There wasn't much to celebrate in '73 for Bow Tie fans. Horsepower numbers kept dropping thanks to lower compression and more accurate measurements; big, heavy, bumpers were being forced upon Detroit by government bureaucrats; and the Watergate scandal was hitting the pages of the Washington Post. The first Arab oil embargo heralded the end of cheap gas and the relegation of anything with a thirsty big-block to the back rows of used car lots across America.
But when the new '73 models hit showroom floors in the fall of '72, most of that horror had yet to strike. The controversial colonnade body style and a new platform marked the debut of an all-new Chevelle/Malibu. While horsepower numbers were far from where they were just two years earlier, there was still an SS454 option to order. This would be the last year an SS Chevelle would be produced, with the Laguna S-3 slated to replace it in '74.
Don Bock was just a car-frenzied 13-year-old when the '73s first came out. On a cold November night in 1972, the babysitter who was watching Don and his little brother was dropped off by her boyfriend, Dominic. He told Don to stay put, he was coming back with a surprise. Waiting anxiously for two hours by his front door, the young teenager was stunned when a brand-new Jade Green with silver stripes '73 SS454 pulled up to his house. The car had just been delivered to the local Chevy dealership after Dominic ordered it, not even letting the dealer workers pull it off the hauler or do the pre-delivery prep. It was a ride that Don would never forget.
The young Don was fueled more by high-test than the usual teenage adrenaline and hormones. Over the years, Don owned numerous classic Chevys, most of them of '68 vintage. As time passed, he morphed into an Impala collector and enthusiast, with a '60 348/tri-power/four-speed, two '68 factory 427s, and a '69 SS427 living in his garage. But still, the ride in the Jade Green '73 lurked in the rafters of his memory.
By 2001 that childhood memory had gone from calling out to screaming inside Don's head. But the car he wanted had to be a rare four-speed. While surfing racingjunk.com one day, Don spotted a one-owner '73 for sale, white with the required stick-shift and only 17,000 miles on the clock, but alas, it had already been sold. Forward to '06, the car was once again for sale, this time on eBay. But the gods weren't on Don's side that day either, and the A-body went to another owner in Massachusetts.
It was August of '09, and Don was spending a balmy week at the Vintage Car Club of America VCCA) show in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, when a friend phoned him to say "his Chevelle" was for sale. Growing more puzzled by the second, the friend stopped teasing him and said the white '73 four-speed SS he had missed out on years ago was back up for sale. It didn't take long for Don to get back to a computer, call the seller, and negotiate a deal before anyone could snatch it away again. Because of his schedule at work (Don works at American Autowire, purveyors of wiring harnesses and electrical items), he couldn't pick the car up until November. So, the day after arriving back home at 11 p.m. from the 2009 SEMA Show, he and his wife hooked up their trailer and headed for Massachusetts to pick up their new car.
When they arrived after an eight-hour drive, they were surprised to see two other '73s keeping the white car company. The owner had purchased what was now Don's car to use as a guide while restoring the two others he had. Once both restorations were finished, he had no use for the survivor. Surprised he'd give up the unmolested original (but nonetheless happy), Don and his wife loaded the Chevelle and headed back to Jersey.
The '73 proved to be everything he wanted, and more. A Canadian-built and sold car, it left the Oshawa, Ontario, GM plant on June 20, 1973, and shipped to Wheaton Chevrolet/Olds, Ltd., in Regina, Saskatchewan. Because it was Canadian built, GM had full documentation on the Chevelle still in its archives. By the build sheet, Don determined the '73 had 19 factory options that boosted the sticker price to $4,600.00, a hefty sum for '73.
But the critical options were the LS4 454 (245 net hp, 375 lb-ft), M21 four-speed, 3.42 Posi rear axle, and HD front and rear suspension that added to the F-41 suspension equipped standard with the SS. There's no confirmed number of how many big-block/four-speed SS Chevelles were made in '73 (the number most commonly thrown around is 600, but that's just a guesstimate), but we do know there were eight built in Canada.
There's also the tachometer and accessory gauges, floor-mounted console around the four-speed shifter, power discs, AM/FM stereo tape player, and the swivel bucket seats. When Don got the car, it even still had the factory demo 8-track for the tape deck. Perhaps because it was sold in the Great White North, the one option conspicuous by its absence is air conditioning.
Don tapped good friend David Wilbur to go through the car's mechanicals and get everything back to roadworthy condition without harming the car's unrestored look. It had been sitting for years without being driven and needed a top-to-bottom mechanical overhaul. A small section of the left rear quarter-panel had been dinged and needed attention, too. Body man Tony Kustera got the 911 call on that. A true craftsman, Tony understood that the quarter needed to be repaired but still maintain the car's all-original look. After repairing the dent, he had a special mix of white lacquer made to spray over the repair that would blend in with the rest of the car's original paint.
Since the car came out of mothballs and was made driveable again, Don and his wife have put over 4,000 miles it, including the 1,600-mile roundtrip trek to Flint, Michigan, for the 100th anniversary celebration of Chevrolet. "It drives like a brand-new 39-year-old car" is how Don puts it.
Having gone for a ride in it with the owner, Editor Campisano confirms that statement. "It's big and heavy, with no rattles. The swivel buckets, the 8-track player, the smell—it all takes you back to another era," he said.