Ron Cherry: Big Al’s big block Chevelle
August 30, 2014
There is a saying that people often look like their dogs. While car afficionados might not physically look like their rides, they often share certain characteristics.
Al "Big Al" Ramsey is a man who has a presence. As his nickname implies, he is man of large stature. But it is more than that.
He has a way of projecting enthusiasm, energy and just plain fun into any gathering, but especially with "car people." That he would own a '71 Chevelle SS454 is very appropriate. This big-block car has plenty of power, makes an impressive entrance and is a lot of fun to be around.
As one of the ultimate muscle Cars, this Chevelle says a lot without bragging. Just like Big Al.
Al's experience with muscle Cars started early. His first car, while he was in high school, was a '67 Chevelle SS396, that cost him $1,600. Average value is now more than $30,000. However, like so many guys who owned cars like these "back in the day," Al sold it.
His father wanted him to have a "slower" car, so Al bought a '70 Dodge Dart Swinger with a 340 CID engine and a Torqueflite auto trans. Al chuckled when he talked about how the Dart's engine may have been downsized in respect to the Chevelle's, but its performance was not.
The lightweight Dart turned the quarter mile in a respectable 103 MPH. And that love of performance is still alive in him. No doubt his first car had a factor in his purchase of his '71 Chevelle.
While Al has had many hot cars through the years, he had kept an eye on this Chevelle since the 1980s. It came from the factory with an LS5 454 CID engine that pumped out a respectable 365 HP, but that mill was long gone. The owner had dropped in a 454 that had put together by a builder who specialized in AA/Fuel dragster engines.
The 454 been had been punched out to 468 CID with 13.5:1 compression. Although modern engines have been able to raise compression ratios while still using modern pump gas, such a high ratio is still unusual. With a Snyder roller cam with .710 lift and 290 degree duration, it is full-race.
Although it has been detuned since its track days, the big-block engine still pumps out 640 HP. The Chevelle still had the Muncie M21 4-speed trans, but had been mated to a 4.11:1 rear end with Richmond gears. In other words, it's fast.
"I can't get on it around here. It's just too dangerous," Al said.
The Chevelle not only ran great, but looked good. The bucket-seat interior had been completely redone. The LeMans blue paint with factory hood stripes on the original SS hood had been redone to a showroom-fresh condition. In fact, the previous owner had only put on 250 miles in the 14 years since he finished the restoration.
After years of urging, the owner finally agreed to sell the Chevelle to Al in April of this year. He finally sold it because he wanted to buy a safer car for his son. Wisely, he opted not to give the Chevelle to the young man and sold it to Al.
Al said that after retiring from working for PG&E for 40 years, "all I could afford was an old car."
Having owned and built up numerous hot cars over the years, Big Al has an appreciation for the car hobby and decries what speculative investors have done to prices.
"Days of buying (performance) cars at decent prices are over. Barrett-Jackson (car auctioneers) did that," he said.
That's why he enjoys getting together with guys like the legendary AA/Gasser drag racer Bill Fitting as well as with other gearheads at places like Cars and Coffee Saturday mornings at the Kmart shopping center and at the Roamin Angels Cruisin' the Pines car show that will be at the Nevada County Fairgrounds on Sept. 6-7. Although not yet a Roamin Angel, he has volunteered to help at the show and is ready to turn in his membership application.
"They're a great group, with things they do like their toy drive," he said.
So expect to see Big Al and his big-block Chevelle if you go to the Roamin Angels Car Show.
Ron Cherry has published two books, a mystery titled "Christmas Cracker" and a noirish suspense titled "Foul Shot." For more about his writing, go to http://www.rlcherry.com.