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Gold Class 1970 SS396 Chevelle Has Magic That Still Lives Today

More Than a Feeling

Rod Short Apr 8, 2015
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It was a time worth remembering. In 1971, the average income was below $11,000, you could buy a postage stamp for less than a dime and gas cost just 40 cents a gallon. The first pocket-sized calculator was produced, Jesus Christ Superstar was stirring controversy, and 18-year-olds gained the right to vote.

Forty-four years later, little remains from those days. Yet, retired Kansas farmer Warren Joerg can revisit that time whenever he wants thanks to this Gold Class 1970 Chevelle SS396. In its most basic form it’s nothing more than rubber, glass, plastic, and steel, but in another sense, it’s a tangible bit of magic that brings him back to something that’s a whole lot more.

“This car was built by my buddy Jerry Bunker, who was from Hays, Kansas,” Joerg said quietly as the memories flashed across his face. “We went to college together and later on both bought Chevelles. I got a ’68 SS396 and then he bought this one. I was involved in helping him do his car and he helped me with mine. We probably went to a 100 or more shows together over 15 years, but then he got cancer and wasn’t able to beat it. I think about all the shows I attended with him. His family wanted me to have it, so we got together on a price and I acquired it from his estate six or seven years ago.”

1970 Chevrolet Ss396 Chevelle Front 2/11
1970 Chevrolet Ss396 Chevelle Interior 3/11
1970 Chevrolet Ss396 Chevelle Steering Wheel 4/11

Sentiment aside, this A-body has a strong pull on many people simply because of what the car is and the period of time it represents. The 1970 Chevelle was the end of an era, which was widely acknowledged and recognized, even in its day, as the high water mark of for classic muscle.

“This was the first year they came out with the bigger [454] engine, the cowl-induction hood, and the stripes,” Joerg said. “People just like the ’70 Chevelle and they have for a long time. A lot of people come up at different shows to say that this is their favorite car.”

Known internally as the model 135-13637 five-passenger, two-door sport coupe, the body shell of the ’70 Chevelle had clean, semi-fastback lines with faired out wheelwells, a rectangular grille, a wide rear chrome bumper that encased the rear taillights, and all new interior appointments. Of course, it was the SS396 and SS454 Super Sport options that are most remembered. The look of the bold SS logos, sport stripes, and styled wheels announced this wasn’t an everyday car, but it was the cowl-induction hood that really showed this street machine was serious. A vacuum-actuated door on the back of the hood opened at wide-open throttle to deliver cold, fresh air to the engine. It was a look that spoke competition wherever it went. Just over 62,000 of these Chevelle Super Sports came off of showroom floors that year, which was enough to outsell the comparable big-block Plymouth Road Runner, Ford Mustang, Oldsmobile 4-4-2, Buick Gran Sport, Pontiac GTO, and Dodge Charger.

1970 Chevrolet Ss396 Chevelle Engine 5/11
1970 Chevrolet Ss396 Chevelle Engine Detail 6/11

The Mark IV L34 Turbo-Jet 396 V-8 on Joerg’s SS396 came with a larger 4.125-inch bore rather than the 4.094 bore from the previous year’s model to produce 402 cubic inches. The horsepower output remained the same despite the six additional cubic inches. With a forged steel crank pumping 10.25:1 domed pistons, the power rating was 350 hp at 5,200 rpm with 415 lb-ft of torque at 3,400 rpm. The valvetrain came with a high-lift camshaft, hydraulic lifters, and alloy steel intake/exhaust valves, which drew the air/fuel mixture into the engine from a single Rochester Quadrajet four-barrel carb. Buyers had their choice of several different four-speed manual transmissions or a Turbo-Hydramatic automatic. Both choices came with a 3.31:1 rear gear as standard equipment.

“It only had 63,000 miles on it, but it was in rough shape,” Joerg continued as he talked about their efforts to restore the machine back in the early ’90s. “We completely stripped it down, pulled the engine, put a complete new interior in it, and had it re-painted. It was just about a complete restoration. The body was still in pretty good shape and it was basically complete, so we restored it on the frame.

“You would never know we didn’t have the body off. Those cars didn’t come out straight from the factory, so it required a lot of block-sanding to get the body right.” Right? It’s perfect!

1970 Chevrolet Ss396 Chevelle Rear Quarter 10/11

Of course, there was still something of a learning curve when it came to restoring the classic—even one as well-documented as a ’70 Chevelle. Joerg and Bunker found that out as they set their sights on the Super Chevy Show circuit.

“We started going to Super Chevy shows around 1995 and decided we wanted to get one of our two cars into the Gold class,” Joerg said. The Gold Class is by invitation only from the judges, and is reserved only for the best of the best. “We did a lot of research using books, went to Chevelle shows, and asked lots of questions to guys that knew more than we did. You have to put it back to how the car was done there with the labels and such. We ran across a lot of contradictions. It’s probably over-restored and we’re not saying it’s done perfectly just like it was from the plant in Texas, but we think it’s pretty close.”

At first, the judges wouldn’t put the car in the Gold class because it had undercoating in the wheelwells. Joerg recalled, “So, we took one winter off, removed all the undercoating and then repainted it back to GM chassis black and then got it into the Gold class. It’s been in there ever since 2001-’02, but it’s taken a lot of work to keep it there.”

For Warren Joerg, that magic still carries over to today.

1970 Chevrolet Ss396 Chevelle Rear 11/11

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