To some Chevy purists, the lack of Rallye stripes on a ’70 Chevelle SS396 or SS454 means that car isn’t an original Super Sport. Try telling that to Tom Dobry, whose Fathom Blue ’70 SS396 drop-top was built as you see it here—without the popular SS trim option.
Tom ordered it new in early 1970. “It was actually a graduation present to myself,” he recalled. “I ordered it during spring break in preparation for finishing up my undergraduate program, which had been rather painful.” But instead of specifying “customer driveaway” and picking it up at Baltimore Assembly (a short journey from the University of Maryland, where Tom was finishing up his engineering studies), he picked it up at the selling dealer, Bell Motor Company in Leonardtown, Maryland, then the nation’s second-oldest active Chevrolet dealership. “We had always done business with them, at least starting out with my father,” Tom said.
While it wore the Chevy Bow Tie proudly, it wasn’t anything like his dad’s Chevys. Tom ordered his Malibu SS396 convertible with the Z25 Super Sport option (which came standard with the 350hp L34 396/402 for ’70), a Muncie M20 four-speed, power brakes (front disc), Strato-Bucket seats with center console, an AM radio, plus other items that bumped the sticker price up from its $3,062 base to just over $4,155.
Replacing the ’64 Impala convertible Tom traded in on it, the blue ’70 SS396 was Tom’s for not just the next few years, but for a much longer time. “It was my daily driver until sometime in the ’90s, when I broke my left leg and I couldn’t drive a car with a clutch,” he said. “At that time, I put it in my garage. My wife, Karen, never learned how to drive a clutch. We tried to teach her once, and we gave up on that so we could stay married.”
Tom sought out a shop to bring his SS396 back to its as-delivered condition—and he didn’t have to leave Maryland to do it. He called on R&M Performance in Cambridge for a frame-off restoration. Though the original “Magic Mirror” acrylic lacquer paint and interior trim had seen better days, the frame and the Body By Fisher hadn’t suffered major rust or collision damage.
But, as Tom told us, this project did have its challenges. “Getting the exhaust system proved to be one of them,” he said. “We tried to restore it to as close to original as we could, and we wanted the mufflers, pipes, and everything to be like the originals.” Back in 2010, only two places made a correct ’70 SS396 exhaust system. One strung Tom and R&M Performance on for months—until they had enough and ordered a system from the other vendor, and the project continued.
It took nine months to turn the time-worn A-body into the dazzler seen here. The car Tom had ordered new, driven daily, dated Karen in, drove on their honeymoon—and brought each of their three children home from the hospital in—now looked like it did when it rolled out of Baltimore Assembly onto Broening Highway on a transporter truck (minus the new-car wrappings and sprayed-on “fairy dust” paint protectant).
“Karen’s been a partner in it all along, though she wasn’t there when I first got it,” Tom said. “We were both extremely excited to have it back and have it looking better than new.”
What’s it like from behind the wheel? “It’s great to drive it, though sometimes it’s a little bit unnerving because the little things that I didn’t pay attention to like rocks and stuff like that flying,” Tom said. “We mainly take it now on Sunday drives whenever the weather’s nice. I’m a lot more careful with it than I was originally.”
Maybe you don’t have that first SS396—or any other classic Chevy—still in your garage, but Tom’s got this advice if you decide to restore one: “Realize that it’s going to take a fair amount of time, even if you do it yourself,” he said. “It’s going to take some resources if you’re going to try and restore it to as close to original as you can.”
As for who to call on for resto work, Tom said, “Shop around and look closely at who you’re going to have restore it. That’s because you’re trusting your baby to somebody to help bring it back to its original form. Stay on top of it, be involved, and don’t get overly anxious for it to be finished quickly, because it won’t be.”
And don’t worry about those purists whose noses are out of joint because the Rallye stripes (or their RPO code D88 on the buildsheet) aren’t there.