1969 Chev­elle

The Bea­tles are fa­mous for singing, “All You Need Is Love.” Yeah, but it doesn’t hurt to throw a re­ally rare Chev­elle into the mix as well. Just ask Rick Nel­son and his fi­ancée, An­nie Hartweg. They were blessed this year with an early wed­ding present af­ter com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the fam­ily of a long-lost 1969 Yenko SC 427 Chev­elle that was still on the orig­i­nal owner’s prop­erty.

That owner, a man named Joe, had passed away only weeks be­fore. Shan­non, a fam­ily rel­a­tive, was ei­ther go­ing to re­store this old car or sell it. Af­ter much dis­cus­sion and re­search among mem­bers of the fam­ily, they de­cided to sell the car.

Rick, whom some read­ers might recall from pre­vi­ous MCR fea­tures on Chev­elles, is the owner of Mus­cle­Car Restora­tion and De­sign in Pleas­ant Plains, Illi­nois. Shan­non had con­tacted him about find­ing a buyer, and Rick said he might know of some­body. But it didn’t even cross his mind that it would be him. That is, un­til he re­lated his con­ver­sa­tion about the Yenko Chev­elle to An­nie over din­ner.

Aghast, An­nie threw her fork at him and ex­claimed, “What the hell is wrong with you? Go buy the damn car!” (She has worked sideby-side with Rick for many years and has owned many mus­cle cars her­self.)

As soon as a deal was sealed on the car, Rick and his shop’s restora­tion tech, Jim Saathoff, headed to Louisville, Ken­tucky, where the Chev­elle had lived its en­tire life. But it had a trou­bled past.

A Bit Muddy

The story is a bit muddy, like the car. Joe bought the Chev­elle at Louisville’s V.V. Cooke Chevro­let deal­er­ship, and ap­par­ently drove the hell out of it from the get-go. Ac­cord­ing to Shan­non, when the Chev­elle was nearly brand new, Joe mo­tored over to the Smyrna

Inn, a lit­tle bar down the road from where he lived, to drink beer and shoot pool. When he left af­ter sev­eral hours, he dis­cov­ered that the car was miss­ing. He re­ported it stolen, and two weeks later the po­lice found the car with some se­vere front-end dam­age. He had it brought back to his place, where he tore it apart. (At least that’s how the story goes. Shan­non hinted that there’s prob­a­bly more to it.)

The truth of what re­ally hap­pened went to the grave with Joe.

The Chev­elle was still in the same garage where he had parked it in 1970 af­ter the ac­ci­dent. Rick got the im­pres­sion that Joe was so em­bar­rassed about the ac­ci­dent that he put the car in hid­ing, where it re­mained for an­other 47 years. And with only 19,000 miles on it!

Nu­mer­ous Yenko trea­sure seek­ers tracked down the owner and in­quired about the car’s where­abouts over the years, but all were turned away—un­til Rick en­tered the pic­ture. He has a solid rep­u­ta­tion for his ex­per­tise with Chev­elles, which fa­cil­i­tated the trans­ac­tion.

Upon ar­riv­ing at the ad­dress that Rick was given, he and Jim were barely able to get the garage door open, as it started to fall apart in their hands. Then, through all the gloom and grime, the guys laid eyes on the car. Well, sort of.

Not much of it could be seen, ba­si­cally just the right rear-three-quar­ter view.

There was so much de­bris in the garage that it took nearly a day and a half of clean­ing be­fore they could even see and walk around it. And that was with Rick, Jim, Shan­non, his wife Lisa, and son Zack work­ing al­most full time.

Even af­ter the area around the car was cleaned up, the fam­ily would not let them move it out un­til they had shored up the roof trusses, which had started to cave in. Once that was done and a path was cleared, they were able to pull the car out into the day­light for the first time in al­most 50 years. Not want­ing to alert any­one to what was now in the drive­way, Rick quickly threw a tarp over it.

Rick was both amazed and shocked by the car’s de­crepit con­di­tion. Rac­coon drop­pings “inches deep” cov­ered the cowl, the en­tire in­te­rior, and in­side the trunk. The roof and trunk had been spared only be­cause of all the junk that was piled on it. He de­cided to leave the ma­jor­ity of the ro­dent ex­cre­ment in place un­til such time when they could safely dis­pose of it.

