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1965 Chevelle 300 - Purpose-Built

Jim Wingo put some swagger into this classic six-cylinder econo-car

By Rod Short, Photography by The Author

Back in 1965, the average income for Americans was just under $6,500 per year. Anti-war protests, the civil rights movement, and race riots brought open public debate, while longer hair on men and shorter skirts on women challenged conservative views. Gasoline cost about 30 cents per gallon, and the average cost of a new car was $2,650. That was the era when Chevrolet was selling the Chevelle 300 Deluxe.

As an entry-level, intermediate-size car, it certainly wasn't one of the quickest or fastest street cars of its day. Yet, it was a great starting point for young families because it was roomy in the back, had a large trunk with lots of room for groceries, and could still be fun for commuting around town.

All that might sound rather mundane these days, but the performance magazines from 1964 kept interest high with tales of what could be done with such a car. Hall of Fame racer Malcolm Durham, for instance, proved that by pulling the Z-11 427 engine from his NHRA record-holding A/MP 1963 Chevy and dropping it into his 1964 model Chevelle for match racing. Although it wasn't a legal A/FX by NHRA standards, it still ran the early match race circuits and got wide recognition for being the world's quickest and fastest Chevelle, with a best e.t. of 10.83 at 129.85 mph.

"Having grown up in the muscle car era, I always had a fondness for cars from the '60s--and especially Chevys," says Jim Wingo when talking about how he caught the buzz as a kid. "I used to work in a gas station part time, so I got to see a lot of different stuff. Back in the day, guys would order the cheap bodies, but with the largest engine available. A guy who worked across the street would come in with his 1965 Chevelle 300 sedan. It had a 327/350 with a four-speed, and it had a nice rumble to it. One day I talked him into taking me for a ride, and after banging a few gears asked if I wanted to drive it. I thought he had to be kidding, but I jumped behind the wheel and was hooked!"

In later years, Wingo got on with life, but never forgot his passion for these cars. More than a few passed through his garage before he was finally able to realize that young teen-age dream.

"I still wanted a 1965 sedan, but why I never got one escapes me," Jim says with a smile. "At the time, I had a 1969 Chevelle that I really liked. It had a Procharger on it, and it was everything I wanted in a car, but one day I was looking through some ads and I saw this 1965 post 300 sedan with a six-cylinder and a stick. It said it was restored and had the original interior and factory paint. So, I called the owner and we met. The car looked a little better in the pictures, but it was all there, had good original side panels but, most importantly, all the exterior trim and emblems, which are non-existent today. A deal was struck, I loaded the car up, and headed for home."

Once there, he got the car on a lift and had time to carefully look it over. The story began to unfold as to what he really had. His "restored" car needed a total restoration. But, it was still a complete car that nevertheless gave him the basics he needed to build his dream.

"After getting it unloaded, I could see it would need some serious work, so I decided to let my other Chevelle go to fund this new build," he says. "Up first was replacing the floors, which had about an inch of Bondo on them. Then it was time to yank the frame to see how much rust there was. I cut out sections, welded in new steel, and added a little extra strength around the rear suspension areas. I gave the frame a good coat of etching primer, paint, and PPG Gloss Black. After the underside of the car was prepped, the frame was reinstalled along with new body bushings. At this point, I decided a six-point rollbar would be a good idea, so S&W Race Cars in Pennsylvania got the call. Since it was going to be a street car, I wanted it to be somewhat hidden with a useable back seat and side bars that swing out for easier exit and entry."

Once done, Wingo finished up the basic bodywork by painting the new rollbar and the rest of the interior. Outside, he replaced parts of the quarter-panels and repaired the front fenders. The body was prepped for paint and then sprayed with several coats of Willow Green before it was topped with multiple layers of clearcoat.

Setting off the period look of the car is a set of 15x6 steel rims up front with 205/75R15 rubber, and 15x8 wheels on the back with 255/70R15 tires and "poverty" hubcaps all around. When something other than normal street duty is anticipated, a set of Mickey Thompson drag radials are sitting in the garage mounted and ready to go.

"While I was working on the body, I was running through the different engine combos I thought I would like to have," Wingo adds. "I originally was going to build what would have been a legal Super Stocker back in the day, but I had a 454 block, a Scat stroker crank, and some good truck rods that I'd been saving, so I gathered everything up and took it to Bub Whitaker at Burtonsville Performance Machine in Burtonsville, Maryland."

With the machining done, Wingo assembled the short-block himself, then topped it off with a set of Edelbrock aluminum heads secured with ARP studs. Having owned a ProCharger-powered car before with his previous Chevelle, Wingo had Comp Cams send him a special grind that would take full advantage of the forced induction. A single Barry Grant 850 carb built by CSU Carbs was then retrofitted for blow-through metering with a ProCharger F1A centrifugal blower, providing ample airflow volume and boost. An HEI-style ignition is used to light the air/fuel mixture, while ceramic-coated Hooker headers direct the spent exhaust gases through Flowmaster mufflers and then away from the car.

"For the drivetrain, I already knew that a 4L80E would be the best for street use," Wingo says. "You can't beat overdrive with a lockup converter. I use a Compushift Controller to manage the transmission. A call to J.C. Beattie at ATI Performance Products got me the converter I needed. For the rear, Jeff Mullins at Mullins Fabrications shortened the 12-bolt and installed Moser small GM ends so I could retain the original brakes. I'm using it now with Moser 33-spline axles, a Posi, and 3.73 gears."

With a front disc-brake conversion, updated sound system, big engine, and a dose of forced induction, Wingo's wait proved to be worth it. That was even further validated by a 9.96-second e.t. at a local dragstrip. Because of a problem with the clocks, no mph was registered. Wingo thinks with more fine-tuning, the 300 is good for 9.50s at 135 or so. Not bad for a street cruiser! For the casual observer, however, it's a classic body with tasteful hot-rodding updates that still retains the look and flavor of what a mid-'60s Chevy is all about. It was purpose-built for fun!

By Rod Short
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