Ron Cherry: A long, winding road with a ‘64 Chevelle wagon
The road to restoring a car is seldom a straight line. There are often many sharp curves and potholes along the way. Bob Robertson can attest to them after doing a complete rebuild of his ‘64 Chevelle 2-door station wagon. While for many years, the only station wagons acceptable to hot rodders were woodies and Nomads, times have changed. Now even the once-shunned 4-door station wagons are accepted, but the 2-door ones are still preferred. But for Bob, his love of these goes a lot further back in time.
“When I was 16 or 17 years old, someone I knew had a Chevelle 2-door station wagon,” he recalled. “It had a V-8 and a 4-speed. It was a fun car.” When his son reached that same age, they both shared an appreciation of those Chevys with the low, long body. “Someday we’ll do this, we used to say,” Bob said, in regards to getting a Chevelle and fixing it up. “It was sort of a bonding thing. The master plan was always for him to end up with it.” But his son grew up and moved to SoCal before it happened. Years later, Bob said, “I got motivated and finally bought it. It was on eBay and that was the first pothole.
There are many horror stories about “eBay cars,” cars where the seller was deceptive, to put it mildly. Bob’s is one of those. “I asked him (the seller) about rust because I was worried,” he said. “He assured me there was very little rust. It was an awful lesson in what not to do: never buy a car sight unseen.” However, the first task had nothing to do with rust. “I cleaned out mountains of rat droppings, so much it was incredible,” he said. Next he pulled the engine, knowing he was going to replace it with a better one. Then he sent it to California Completes to have the body work done. However, when they lifted the body off the frame, the road took a sharp curve. “The frame was so rusty, it was no way, José,” Bob said. “They didn’t even want to do the job.”
So Bob found a shop in Lincoln that said they found a donor car, an El Camino with a good frame and body. Since much of the body is the same and the El Camino frame is stronger, it sounded like a plan. But it proved to be another pothole. They changed the frame and planned to swap the left quarter panels, but never got the job done. Disgusted, he finally loaded the Chevelle on his car trailer and hauled it back up here.
The car sat in the trailer for a year, during which time Bob set about getting an engine for it, hitting another curve. “I was going to put in a ZZ4 crate engine,” Bob said. “But I got talked out of it. Instead, I got an early 350 CID Chevy engine and built it. I have a lot more into it than a ZZ4 would have cost.” After having Riebe’s rebuild the bottom end with 10.5:1 compression, Bob bought a Summit Racing top end, with aluminum heads, roller cam and roller rockers. With Mallory ignition, an Edelbrock carb, a Hyperdrive pulley system and Hedman headers, the engine ended up putting out about 425 HP with a “very lumpy” cam. Bob dropped the engine in the frame with a 700R4 overdrive auto trans and fired it up before sending it to Van’s Auto Body and Paint in Grass Valley.
Then there was another pothole. The left quarter panel had so much rust that Bob had planned to replace it with the one from the donor El Camino. But, Bob related, when Van’s saw the replacement, “They said, ‘No, no, no.’ Instead, they used the old one and patched it up perfectly.” Although there was another curve in that it took four years for all the work to get done, Bob found their work to be excellent.
Once he got the car back, Bob did a complete rewire of the Chevelle. He added power steering, power front-disc brakes, and electric windows. With all-new suspension, he used 2” dropped spindles for a slight rake. For a rearend, he used a Chevy posi with a 3.83:1 gear ratio. There was another hard curve in the road, though. The car originally had two windows on each side behind the front doors, divided by posts. The posts had been rusted, so Bob had them removed. That meant he could not use stock windows. He considered using plexiglass for the custom size, but felt that would be a second-rate solution. So he took it to Moule Glass, who made windows that fit perfectly. Then came the interior.
Bob’s original plan had been to redo the original bench seats. However, in 2007 that plan hit a major pothole when his home shop burned to the ground. Fortunately, the Chevelle was not in it, but he lost a lot of parts, including the seats. So he got a pair of ‘60’s era Camaro buckets and took the car to Roman’s in Auburn. He did the entire interior in a camel color, with perforated vinyl on the seats. “It’s an absolutely wonderful job,” Bob said. Being a restorer of classic wood boats, he made a wood center section between the seats.
During the restoration, wife Nikki did her part. “At times, I’d get discouraged,” he said. “She was there, rooting for me.” Bob’s son would come up from SoCal a couple times a year to help and “kept track of progress.” Once it was done, his son got the car, as they had originally planned. “He’s a plumber and had visions of putting his name on the sides and running calls in it,” Bob said. “I discouraged that and he didn’t. But it’s given him a new confidence. He gets a lot of ‘thumbs ups.’ I’m really pleased with that.” So the long and winding road of restoration is pretty much finished, with a happy ending.
Ron Cherry’s four books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His next book, a mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills, will be out by Christmas. Check out his website at http://www.rlcherry.com.
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