The Chev­elle Guy in the Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Orig­i­nal Own­ers

Muscle Car Review - - Content - By Arvid Svend­sen

The Chev­elle guy in the Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Orig­i­nal Own­ers

There is a group of four Chevro­let en­thu­si­asts liv­ing near the Wis­con­sin–Illi­nois bor­der who pur­chased new per­for­mance cars in the lat­ter half of the 1960s and still own them. These four like-minded gen­tle­men don’t call them­selves a fra­ter­nity—I made that up. But they do present an in­ter­est­ing per­spec­tive on how to avoid the temp­ta­tion of im­pul­sively sell­ing a trea­sured mus­cle car. While many mus­cle car en­thu­si­asts live with re­grets over the cars they sent down the road, some have stayed the course and now reap sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits. Re­grets of sell­ing a car I used to own . . . I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to men­tion.

This fra­ter­nal or­der of orig­i­nal own­ers has both stay­ing power and good taste in high-per­for­mance Chevy ma­chin­ery. Den­nis Sweet­wood still owns the stun­ning 1966 Nas­sau Blue Corvette coupe that he bought new in 1966. Larry Burkhal­ter still owns the 1969 Le Mans Blue 396/350hp Ca­maro he bought new in 1969. Jim Stricker still owns the Le Mans Blue 396/375hp Ca­maro he bought new in 1969. And life­long dairy farmer Lynn Bower still owns the car fea­tured here, a four-speed Ma­rina Blue 1967 Chev­elle SS396 hard­top he bought new in De­cem­ber 1966.

These guys have the blues, but in a very, very good way.

How does a per­son hold on to a car for 50 years? It’s not com­pli­cated, says Bower. “I just liked the car ever since I’ve had it.”

The life of a dairy farmer ne­ces­si­tates a dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion to show up for work ev­ery day and never take a day off. It might have been those qual­i­ties of per­se­ver­ance and com­mit­ment gained through farm­ing that helped him keep his beau­ti­ful Chev­elle for more than 50 years. Then again, maybe he just liked the car.

In 1966, Bower owned a 327/250-horse 1964 Im­pala with a four­speed trans­mis­sion. One of his neigh­bors owned a Mus­tang with 289 power. The two would cruise the town in their rides, and oc­ca­sion­ally par­tic­i­pate in in­for­mal ac­cel­er­a­tion tri­als. His neigh­bor sug­gested that they both get faster cars with big­ger mo­tors so they could step up their game. Some­time around Oc­to­ber 1966, Bower went to McEleney Mo­tors in Clin­ton, Iowa, and or­dered this Chev­elle. Ac­cord­ing to the orig­i­nal pa­per­work, the car was picked up on De­cem­ber 9, 1966. His Mus­tang neigh­bor friend or­dered a 1967 390 Mus­tang. But things did not work out as planned. “I got the Chev­elle. He got mar­ried and never got the Mus­tang.”

Bower drove the Ma­rina Blue Chev­elle fairly reg­u­larly for the

next 10 years or so, but farm­ing was al­ways his pri­or­ity. At some point in the late 1970s or early 1980s, the Chev­elle was parked. A cou­ple of Grand Na­tion­als and trac­tor-pull ma­chines sat­is­fied much of Bower’s long­ing for horse­power. The Chev­elle waited in the wings for the day when it might emerge again.

The Chev­elle’s even­tual restora­tion jour­ney was filled with twists and turns. “I had got­ten in­volved in lo­cal trac­tor pulls, but it was a lot of work,” says Bower. “I had my Chev­elle put away, but in about 2011, I de­cided it was time to get it run­ning.”

The first thing he did was have a body shop paint the car. “It looked good, but it wasn’t re­ally the right color,” he re­calls.

“The door­jambs were not painted ei­ther, so it was OK but not great. The fol­low­ing win­ter I had the mo­tor painted, but not restored to fac­tory specs. In the spring I had a shop take the body off the frame and paint the frame, but they painted the frame glossy black. It should have been a flat black, but I didn’t re­ally know what was cor­rect at the time. Af­ter a cou­ple years I then had an­other shop paint the frame the cor­rect flat black. At that point, Den­nis Sweet­wood and Jim Miller be­gan work­ing on it to try to cor­rect the pre­vi­ous work. But in 2012 we all de­cided to re­store the car prop­erly by ba­si­cally start­ing over.”

The car was com­pletely dis­as­sem­bled at Sweet­wood’s shop. Miller per­formed the body and paint work, while Sweet­wood han­dled the over­all restora­tion. A pre­vi­ous shop had re­placed the trunk pan, but it was still in very good con­di­tion and there­fore re­tained for the restora­tion. Many N.O.S. parts were lo­cated, but many orig­i­nal parts were restored to new con­di­tion.

Dur­ing the restora­tion, Bower quickly learned that Sweet­wood would strive for per­fec­tion in ev­ery de­tail. He re­calls, “I’m not me­chan­i­cal. Den­nis and those guys did the work. They de­serve all the credit. Den­nis would al­ways say to me, ‘Lynn, those bucket seats are all right, but . . . ’

And when he would say the word but, I knew that meant they were not quite up to snuff.”

The at­ten­tion to de­tail shows (and frankly, makes) this orig­i­nal owner’s Chev­elle not only a great car but a great re­minder of the ben­e­fits of stay­ing the course.

“His neigh­bor sug­gested that they both get faster cars with big­ger mo­tors”

n Be­hold the Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Orig­i­nal Own­ers (left to right): Larry Burkhal­ter,Jim Stricker, Lynn Bower, and Den­nis Sweet­wood. Bower is es­pe­cially grate­ful to Den­nis Sweet­wood and Jim Miller for the out­stand­ing job they did restor­ing his Chev­elle. He is also over­whelmed by the gen­eros­ity of the many peo­ple who sup­ported him and helped him get the car back to orig­i­nal con­di­tion.

n The Bright Blue in­te­rior in Bower’s car sports op­tional A51 bucket seats, a con­sole with cen­ter clock, and the N34 steer­ing wheel with sim­u­lated wal­nut grain. The orig­i­nal seats were in very good shape when de­liv­ered to Den­nis Sweet­wood, but Bower de­cided to re­store them to new con­di­tion.

n Lynn Bower has owned his SS396 Chev­elle since he bought it new in late 1966. Although there is dis­cus­sion as to whether the rear cove panel on 1966 SS396 Chev­elles was painted black, the panel def­i­nitely came black from the fac­tory on 1967 mod­els.

n Bower’s car is equipped with the op­tional L34 396ci en­gine that pro­duced 350 hp at 5,200 rpm and 415 lb-ft torque at 3,400. The top-dog L78 396/375hp mo­tor was not of­fered when Bower or­dered his car in Oc­to­ber 1966.

n Even the ra­di­a­tor cap, with its cor­rect cen­ter rivet, is orig­i­nal. You haven’t lived un­til you’ve paid to have a ra­di­a­tor cap restored to per­fec­tion.

n Many of the com­po­nents on this orig­i­nalowner car are as-de­liv­ered with cor­rect stamp­ings, in­clud­ing this orig­i­nal, restored, PN 1100693 37-amp al­ter­na­tor.

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