Best In Show - Richard Tapia's Custom 70 Chevelle

The Tapia Family's Award-Winning '70 Chevelle

Grant Peterson Sep 28, 2005 0 Comment(s)

It's funny how many little old ladies have been unknowingly stalked over the years by men who covet their trustworthy, clean, one-owner cars. I've done it, my Dad has done it, my friends have done it, and Richard Tapia has also done it. In Richard's case, the little old lady in question proved to be well acquainted with her '70 Chevelle and gave Richard the "shake" before he could pop the question of purchasing her car. Much to his chagrin, he went home empty-handed, but he didn't underestimate the power of visualization.

A few years later, this same Chevelle pulled up in front of Richard's home in Houston, Texas. Surprised, and trying to make heads or tails of the situation, his friend Bill Kelley emerged from the car and explained that he just bought it from an estate sale! What are the chances? Richard had to explain his encounter with the car years earlier, which persuaded Bill to sell the Chevelle to him. Richard's kids were happy too; they wanted a '70 Chevelle over the '57 Chevy that their dad had bought years prior.

All along, the Tapias have maintained that their auto interests be a family activity. Not only is it a great way to spend time together, but it also teaches everyone to work together as well. The Chevelle would be no different. To get things started, they all decided to go with a frame-off resto. Richard's wife Jean was a very enthusiastic promoter of this idea. They also planned to build it as a show driver and not a full-blown show car.

Starting with a clear palette, they bought a brand-new Corvette Grand Sport LT4 from Street & Performance in Mena, Arkansas, and teamed it up with a 700R-4 that was prepped by The Toy Shop in Pomona, California. Hotchkis handled the Chevelle's suspension needs with their vast catalog. An up-and-coming Houston-area painter, Randy Borcherding, wrapped all of this up in a smooth coat of black, accented by candy apple red racing stripes.

After the Chevelle was finished and ready to hit the road, the Tapias took it to three large shows in Texas. They put together a plan. Their daughter Becky would help Jean with her wheelchair and Richard's son would help dad with the car and the display. They won their class at all three shows! Right out of the gate the Chevelle was a winner. Next, they took it to New Orleans where they took Second Place to a '77 Olds. Wait, a '77 Olds? Yeah, it sounds like it was rigged to me too!

Next it was off to Dallas, where they took their class and Best Paint honors, filling them with hope again. On the eve of the last day of the Dallas show, while parked overnight in the "secure" parking for the show, someone wanted the Tapia's truck, trailer, and Chevelle--and stole the whole lot! The Dallas police weren't very encouraging, and needless to say, there weren't many dry eyes in the rental car on the way back to Houston. A month later, thanks to an anonymous tip, the truck, trailer, and Chevelle were recovered. Everything was there, albeit a little worse for the wear, but all there nonetheless!At this point, the family had no doubt in their mind that they were going to rebuild the Chevelle and this time they won't be beat by the likes of any '77 Oldsmobiles! Having seen how the show circuit works, they were going to focus on more details this time to set the car apart.

Meanwhile, it was back to the drawing board. Randy Borcherding, now of The Painthouse in Houston, was brought in again to handle design, construction, paint, and to team up with master fabricator and assembler Dick Sherwood. The car was to go back to black again, from top to bottom and the revision of the graphics would be in candy tangerine. All of this would be sprayed using the PPG Concept base/clear system and rubbed out to perfection. Randy conjured up the new hood graphics and incorporated them under the car from the crossmember to the gas tank. Randy also sprayed the graphics on the side of the car, designed by Rice University Art and Mathematics major, Josef Sifuentes. Adding to the talent already in the mix is another Houston-area artist, Ivan Lozano, who airbrushed the license plate and underhood monsters.

After much deliberation, it was decided to bring the car out to California to have Ron Mangus of Custom Auto Interiors tackle the stitching--after all, you can't beat the best. Before Ron got started, he brought in "Stereo Bob" Staudinger of Motoring Entertainment to do all the stereo work, including a separate system for the trunk. Stereo Bob built a fiberglass enclosure in the trunk that not only looks good, but also covers all the Air Ride plumbing and miscellaneous stereo equipment that can be accessed through two small doors.Now it was time for Ron to work his magic. Up front, he reshaped the Flow Fit seats to his liking and then pro-ceeded to split and match the rear beach to the front buckets, dividing them with a unique fabricated console/package tray. The door panels were hand-sculpted by Ron out of hard foam. Almost everything inside the creative cockpit was covered in exquisite black or tangelo Italian leather, including the dash that houses the four Haneline gauges. The leather interior is highlighted by the painted billet inserts and speaker grilles. The Mangus interior is a work of art, right down to the charcoal, German square-weave carpet.

Upon final assembly, the car was put together using polished stainless hardware from Stainless Connection in Houston, as well as custom stainless lines for all chassis fluids. Keystone Automotive in Brainerd, Minnesota, plated the bumpers while the rest of the shiny stuff was dipped locally by Airline Plating. Modern Stainless was called upon to make the custom stainless badges.

Under the hood we now find more chrome and a Mattson Radiator custom aluminum radiator and fan shroud. Under that is Baer Brake's Street four-wheel disc brake setup. Air Ride was added as well as Strong Arm control arms. Street & Performance headers flow into ceramic-coated Stainless Works custom 2 1/2-inch exhaust system that passes the Rock Valley stainless gas tank.Just as you can't wear tennis shoes with a tux to the prom, plain wheels wouldn't do justice to the rest of the car. Turn your attention to the show-polished Billet Specialties 18s and 20s shod in Michelin soles. A sharp eye will notice that the Billet Specialties steering wheel that's sitting on the polished ididit column matches the rims.

The second completion of the Chevelle was nearing, as was the Houston AutoRama, where the long awaited debut was planned. While the car was at Custom Auto Interiors, Ron said to Richard that he thought the car could win the Gold Class at the even closer 2005 Pomona Super Chevy Show. The heat was on! Ron was half right; they took the Gold Class, but the icing on the cake was in accepting the award for Best In Show! Years of planning and hard work by the whole family and friends finally paid off. Jean Tapia compared it to winning an Academy Award. Sounds like a good reason to get red carpet installed in your garage!

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