photos by: the author
We Introduce Timeless Muscle Magazine‘s First Project Car, a 1970 Chevelle SS396 that We Lovingly Refer to as “Project: 88”
With our public launch now only three months behind us, Timeless Muscle Magazine is still in its infancy and most of you out there probably don’t even take us that seriously yet. To many, there’s no way this pokey little operation can match, let alone surpass, those throwback, old-school titles that have been sitting on the shelves of your local newsstand for decades. Au Contraire.
Being a sister publication to GM EFI Magazine, our staff is one of the most knowledgable and among the hardest-working in the industry. We bring decades of knowledge and experience to the table, that for many of us on our staff, actually include being a part of those classic musclecar magazine titles that you’re all too familiar with.
We pride ourselves on our experience, and although so far you have yet to see what we’re really made of from this publication, we’re confident we’ll eventually become your go-to source for your classic musclecar information. As a result, we see this moment as a perfect time to officially announce our first project vehicle (one of many already in the pipeline), to you, our readers.
“It was purchased way back in 1988 for the princely sum of $3,750, with the sole intention of being a restoration project…”
We’ll just come right out and start with the obvious; it’s a 1970 Chevelle SS396. Now understand, this isn’t a car we’ve recently purchased for the sake of the magazine; it’s actually been in your Editor-in-Chief’s family, in its present state, for the better part of twenty-seven years! It was purchased way back in 1988 for the princely sum of $3,750, with the sole intention of being a restoration project, but was subsequently sidelined after so many other projects (and life) had gotten in the way and sidetracked us from completing our project Chevelle.
Being a 100% legit factory SS car, it’s in desperate need of some serious body and mechanical work. The interior is shot, the trim is oxidized, rusted and deteriorating, and the cancerous body could use some medical attention. The vinyl top is cracking and peeling away from the roof and chrome trim, and the trunk and interior floor pans all need to be swapped out!
Mechanically, the numbers-matching 350hp L-34 396ci. BBC (technically a 402, thanks to GM’s factory 0.030 overbore) is alive, well and accounted for. Out back, is the original M-21 Muncie 4-speed manual gearbox and behind it, is a GM 12-bolt. Gears are selected through the factory Hurst shifter. We’re somewhat questioning the originality of the current 12-bolt, however, so that’s something we’ll have to take a closer look at with all of you in a later installment.
Being an original Code 20 (Light Blue) car, we know for certain it was resprayed at least twice before our purchase back in the late 1980s. We discovered this in various sections of the vehicle, particularly inside the trunk area, where the original Code 20 paint was poorly (and apparently, cheaply) sprayed over; first with red, then later, with the current Dark Blue Metallic hue that the car now sports these days.
We’re not only going to restore this classic piece of American iron, but we’re going to take it to the next level by making it a better handling and driving car. Now we should let the purists know that the plan doesn’t involve any cutting to the frame or “hacking up” of the body work. We’re not installing wheel tubs or a roll cage, we’re not painting it monochromatic purple and we’re not going to cut a hole in the factory cowl induction hood for a blower. We’re not going to build a full-bore pro-touring machine or drag car out of it, either.
We’re simply taking the original formula of a classic ’70 Chevelle SS396, restoring it – even taking it back to its original color – then making it faster, safer, more reliable, more fuel efficient and better-performing overall. Everything we’ll be doing in terms of modifications will be completely reversible, and if the desire to ever return it back to factory specs should ever present itself, it can be easily done.
“We’re simply taking the original formula of a classic ’70 Chevelle SS396, restoring it.. then making it faster, safer, more reliable, more fuel efficient and better-performing overall.”
Timeless Muscle will be giving our factory big-block a thorough examination to ensure that all is well in Millville. If there’s something awry anywhere in the valvetrain or bottom-end, you can bet we’ll be addressing that as well! We’ll also be making a few subtle modifications, just to get her to breathe a little easier and to create a little more power.
However, that aforementioned Muncie 4-speed is howling, and needs attention as soon as possible. The M-21 will either be getting replaced or rebuilt, but don’t rule out a modern 5-speed or 6-speed swap. It’s not a promise, but it’s becoming increasingly more tempting as time goes on. A clutch upgrade is pretty much a given, too.
The 12-bolt rearend, which has never been torn apart or rebuilt since the car has been in our corral, will be getting an overhaul, too. In fact, the fluid has never been so much checked or changed. It sounds terrible to admit, but as we’ve said earlier, the car was basically bought, driven home and shelved all of those years ago. We’ll be diving head-first into that one, while fortifying the rear with a heavy-duty differential unit and axles.
That big-block is thirsty, and it’s been decades, if ever, since our Chevelle has hit the interstate. So we’ll be potentially looking into a gear swap to coincide with our future transmission choice, that will help bring balance to acceleration, fuel economy, street manners and a bit of solace to our ear drums. As nice as an unbaffled BBC sounds, one can only stand the sound of 3500 rpm at 65 mph for so long.
“In addition to the drivetrain, we’ll be tackling the brakes and the suspension; using modern, simple and cost-effective hardware from our friends in the aftermarket.”
In addition to the drivetrain, we’ll be tackling the brakes and the suspension; using modern, simple and cost-effective hardware from our friends in the aftermarket. Again, simple but effective bolt-on parts will only be used. Since we’ve shot these photos, we’ve already acquired (and installed) a set of Hellwig sway bars for this car, and you’ll be amazed by the difference in handling! You’ll read more about that in a future installment.
The plan, is to do all of this, while keeping it a running, drivable car as much as possible. We’re not doing a full frame-up, rotisserie restoration; but rather, a body-on frame restoration where we can see the before and after results as we go along. This will not only help keep our car on the road for testing purposes, but will show you, our readers, the before and after effects of each component as we install it!
Project: 88 has officially commenced and is titled in a way that gives a nod back to the year in which it was purchased. The idea is to pick up where we [would have] started, only to implement modern technology and hardware into the build. So stick around… this is going to be one cool project!
Rick Seitz is the owner and founder of AutoCentric Media, and has a true love and passion for all vehicles. When he isn’t tuning, testing, or competing with the brand’s current crop of project vehicles, he’s busy tinkering and planning the next modifications for his own cars.