FIRST LOVE

A 51-year, real fine 409 af­fair

Muscle Car Review - - Contents - By Richard Prince

When Chevro­let in­tro­duced the Su­per Sport pack­age for Im­palas in the mid­dle of the 1961 model year, it ap­par­ently caught per­for­mance car en­thu­si­asts a bit by sur­prise. Al­though the Su­per Sport op­tion cost a mere $53.80, only 453 of the more than 491,000 Im­palas pro­duced in 1961 came equipped with it. And of those, only 142 were fit­ted with the new 360hp 409 en­gine. By the fol­low­ing year, how­ever, Chevy’s po­tent new big-block Im­pala was a se­cret no longer, with Su­per Sport pro­duc­tion top­ping out at an amaz­ing 99,311 cars! Of these, no fewer than 15,062 were pow­ered by a 409 en­gine.

The SS 409’s near-in­stan­ta­neous as­cen­dancy to cul­tural icon sta­tus was ce­mented by the Beach Boys, who so fa­mously crooned, “She’s real fine, my 409” be­gin­ning in 1962. From that point on­ward, a four-speed, dual-quad, Posi­trac­tion 409 was at or near the top of the wish list of ev­ery car en­thu­si­ast in Amer­ica.

Na­tive New Yorker Bob Cirello was cer­tainly no ex­cep­tion. He was 12 years old when the Beach Boys first re­leased “409” as the B-side of the sin­gle called “Surfin’ Sa­fari.” Five long years later, after he saved his pen­nies and dimes work­ing at a lo­cal Esso sta­tion ev­ery day be­fore and after school, he was more than ready to “gid­dyup, gid­dyup.” And it just so hap­pened that his pal’s older brother had to sell his prized 1963 409 be­cause he was a fa­therto-be.

“I first saw the car in June 1967, and I loved it,” Cirello re­calls, “but my fa­ther talked me out of buy­ing it. The shifter link­age was sloppy, it had a small oil leak and a lit­tle bit of blow-by, and it had 60,000 miles, so my fa­ther didn’t think it was worth the $1,200 ask­ing price.

“An­other three months went by and I looked at a lot of other cars, but none of them reached out and said, ‘Buy me.’ Then one day the guy with the 409 pulled into the gas sta­tion I worked at. I made him an of­fer, and he ac­cepted. I bought the car in Septem­ber 1967, when I was 17 years old and in my se­nior year of high school. The 409 was def­i­nitely one of the coolest and fastest cars in the school. This car was truly my first love.”

“The 409 was def­i­nitely one of the coolest and fastest cars in the school”

Cirello didn’t have a lot of me­chan­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence or ex­per­tise when he bought the 409, but that changed quickly. Work­ing on it in his par­ents’ drive­way, he and his friend Al Kiezek pulled the en­gine and re­built it with as­sis­tance from the guys at his lo­cal auto parts store and ma­chine shop. They learned a great deal and had a lot of fun.

Be­sides car­ry­ing Cirello to his se­nior year of high school and to work, the Su­per Sport saw reg­u­lar ac­tion at lo­cal Long Is­land dragstrips, which brought him great joy. All of the fun came to a sud­den end, how­ever, on one dark and rainy night in 1970 when some­body stole the 409.

Cirello says, “I came out very early in the morn­ing to go to work, and the car was gone! I im­me­di­ately called my cousin, and the two of us drove around town with a base­ball bat and a loaded

n Cirello has earned a lot of tro­phies rac­ing his 409, go­ing all the way back to 1967.

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