For more than two hundred million years, dinosaurs pummeled the Jurassic landscape. Yikes, they were all over the place. They thundered. They bellowed. They shook the ground. They shook the trees and really were omnipotent. But their packaging was wrong. Their sheer size ultimately doomed them due to inefficiency; “natural” causes brought them down and eventually turned the muck into fossil fuel.
The time was right and the price was cheap, but if you’ve just plowed into your 40s you weren’t around when American dinosaurs roamed the realm. Their manic popularity represented an orgy of national insecurity juxtaposed with national pride and cursed by carcinogenic entrails. Yikes, but they were raising hell all over the place. Even in our limited and primitive view of the world, we had a nagging suspicion that this stomping, snarling pig iron just wouldn’t make it. In the end, it was geopolitics and overzealous insurance wanks driving four-cylinder turds that brought them down.
You’ll have to remember that part about beauty being in the eye of the beholder.
Maybe John Provenzano will start a trend here. His Chevelle is an original SS 396 and he intends to keep it that way. Though it may represent stock, all primary systems have been rebuilt to fight physics. Out there on the Kansas plains John isn’t excited about flogging his Chebby beyond anything that would have gone down when it was showroom new. These boats ripped wonderfully as long as the line was straight, but their brakes weren’t very good and their suspensions didn’t yield much beyond rudimentary “handling.” The bias-ply tires were laughable.
What is the car’s most endearing quality? Simply that it doesn’t shout. It whispers. To see it today as it was when it came out of the oven is sobering. We’ve been captured (trained) by the ideas and the handiwork of many, many thousands of hot rodders driven to change everything to personalize their rides so it’s a little unsettling to see a new build that has been updated and looks fresher, but really is no different. So you add some familiar cues, like the period-correct Cragar S/S chromies and the tall aspect-ratio BFG raised white letter Radial T/A tires that faithfully maintain a soaked-in-the-’60s aura.
You keep looking for the big changes. You look closer; check out the engine bay. Cast-iron logs. No headers. But being who he is, John Pro just couldn’t keep his hands off the engine. Nowadays, the smooth, streamlined firewall has become a neutral backdrop, a foil to celebrate the almighty fire-breather and compared to what we’ve experienced for the last 15 years or so, the clutter here seems incredulous. Still, John could do no less than revive the original (C60) HVAC system that included a 61-amp alternator, heavy-duty radiator, and a temperature-controlled fan.
John’s almost 60 now and has been lassoed by this stuff since he was a young teen. “My brother, who is eight years my senior bought a new ’69 Chevelle SS, which he still owns, and I wanted a Chevelle SS, too.” So he found the car in a penny pincher pulp. It was his first one and had 63,000 on the clock. He liked it because the body was sound. In August 1974, his parents laid out $1,500. “It wasn’t the highest bid,” said John with a wink, “but the owner thought I’d take care of it.” He got it the day he turned 15. In the first sweaty hours, he pedaled it more than 100 miles. He says that the most challenging part of the history was building the car the way he wanted it.
John’s main man in all of this is Mark Bauer, whose stellar constellation whirls in Wichita, Kansas. His shop handled the critical chore. In 2005, Bauer performed a body-off restoration. They elected to replay the original and repainted the SS with PPG Tripoli Turquoise (GM Code KK). It is simultaneously chilling and cathartic to see this car now as it was 50 years ago. Look at the interior. To us it’s still familiar and unsullied but looks heavy and a little overbearing. There’s not a drop of humor or whimsy peeking out of that featureless sea of N.O.S. black.
As for that big-block: roughly 97 percent of the SS cars built in 1968 were equipped with the RPO L35 325-horsepower version of the 396. For modern life, Tracy Pedigo did the updates. He gave the cylinder block a quarter-inch cleanup poke to make the total 402. He stuck a flat tappet cam in it. He sealed the bores with Edelbrock cylinder heads and capped the pile with an Edelbrock Performer manifold. He iced that cake with a Proform carburetor.
“Now, I enjoy driving the car on dry, sunny days and I dust it off once a month,” said John. “I do take it to local shows and I drive it very carefully, but test its limits now and then, if you know what I mean. This is my own piece of Americana.” CHP
Owner: John Provenzano, Wichita, Kansas
Vehicle: 1968 Chevelle SS 396
Type: Mark IV (RPO L35)
Displacement: 402 ci
Compression Ratio: 10.25:1
Bore: 4.125 inches
Stroke: 3.760 inches
Cylinder Heads: Edelbrock RPM 454-0 oval port, 2.19/1.88 valves, 110cc combustion chambers
Rotating Assembly: OE forged crankshaft, OE connecting rods w/ 3/8-inch SPS bolts, forged Speed-Pro pistons
Valvetrain: Comp valvesprings and hydraulic lifters, Magnum 3/8-inch pushrods
Camshaft: Comp High Energy 268H (224/230-deg. duration at 0.050; 0.515/0.520-inch lift)
Induction: Edelbrock Performer RPM intake manifold, Proform 750-cfm carburetor
Ignition: PerTronix Ignitor III
Exhaust: Cast-iron manifolds, 2 1/2-inch exhaust system, MagnaFlow mufflers
Ancillaries: Be Cool radiator
Machine Work: Wikle Performance (Wichita, KS)
Built By: Tracy Pedigo at Pedigo Performance (Wichita, KS)
Tuner: Tracy Pedigo
Output (at the crank): 450 hp
Transmission: Coan Turbo 400, B&M torque converter
Rear Axle: Original 12-bolt, Positraction differential, 3.73:1 gears
Front Suspension: Original rebuilt, Delco shocks
Rear Suspension: Original rebuilt, Delco shocks
Brakes: 11-inch rotors, two-piston calipers
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Cragar S/S 15x6 front, 15x8 rear
Tires: BFGoodrich Radial T/A 215/60 front, 255/60 rear
Upholstery: Scott Downey, Downey’s Auto Upholstery (Wichita, KS)
Dash: Original w/ N.O.S. insert
Audio: Original AM/FM
HVAC: Original GM
Bodywork: Mark Bauer, Bauer Auto Restoration (Wichita, KS)
Paint By: Mark Bauer
Paint: PPG Tripoli Turquoise (GM Code KK)
Photos by Grant Cox