In 1876, the first discovery of natural gas in Indiana occurred in the tiny town of Eaton. Though drilling for coal, when the bit reached a depth of 600 feet or so, loud noises and bad smells rushed from the opening, prompting many to conclude that they must have certainly breached the ceiling of hell. The hole was filled posthaste. About a decade later, this discovery ignited the Indiana Gas Boom, leading to 20 years of rapid regional growth. As an aside, in Eaton (population approximately 1,500) and in other towns all the way down to Muncie there have also been numerous, documented ghost sightings.
Gale Pitman, however, doesn’t live in haunted rooms. He does his hot rodding in Eaton and is not directly associated with anything weird going on in that burg or its environs. Though we’ve never met, between us there are some tenuous links. He’s 67; I’m 66. Authentic war babies we are, not baby boomers. His current ’67 Chevelle began as an ordinary Malibu. I bought a new ’67 Malibu with an L79 small-block (325/327). As the rift between the geezers and the young guys widens, I feel in league with an old friend. I still dig hot cars and so does he. Like me, Gale navigated his way through at least a half dozen precursors including a ’72 Chevelle, ’55 and ’57 Chevys, and even a ’48 Packard. When I was kid, for a while, we had a big, slithery ’56 Packard.
As for the origins of the A-body: A friend found this car in Tennessee and held on to it for three and a half years, Gale says. Before I’d gotten it, he’d taken the body off and disassembled everything, and had the frame and suspension parts powdercoated. Put the body back on after adding new quarters, inner rear fender panels, and trunk floorpan. This is where son David and friends Kevin Reynolds and Dan Moore enter the equation. In the process, they rebuilt or bought N.O.S. for every part of the car, but even with the prebuilt windfall, Gale still managed to inject $45 large in the project.
We worked on the body for six or seven months at Kevin’s home garage, Gale says. Eventually, it was ready for paint. We redid the motor and transmission. We redid the interior. The bumpers are new. All the chrome is new. The crew ran new brake lines, master cylinder, wheel cylinders, and more, but retained the stock braking configuration.
Gale entertained no fantasy of exploding out of the hole at six grand with front wheels dangling, could care less about threading his A-body through a river of orange cones, and would rather motor down the road in comfort than try to pass someone on the inside corner of a road course. No, none of that. His aim was to rebuild the vehicle to near new, thus quashing any fear of breakage on the road, and to take the image in his head and create a tangible object that would cruise steady, make big noise, and cause a little ruckus. Although he would have preferred a gennie SS, the Malibu doesn’t know the difference and neither do passersby.
But sometimes you must attach to something you need instead of what you want, especially if the price is right, and it appears that Gale, despite the funds channeled he’s into this smashing bit of nostalgia, was on some kind of a budget. Or not. His kids are grown up. Under the place for his spouse’s name on the tech sheet he wrote none. Why didn’t he go the full suspension/big brake route, install mini-tubs, big tires, and build a mountain of power under the SS hood?
Because that was not his vision. He built the Chevelle as it would have been (save for the oversize tires and wheels) back in the day. His Chevelle sends a message that’s just as clear to some folks as the Pro Touring image is to others. Besides, it’s the hot deal these days. Thankfully, Gale and I are too jaded for all that. Gale, what do you say we jump in that shiny black car, lay some stripes, and go ghost hunting?
Engine & Drivetrain
In ’67, most SS customers ordered the 325 or 350hp 396. The high-compression (11:1) solid-lifter L78 396 ci was positioned as a dealer-installed option. The dealer would convert the hydraulic-lifter 350/396 engine to a 375hp stormer (in the Corvette the same motor was rated at 425 hp). Hence, there were very few on the road (you would have better luck finding one in a Camaro). Gale found such a character and handed it to Pat Kirby right there in Eaton. The iron-head engine had high compression but that was in the smoky days of leaded fuel. Do you remember Sunoco 260 blue? No detonation problems then but certainly there would be nowunless race gas was part of the equation. Originally, the cast-iron, closed combustion chambers held a 108cc volume, 2.19/1.72 valves, had 325cc intake runners, and square exhaust ports. Kirby machined the cylinder block, gave it a 0.060-inch overbore (to 406 ci), and balanced the rotating assembly10.5:1 JE pistons on the stock steel connecting rods and steel crankshaft. He replaced the original valves with ones of stainless steel. He put camshaft to crankshaft with a Cloyes double-roller chain. The COMP hydraulic cam is governed by COMP springs and stock pushrods coerce roller rocker arms. The engine oiling system is original stuff; a 5-quart (with filter) pan is fished by a standard oil pump and welded pickup. An MSD box and Blaster coil were located remotely thereby cleaning up the compartment. An Edelbrock intake partners with a 750-cfm Holley. To obtain that special, to-the-bone sound, Gale chose Hooker Super Comps with 1.75x30-inch primaries that feed into a 3-inch stainless system, featuring some raspy Flowmasters. No power figures or estimates from Gale. How much grunt do you think this engine makes? Gale built a Turbo 400 with good internals and preceded it with a Coan 3,500-stall converter. He fitted it with a B&M Z-Gate shifter and hooked it to the original oil cooler. The rebuilt driveshaft sends torque to the 12-bolt fortified with 3.55:1 gears and Positraction.
As mentioned previously, the Chevelle had received quarters, inner rear fenders, and a trunk floor from its previous owner. Gale proceeded, flattening the firewall and securing an SS hood for the project. He had a friend apply some sexy gloss to the engine compartment. This same friend shot the DuPont Black on the exposed sheetmetal and made it look a mile deep.
Like us all, Gale was after a particular look, stance, what have you. He wasn’t too particular about how he got it. He just did it. It made sense to him to shorten the front coils by 2 inches and use lowering springs in the rear. He retained the stock front shocks and the original antisway bar. For the rear suspension it was more of the same, only there the dampers are Monroe. To balance the car a little better, he added a GM bar to the rear suspension as well. The spindles and recirculating ball steering are stock. Gale says the body has been dropped a total of 3 inches.
Wheels & Brakes
Good eye-pop here. This combo really snaps against the deep black. Gale got him some Boss 338 (in Super Black) hoops, 18x8 and 20x9.5, and stretched Nitto NT555 tires around them. The front stickies are 245/45, while the rears are sized at 265/35. Brakes are rebuilt original disc/drum assemblies.
Gale saved himself a whole bunch of money right here by avoiding the custom, clean, minimalist trap where everything must be revamped (however subtle), and simply recreating the original apartment with N.O.S. parts. Don’t bother about that three-gauge cluster by Gale’s right knee. The only thing slightly out of place is the modern Jeep steering wheel. Gale’s got a Jensen AM/FM/CD away but there are no controls for air conditioning, no iPod, no Bluetooth, no TV, GPS, kitchen sink, or any other such frippery.