People say the magazine business is waning. With so much stuff on the Internet, perhaps the news aspect of the monthly business model is different, but here at Super Chevy, we know you want to hear the real story, not some 15-second editorial pit stop. So when we met Dan Bergeron and saw his Woodsman Shaker Chevy II in action at a couple of nostalgia drag races, we thought he might have something to tell us. When we got the rest of his tale, even us jaded magazine guys got a kick out of it.
“Yeah, that car made my brother a Mopar guy,” recalls the 50-year-old operator of a tree service business in Jackson, New Jer¬sey. It seems his brother had bought the little deuce in 1970, already modified from its as-built four-cylinder/three-speed/four-lug origins into a mild street rod in light beige with a 327/four-speed. Cobbled together, it ran for about four months, blew up, and ended up parked in the backyard while Dan’s brother Jean Paul went to the Pentastar dark side. Seven-year-old Dan played in it, pretending to drive it, but soon after he had a eureka moment.
“I was reading these old car magazines, and saw this picture of Doug Thorley’s Chevy II Much Nova. I looked outside and compared them and said to myself, ‘Hey, this is that car!’ because the color was about the same. Of course, it wasn’t, but that was the inspiration.”
Fast-forward a few years, and Dan was now 15. The car was still in the backyard, but two chance incidents are about to begin its trans¬formation. The first was a 307 from an older friend that simply got the car running again. The second was a wrecked Chevy van at a local junkyard that was being scrapped out. Dan and a couple of friends carried the straight front axle home, and Dan stayed up almost all night taking the original Chevy suspension out of the car to install the new parts to begin its transformation into a match-race monster. At this point, Dan did not have a license yet, and some of this effort was not even functional, but the car began to come together, plus he also had an ace in the hole—Mr. “Crow” (actually Croshaw) at his shop class in Freehold.
“I actually did everything there in high school. I was in machine shop class, and we build a lot of the front pieces and mounts there. In fact, I built a set of 4 1/2-foot ladder bars for it and they didn’t want me to have them in school, so I walked around a day with them pretending I had a bad ankle and they were crutches,” he laughs now.
By the time Dan got his license and the Deuce was on the road, it had received a ’64 327/300-horse engine from a handyman’s station wagon for $100, which had been removed during the gas crunch to install a more economical low-compression 350 in its place. It was the late 1970s, and Dan had put this engine together before it went into the car, using a new cam and a swap-meet tunnel-ram with two Holley 660s on it; those carbs are on the current engine today.
Indeed, the car has been a fairly steady project over the years. The father of one of Dan’s car buddies owned a body shop and he learned how to do paint, trim, and hammer work there. When the Chevy II’s fenders began to show signs of dreaded northeast rot, it was a great chance to move the rear wheels up eight inches. Meanwhile, the unnarrowed 12-bolt that had been under the car was actually wanted by somebody for a Chevelle project, so Dan ended up with a shortened Dana 60 and 4.11 gears (built by A&D Auto in Jackson) beneath the car at the same time. The four-speed was replaced with a worked automatic by Ziggy and a tight ATI 8.5 converter when he began racing more frequently, but those Jersey plates are not fake – this thing still makes runs to the corner store on occasion.
Of course, there is no replacement for displacement, and, back in 1992, a local machine shop had a semi-done 454 whose owner had lost interest in. The price was right and this is the engine in the ‘Woodsman Shaker’ right now. Pumped to 462 cubes with a slight overbore, Bison Engine and Machine in Farmingdale, New Jersey, put the pack¬age together around the stock crank and rods, adding Ross 11.0:1 compres¬sion pistons, ARP bolts, and fresh rings. A Comp solid roller cam kit with 0.604 lift and Harland Sharp 1.7 rockers work out in the center of all of that. On top is a vintage Edelbrock TR1Y tunnel-ram with the twin 660s, feeding into Dart Pro 1 heads with 2.25 intake/1.88 exhaust valves. A set of Hooker headers with custom fabricated pipes and Flowmasters keeps the sound down. It will spin to 7,000 rpm, which pushes the nose of the Chevy II upward as well as onward on each pass.
Why that bright yellow? The car was in black primer through the mid-’80s.
“That was a fluke, too,” Dan says. “I own a tree business, and one winter I went to work for a Case tractor dealer. They asked if I could paint with a spray gun, and I told them yes, so we ordered the green paint to redo some mowers. Well, the paint company sent this yellow instead. So I called them and told them they had sent the wrong color, and they told me, ‘Look, just keep it because we cannot do anything with it once its mixed, and we’ll send you the right mix.’ That’s how the yellow came about.”
In 1988, with fresh paint but still with the 327, the Chevy II debuted at Maple Grove’s Super Chevy Show. Most people cannot believe it is still street legal, as more often than not, Dan is seen run¬ning in the nostalgia classes, climbing the pinion to nosebleed heights on most passes. Indeed, the car has remained old school for that reason. At one point, he had planned on adding electronic fuel injection to it; his tuner told him to put the carbs back on to do a dyno test. The weekend he did that, he also went to Englishtown for the Old Time Drags (the same event we shot the car at this past summer), and was invited to run with a regional racing body called the East Coast Gassers. Since they run carbs and mechanical injection only, the EFI is shelved for the time being. Best run to date is a high-flyin’ 10.82 at 123.
Dan’s crew chief is his son Dan Jr. (Jean Paul ‘Bimbo’ Bergeron, Dan’s brother, helps as well) and the family is actually in the process of building another car for Dan Jr., this one being a fastback version of the ’62, which Dan is converting from a solid four-door donor. Of course, people familiar with early Chevy Funny Car racing are aware of the handful of these special machines that came out of the Bill Thomas op¬eration back in the mid-’60s; Dan is in contact with the owner of the original C-K-C entry of Fritz Callier to look it over for details. Meanwhile, the Shaker is keeping them busy.
“I’m pretty happy with the way the car is now,” he says in conclusion. “I’d like to get a set of Cragars for the rear like Thorley used, but they would require a custom offset and I didn’t want to spend that kind of money for them. The car runs well, and everybody likes to see it. Funny how that came out of being a 7-year-old kid.”
Good thing those old magazines were around, too, eh? Now you know the rest of the story …