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1972 Chevelle SS - Project Jigsaw

Open the Box, and Put it Back Together

By Mike Harrington, Photography by Grant Peterson

The year is 1972, the year of my birth. The world is in turmoil. The Munich Olympic Summer games and South Viet Nam are teeming with violence. OPEC has already started its stranglehold on the world's oil supply, which in turn drives the final nail into the coffin of the American musclecar. Not all hope is dimmed, however. Marlon Brando and Al Pacino are starring in one of the greatest epic films of all time-The Godfather. And despite the looming gas crisis, Chevrolet manages to produce what may arguably be the last of the big-block musclecars.

This story, however grim it may seem, is about survival-specifically, that of one '72 big-block SS Chevelle and the efforts of Don McKinley to bring it back to life. Like most vehicles, this car had fallen into a state of disrepair, and over the years had likely been transferred from one owner to another. One day, one of the car's optimistic owners decided it was time for a complete meltdown of the Chevelle. Dreams of grandeur and restoration filled his head.

Our hero vigorously dove into his restoration project pulling, pounding, and tearing his car apart. The bodywork was meticulously done, and a beautiful custom-mixed PPG became the Chevelle's new skin. However, sometime shortly thereafter, the dream withered and died, and all work on the Chevelle ceased. The car, now in pieces, was stored in several boxes and put away. Out of sight and out of mind, for 10 years the sun rose and set as the seasons changed, and yet the Chevelle remained ever silent and unmoving. Reality eventually set in, and our hero came to the conclusion that it was time to sell the stack of boxes that held his precious project car.

Enter Don McKinley, a retiree from Bethel, Pennsylvania. Don had the desire, time, and monetary means to finish this jigsaw puzzle of a project car. All he had to do was take it out of the box and put it back together again...right? Things are never quite that easy, as our first owner found out. Don nevertheless persevered, and finished the longtime project car. His good friend, Ren Malakames, built the original 454 big-block to the hilt. Ren balanced and blueprinted the car with a set of Edelbrock aluminum heads, a Lunati cam, a Street & Performance intake, and a TPI injection with a K&N filter, a Milodon oil pan, Hooker headers, a Be Cool radiator, and a Flowmaster exhaust system. This '72 is estimated to produce 500 horses at 5,600 rpm; on the torque end of the scale 485 lb-ft at 4,700 rpm. The SS Chevelle shines brighter underneath than an all-night honkey tonk. Due in large part to Don's effort and coordination, this SS has survived to once again see the American blacktop. All he had to do was pull it out of the box and put the puzzle back together again. If only it were that easy.

By Mike Harrington
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