Drag racing stories can be a lot like fishing stories, especially about “the one that got away.”
But James Jezak’s ’67 Chevelle 300 2-door sedan is no mere fable (finned or otherwise). It’s the car that beat him badly in a couple of on-street speed contests way back when, then disappeared for nearly four decades before he found and restored it.
Back in 1967, it seemed that just about every city or town had a “main drag” where the drive-in restaurants and other car-people hangouts lines a cruise strip that varied from a two-lane Main Street to the vast expanses of suburban Detroit’s Woodward Avenue. In those days of Sunoco 260 super-premium gas that cost only 30 cents a gallon, many a warm-weather weekend night was spent by young men in search of opponents to race from stoplight to stoplight, or—for the more serious—race on less-traveled roads out of town (or unfinished freeways).
One of those was James, who had a 396-powered Chevy that he describes as “awesome.”
“After passing through a couple of the local drive-ins, I notice this guy in this plain ’67 Chevelle,” he recalls. “I didn’t know who the guy was, but he wanted to know if I wanted to race.”
How plain was that Chevelle? It was the base-level 300 2-door sedan, which wore little trim on its Body by Fisher, and a $2,326.00 base price with a standard 283 and 3-on-the-tree gearbox. Add the L79 (a bargain at $93.00 extra), a Muncie 4-speed ($184.00 more) and Positraction ($42.00), and the sticker’s bottom line was around $2,645.
James continues, “I looked again, and on the side of this plain-Jane car were ‘327 insignias I’ve got this awesome 396 Chevrolet, and I thought it was going to be a piece of cake.”
To make a long story short, James’ big-block Bowtie got spanked by the smallblock Chevelle. “It must have been by four car lengths,” he says of his loss to that sleeper Chevy.
So, James spent his free time the next week tuning his 396 and adding stickier rear tires, in hopes of a rematch. When he found it the next Saturday night, they agreed to race again—and the result this time was even worse. “I got beat worse than the last week, so I had to meet the guy and find out what gives with this plain-Jane Chevelle.”
That’s when realized the Chevelle was L79-powered, and that Marty—its owner—had replaced the 4.56 rear gears that were in the weekend before with a set of 4.88s.
He also found a friend in Marty. “He and I became good friends, and we saw each other at the drags and drive-ins,” he remembers.
It turned out that, one day while driving it home from work, Marty didn’t notice that the L79’s oil pressure was between Not Much and Not There. That 327 was toast, no thanks to the oil pickup screen falling off and the oil pump not getting any oil.
So, into Marty’s garage went the Chevelle and what was left of the L79, and he bought new parts for it. While it was out, Marty planned on rebuilding the Muncie 4-speed, too—then he got the idea to take the Chevelle completely apart.
Once James got back in touch with Marty, he offered to buy the ’67 from him a number of times, each time Marty saying that it was not for sale.
Fast forward to 1989, when a buddy of James at work told him that he’d bought something he’d been after for years—his uncle’s L79-powered ’67 Chevelle. James asked him if it was Marty’s car, and he said it was. Again, James offered to buy it, but once again he was turned down. “He said, ‘When I retire, I plan on putting this car together,” says James, who told his colleague that if he ever did want to sell it, to let him know.
That day arrived two decades later. “I got this phone call out of the blue, and this guy wanted to know if I wanted to buy his car,” says James. “I said, ‘Who is this, and what kind of car?’ It was his former colleague from work, who described the ’67 to him. “You could have knocked me over with a feather,” says Jim. “After 39 years, I was finally getting a chance on this L79 car that spanked me so bad back in 1967.”
The next day, James went to see it. “I couldn’t believe it,” he recalls. “All of the original parts that Marty purchased in 1970 were there with the car, along with all of the original interior and body parts.”
There weren’t many chrome trim pieces…remember this is a base 300 that didn’t wear the few bright accents the 300 Deluxe models had, much less the fancier trim found on Malibus and SS396s.
It took James one year to turn the garage full of parts into the sweet smallblock ’67 seen here. “All parts are factory, including the interior,” he says. “The best part about it is that it drives and handles like a new car, and it only has 32,000 original miles on it.”
James calls it “the ultimate sleeper muscle car,” and we agree. Now, if only there was a way we could travel back in time and get one of our own…maybe with a trip past Chevrolet’s Product Promotion Engineering office and shops at the GM Tech Center while we’re there!