1972 Chevrolet Chevelle - Beast of Burden

From Daily Driver to Wheels-Up Strip Car, With a Hint of Nostalgia

John Nelson Mar 1, 2007 0 Comment(s)

Step By Step

For fun, we would cruise down the boulevard, passing other racers, yelling out 'donkey' to get them to race," remembers Al Valvo. Donkey? "That's what we yelled to get someone to race us," Al elaborates. "Don-KEY!" Make it sound like "hee-haw" and you've got it about right. It's the parlance of a bygone era, when gas was cheap and full of lead and there was always a race to be had on the streets of Southern California. Those days are no more, but Al's 10-second '72 Chevelle is ample evidence that his racing regimen is stronger than ever.

If the Valvo name sounds familiar, you've been paying attention. Al's older brother Frank recently finished off a sweet '69 Camaro, created for high-speed corner carving ("Front and Center," Nov. '06). And back in the day, Frank was the impetus behind the brothers' racing adventures. He picked up a stock '57 Chevy (283 and Powerglide, natch), and the car was quickly transformed into a stealthy street weapon. It had all the good stuff for 1965: a 0.060-over 327 running 13:1 compression, Jan's pistons, a 990B Sig Erson cam, Webber carbs, and a Borg Warner four-speed.

Frank and Al don't recall losing on the streets but once, to a big-block-armed '57. Frank did most of the driving and Al most of the wrenching, learning by experience and through his job at Bozzani Shell in Sun Valley. Jim Callan, who cruised the Valley in his '63 Impala, also did a chunk of the work. Eventually, the '57 churned out a 12.20-second run, touching 114 mph, at the now-defunct San Fernando Raceway. On the other hand, the American Graffiti days were just about done. Frank and Jim were soon serving Uncle Sam in Vietnam, and Al was working on B52s and F4 Phantoms in Thailand.

Home between his second and third tours, circa 1972, Al needed a set of wheels and was feeling a bit envious of the '70 LS6 Chevelle parked in a neighbor's driveway. Frank decided that a trip to the Chevy dealer was in order, and off the two went. "I wanted an SS 454," Al recalls. But Frank scouted out a Mojave Gold Malibu with a two-barrel-fed 350 under the hood. "What you want and what you need," Al begins. "Well, all I could afford was my Mojave Gold Chevelle." The car was a trooper, rolling up 150,000 daily driven miles over the next eight years or so.

Sometime around 1980, Al was somewhat surprised to learn of the presence of a dragstrip in Palmdale. "I didn't know," he recalls. "They were closing all of them." No matter-Al took his Chevelle out to Los Angeles County Raceway. "I wanted to see how fast it would go," Al remembers, and he did, to the tune of 17 seconds flat at 82 mph. An Edelbrock manifold and AFB carb got Al ino the low 15s, so he commissioned a B&M-blown 350 and installed a 3.50:1 posi rear. "My best run with this combo was 13.20 at 102 mph," Al tells us. "I also drove it every day, and as long as I kept my foot out of it I got 15 miles to the gallon."

At this point, Al had a decision to make: "Do I keep it a 13-second car, or cross the line and go faster?" Knowing he couldn't have it both ways, he crossed the line and got serious. "I decided to go faster and put the 'cage in," Al tells us. "I was free to go." And go he does, yanking the wheels up as a prelude to high-10-second e.t.'s and 120-mph trap speeds. "The laws of the street have changed," Al observes. "I'd rather go fast on the track." That much has changed, but a hot car is a hot car, and we can almost hear the challenge: Don-KEY!


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