For some, “patina” is just another name for splotchy rust and faded paint on the body of a vintage ride that’s spent too many years exposed to the elements. But to many of today’s builders and customizers, it’s something they strive to protect—or, in some cases, create anew. In the case of Mike Ramser’s ’60 Parkwood wagon, its patina was augmented by modern-day touches above and below its weathered sheetmetal and paint.
Sold new in Arizona, the Parkwood—Chevy’s mid-range full-size wagon—spent its early life as a flower shop’s delivery car. That was before Boris Maryanovsky found it, then bought it to flip at his Street Machinery shop in Cleveland, Ohio.
When Mike first saw it in August of 2011, the ’60s original 235-cubic-inch six- cylinder engine was still powering it, backed by the standard column-shifted three-speed manual transmission. But Street Machinery had updated the chassis with two-inch drop spindles in front, a set of its own rear control arms, plus Air Lift rear springs and Firestone “Ride Rite” front air bags. Also added were C5 Corvette four-wheel disc brakes, plus a set of Billet Specialties’ Legends Series wheels (18 x 8 inches in front, 20 x 10 inches in back), all wrapped in Toyo’s ultra-wide Proxes 4 rubber. To make room in back, the rear end housing was narrowed two inches, and a pair of Moser axles (sized to replace the OEM axle shafts) went in
At that time in ’11, the Parkwood was still in need of some finishing work, including a new CARS Inc. interior, but it was just what Mike was looking for. “Definitely¬—it was love at first sight,” he says, adding, “I’ve been a car guy all my life, and I’ve built a lot of high-end cars, and a lot of nice cars. I was looking forward to building a car that I didn’t have to worry about, or didn’t have to worry about wiping the bugs off of it, or worry about people leaning up against it, or touching it.”
Once Mike got it home, he knew that the ancient engine and transmission needed replacing. A quick online search turned up a used LS1 engine and 4L60E 4-speed overdrive automatic, which Mike says went in easily. Mike also says that easy availability of aftermarket parts to swap LS-series engines and modern-tech GM automatics into ’58-’64 Chevys makes a project like this one go smoothly. “They make so much stuff now,” he says. “They make the engine mounts, and the headers, and brackets so you can relocate this accessory because it’s going to hit that one. Actually, it’s so simple.”
He did need some assistance in getting the LS1 installed in the ’60’s engine bay, which he got from his longtime friend and fellow car buddy, Scott Crabtree. He helped Mike with the engine swap, including the Painless engine wiring harness installation. But, other than a routine teardown and rebuild with new gaskets, Mike didn’t do anything to the LS1 itself. “I left the engine pretty much stock,” he says. “It was a used one that came out of a 2000 Trans Am. I put an oil pump and a new timing chain in it, but it’s pretty much stock.”
Also at that time, Mike decided that he wanted to add more insulation to the Parkwood’s floor and firewall, as well as upgrade the classic Chevy’s climate-control system. In went a Classic Auto Air “Perfect Fit” HVAC system, after the new HushMat insulation went on the floorpans and under the hood. Mike also added a Maradyne “Mach Two” electric fan under the hood, whose 2,760 cfm flow rate helps keep the LS1 cool in high-traffic or high-heat situations.
Speaking of coolness, the period-correct Thermador “swamp cooler” on the ’60’s right roof rail adds a period-correct sense of style, if not any actual cooling inside. “A year or so ago, I filled it up with water, and I drove it, but I didn’t notice a difference,” says Mike. “But it’s still interesting. It’s definitely a conversation piece,” he says of the old-school item that was once a necessity for those traveling in hot weather. “It hangs on the side of the car all the time,” adds Mike. “If days get too hot, then I’ll take it off. But I’ll leave it on just for looks, and I’ll run the AC at the same time.”
There were still some areas on the ’60 that needed upgrading. Stock 1960 Chevrolet steering boxes weren’t known for being the easiest ones to turn way back when, and five-decades-plus of use (and years sitting unused) didn’t help it any. So, out it went in favor of a 500-series power steering conversion from CPP. Next up was the rear, which had already been narrowed. Mike’s friend, Wayne Krinjeck, took it from there by replacing the stock, non- Posi differential with an Eaton one equipped with Posi-traction, and a set of 3.55 Richmond Gears.
With the chassis, powertrain and cabin taken care of, it was time to pay some attention to the ‘60s exterior. Instead of taking it down to bare metal, the original white “Magic Mirror” acrylic lacquer—what was left of it—stayed on the big Body by Fisher.
A call to Chris MacMahan at Aerographix in Elyria, Ohio, resulted in the non-oxide markings on the ’60s flanks, which was followed by a flat-finish clearcoat which Mike’s buddy Dave Kulka sprayed on, to preserve the Parkwood’s patina.
What’s it like to drive? “It’s awesome,” says Mike. “As a matter of fact, I took it on the Hot Rod Power Tour, and it was great.” He adds that the 4L60E and 3.55 rear gears made the LS1- powered ’60 quite a long-distance cruiser. “I ended up getting 22 miles a gallon on Power Tour,” says Mike. “But, in a perfect world, I’d have 4.10s in there, because those rear tires are so tall, with a 4-speed automatic. I think that car would really pull stronger right out of the gate if it had more gear in the back It pulls strong now, but it would pull more with more gear.”
Mike adds, “With the air conditioning and the airbag suspension, power steering and four-wheel power disc brakes, it’s like an everyday car, almost.”
Interested in a cruiser with the kind of visual character that Mike’s Parkwood wagon has? Mike says that if you’re planning to swap in a modern-tech powertrain, don’t let the electronics on the engine and transmission spook you. “If you have any mechanical ability, don’t let fear hold you back, because the swap is not really that difficult.”
And the result will combine modern-day drivability with classic styling–and a healthy helping of patina to top it off!