“Rick was both amazed and shocked by the car’s de­crepit con­di­tion”

More Pleas­ant Finds

While look­ing through the garage and car they made more pleas­ant finds. These in­cluded both of the V.V. Cooke li­cense plate frames, one in the trunk and the other hang­ing on the wall be­hind some head gas­kets. The car’s pa­per­work still eluded them, but the fam­ily knows it is on the prop­erty some­where. All of the “born with” driv­e­train was still in the garage, ex­cept for the four-speed trans­mis­sion. Leads on its where­abouts are be­ing fol­lowed up. Many of the front-end pieces were ev­i­dently dis­posed of af­ter the ac­ci­dent, though Rick did get the orig­i­nal fend­ers and other mis­cel­la­neous un­der­hood items.

Once the car was un­loaded back at the shop, Rick and Jim donned safety suits with res­pi­ra­tors and pro­ceeded to dis­in­fect the car. An­nie pitched in as well, but ad­mits to some doubts.

“Call­ing it rough was prob­a­bly an un­der­state­ment. Maybe I shouldn’t have sent him over there,” she mused. Then she asked Rick, “You re­ally want me to get all the rac­coon crap out of there?”

Many more small items be­long­ing to the car were found in­side it dur­ing the clean­ing. Rick’s big­gest con­cern was that the floors would be trashed due to the fe­ces and urine be­ing in the car for so many years. Much to his sur­prise, af­ter he pulled out the orig­i­nal seats, car­pet­ing, and sound dead­ener, not a speck of rust was found any­where. The only body­work that will be needed is to re­pair the dam­age from the ac­ci­dent, which for the most part can be done with bolt-on parts.

Af­ter all the garbage and rac­coon re­mains were re­moved, An­nie was called back to the shop so she and Rick could do a fi­nal dis­as­sem­bly and clean­ing. As An­nie points out, “She doesn’t look pretty now, but she will. I just get a lit­tle up­set that she gets new shoes be­fore I do.”

An­nie knows from ex­pe­ri­ence all the work that will be in­volved in restor­ing the car, as she’s no stranger to these rare breeds. She has owned no less than four Fred Gibb COPO No­vas, a 1969 ZL1 Ca­maro, a 2002 GMMG ZL1 Phase III Ca­maro, and 1970 LS5 and LS6 Chev­elles. An­nie helps in Rick’s shop when­ever needed, and she runs the of­fice, so she will play a large role in the body-off restora­tion of this par­tic­u­lar car, which will use as many N.O.S. parts as pos­si­ble.

Once done, it will be even more spe­cial, not only be­cause of the car’s rar­ity, but also be­cause it be­longs to both her and Rick. Af­ter all, they know that the fam­ily that re­stores mus­cle cars to­gether, stays to­gether.

“Not a speck of rust was found any­where”

n The Chev­elle is pulled into the day­light for the first time in four decades. The next-door neigh­bor (stand­ing on his porch in the back­ground) rec­og­nized what it was and told Rick that he thought the car was long gone. He’d lived here all his life and had not seenthe car in 47 years.

n Once the Chev­elle was out, the garage was searched for any re­main­ing orig­i­nal parts. Parts of the smog pump, shifter, bell­hous­ing, clutch, and var­i­ous other items were found on the ta­ble in the garage.Upon spot­ting this num­ber, Rick’s heart started to beat a lit­tle faster, as it matches the VIN of the miss­ing Chev­elle from V.V. Cooke he came across on the Yenko Reg­istry. He knew he had found his dream.Also found in the garage were the Chev­elle’s orig­i­nal en­gine block, 840 cylin­der heads, 163 in­take, pis­tons, and rods. Buried deep in­side was the orig­i­nal al­ter­na­tor com­plete with fan, pul­ley, and wiring har­ness.The roll­back driver could not un­der­stand Rick’s in­sis­tence on a tarp to make the “only 30-mile trek” to its tem­po­rary hold­ing spot. Rick told him it would other­wise be a rolling bill­board and he didn’t want that.Af­ter re­mov­ing the car­pet and sound dead­ener, Rick and An­nie were thrilled to find that they had ab­so­lutely no rust to con­tend with. It was a wel­come sur­prise con­sid­er­ing what could have been af­ter all the years of stor­age with ro­dent ac­tiv­ity in a muddy garage.

Work clothes and gloves in hand, An­nie Hartweg stands proud in front of her lat­est mus­cle car pur­chase and is just as proud to par­take in the restora­tion of such a rare car.

All CO­POS were de­liv­ered with the F41 sus­pen­sion and two-piece front brake ro­tors. All of the sus­pen­sion pieces on this car were assem­bly-line orig­i­nal, in­clud­ing the brake hoses, brake pads, ro­tors, ball joints, and de­cals.

n The Chev­elle still car­ried its orig­i­nal KQ­code 4.10 diff. Unique to the COPO, these are nearly im­pos­si­ble to find and ex­pen­sive if you do run across one.

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