Digging Out a Buried 1969 Chevelle
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.