I drove another beater (this time a $35 '49 Ford four-door flathead with four snow tires) in college. I even painted it brown with a paintbrush. From reading the championship-winning 409 stories, I pulled the '62's engine over a weekend in April at a friend's machine shop. I thought the '62 409 SS would make a great C/Stock or D/Stock NADS/UDRA class car. Rules were different than NHRA. Over a few months, I installed 12.5:1 forged pistons-first an Isky, then a Sig Erson 990B camshaft, a Du-Coil ignition with a new space-age spark amplifier, Mondello ported heads, and Doug's fenderwell tri-Y headers.
All my many prior super-tuning and college jobs paid for the parts. I remember that the total rebuild was not much over $500-$600. The clutch assembly was a 15-pound aluminum flywheel with a special E&R pressure plate and disc. My recap slicks were 12 inches wide. I had to install them deflated, then pump them up with a portable air tank. Once inflated, there were no clearance problems. I also ran 90/10 front shocks (no front anti-roll bar) and Air Lift airbags in the rear. Without the airbags, I could snap an axle in 10 runs or less (usually the left axle). With the airbags, I could go 15-to-20 runs. Used axles with straight splines were $1.00 each.
When the car did not break an axle, it was undefeated in class in 1965. It won a lot of regular weekend races plus two hot ones at Union Grove and Rockford. I have never remembered many of the runs or even who the competition was. I always focused on driving. The car was in the 12.30s and 12.40s at Union Grove with the Isky camshaft. Prior to Rockford, I installed the Erson 990B camshaft at the recommendation of Tom Jacobson at Gledhill Chevrolet in Southern California.
I was a serious weekend racer who always relied on traction, chassis reaction, exact driving and mid-range torque. Again, I don't recall my class elimination wins at two regional championships. Competition was not that great. But both of the final round runs were against the same car, a '62 Galaxie with a deep sounding, wedge big-block. In the Union Grove class final, I won by three-quarters of a car length at 12.37 at 112 mph.
Get this: As life goes, I ended up being 1 of 20 taken by the U.S. Marines. A week later, I flunked their boot camp physical exam at Parris Island, South Carolina. I was actually mad! They gave me a free train ticket back to Chicago and Nickey Chevrolet. My friend was then killed while letting someone else drive his GTO. I was supposed to be with them, but I did not go. A few months later, I special-ordered my only new Chevy, a '66 L79 Chevy II. I sure liked that '62 SS 409.
What you've read here is just an inkling of Chevy's overall big-car performance heritage. There were thousands of other Chevy guys in every state doing the very same thing from 1958 through 1970 and beyond. Many are still at it today. Thumbs up to every one.