The strategy for Chevelle shopping is the same whether one is hunting for the turnkey show car of your dreams or the foundation for a ground-up restoration; the first rule is to not buy the wrong car.
If a prospective Chevelle buyer isn’t informed and doesn’t know exactly what they’re looking for or how they intend to use the car it’s easy to buy the wrong car. Wrong means the Chevelle in question might be a counterfeit rare model and a person paid too much for a fake or the car has extensive rust or collision damage that’s been covered up and repair costs are going to be prohibitive. Worse yet, the car is so far gone that it can never be made right.
Verify The VIN
The next step is to verify the VIN (serial) number matches the characters found on the title. This addresses two potential sore spots at once. A non-matching serial number is likely to be a stolen vehicle or at the very least a real hassle to straighten out at the DMV. The second being that verifying the VIN number will greatly reduce the possibility of buying a fake. The VIN number reveals a list of indisputable facts. The first digit number 1 indicates Chevrolet is the manufacturer. The second and third digits describe the series. The fourth and fifth combined describe the body style. The sixth digit indicates the year of manufacture. The seventh character will be a letter that specifies the location of the manufacturing plant. The eighth through thirteenth numbers comprise the car’s individual serial number. Lower numbers indicate a car built early in the year and higher numbers later.
The VIN will tell where the car was made, if it had a V-8, if it’s a real SS, number of doors, etc. To dig deeper look for books that have been written about the Chevelle, and websites dedicated to the model. Beyond decoding the VIN, the most accurate way to verify a Chevelle is what the seller says it is, is the buildsheet. The buildsheet will reveal all of the factory options the car came with, and even the dealership that ordered it. That said, be aware that some unscrupulous sellers have used counterfeit buildsheets. The more documentation you can get your hands on the better. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s always nice to find the original owner’s manual in the glovebox, complete with a warranty book and its Protect-O-Plate intact.
Know Your Pain Threshold
It’s understandable, everyone has their personal limitations to how much they can or will spend to end up with the car they’re after, but there is a universal rule. No matter how much one is able to spend the idea is to find the best example available, and then start from there. However, there are rare exceptions to this rule. Take, for example, Super Chevy’s stunning 1967 Chevelle SS396, known to readers as the AMD Chevelle. The AMD Chevelle is a perfect example to illustrate that if a person has an endless supply of cash and knows an individual capable of resurrecting an extremely rusted body shell from a bare exoskeleton into a properly constructed car then any Chevelle can be saved. To learn more about the AMD Chevelle and its resurrection please visit superchevy.com and search for the AMD Chevelle.
For the rest of us folks that would rather avoid the deep pockets approach and labor intensity level of an AMD Chevelle type build we offer the following shopping tips.
There’s no better way to thoroughly examine a candidate than by putting it on a lift and getting it up in the air. Look for holes in the floorpan and areas that appear to have been patched. Be particularly suspicious of thick undercoating, whether it appears fresh or matches the patina of the undercarriage. Look for rusted rocker panels, floorpans, trunk floor, and don’t forget to examine the framerails for rust or accident damage. You wouldn’t be the first person to discover two different frames welded together to make one.
If you buy a car that runs but has been sitting for a while don’t trust the brakes. A brake pedal that feels firm initially can pop suddenly, lose pressure, and go right to the floor. Be safe and put it on a car trailer or flatbed.
After you’ve made your purchase and hauled your project car home don’t start mechanical work until you’ve cleaned it thoroughly. There are all kinds of critters like black widow spiders, rats, and other vermin that like to live in old cars.
The engine ID number should be present on the pad located on the passenger side of the engine block. A quick Internet search of its digits usually will reveal if the engine is original to the car or has been swapped. Absence of an engine ID number indicates the engine block might have been decked during a rebuild.
Raising the car into the air is a good way to get a much better look at the car’s bodywork. Look for gaps that don’t appear to fit properly and along the bottom outside of the rocker panels, fenders, and quarter-panels for rust or evidence of accident repairs. Deep cracks in the paint are an indication of older bodywork filled with polyester body fillers (e.g., Bondo).
The trunk of the ’66 Chevelle we bought was filled with extra parts, with the trunk floor covered with a blanket. If we hadn’t lifted the blanket up we wouldn’t have discovered the rusted-out trunk floor that needs replacement.
The buildsheet oftentimes can be found by removing the gas tank. We haven’t removed the gas tank yet, but it’s a good bet the water leaking through the rusted floor destroyed the buildsheet—if it was there to begin with.
Original carpeting like this is a good indication the floorpans are unmolested, but it isn’t a guarantee. Keep an eye open for interesting original documents; we found the supplier’s tag for GM’s carpet manufacturer in Compton, California, still under the carpet.
The only way to ensure the floorpans in a car aren’t rusted out is to pull the carpet back and inspect or, better yet if possible, remove the carpeting entirely.
Sometimes a Chevelle buildsheet can be found under the rear seat bottom cushion. Good, useable condition original seats are hard to come by if yours are missing. Note if the seats are original and have good springs. Usually, the driver-side bottom seat springs are broken to some degree.
A recent, complete paintjob should always raise a warning flag. Our search for a Chevelle worthy of buying brought us from California to Arizona. Arizona cars are famous for being rust free but usually have totally fried interiors. The sloppy repaint on this ’67 SS396 in a bad rendition of original Madeira Maroon was a warning. A closer inspection revealed terrible bodywork.
The deck filler panel below the Chevelle rear window, particularly on cars equipped with a vinyl top, is prone to rust. Here’s a good example to show what a bad deck filler panel area looks like. Notice the water stains and warped package shelf, not to mention poorly detailed fresh paint.
A beat-up old desert rat; the asking price for this code 138 ’67 Chevelle SS396 was $34,980. A lot of money for a car with so many weak spots, we didn’t trust it and moved on.
Every car for sale on this desert car lot featured a fresh repaint with a cheap topcoat of clear. How could we tell the clear was a cheap paint? The freshly sprayed clear on every car, including this ’67 Malibu was bubbling up and peeling off in sheets. The asking price was $12,980.
Expect the unexpected and look for clues that there might be problems. A glaring problem; the aftermarket steering wheel is missing a horn button and the turn-signal arm is missing. Look at the doorjamb and you’ll see the courtesy light switch is gone. On the dashboard there’s a switch missing and the radio is gone. Come to find out most of this car’s wiring harness was missing.
This ’66 SS396 went for $44,000 at Barrett-Jackson’s 2015 Scottsdale auction. It featured a milky appearing fresh Aztec Bronze repaint with poorly aligned trim. Notice the gap of the front bumper is tighter on the driver side than the passenger side. Bent bumper brackets, bent framehorns, poor attention to detail, or what?
Missing its engine and transmission, this ’65 Malibu was listed for $4,580. None of the body panels fit right. The car gave the impression it was a throw together to flip for money. For example, we looked for different colored body parts such as red doors with a green body, anything that gave away it was pieced together.
We looked inside the ’65’s trunk to see if the quarter-panels came from another car or if the rear panel was an imported crash part, additionally if it needed a new trunk floor.
Notice the driprails on this ’65 Malibu have been shaved, but not the door handles? Sometimes a customizing trick, but more often than not, shaving the driprails is the cheap way out of repairing a badly rusted roof. Do not touch a car like this with a 10-foot pole.
Yet another Chevelle from Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale 2015 auction. This Butternut Yellow 1967 SS396 was a steal for $33,000 across the block, or $36,300 including auction fees. Optioned with an L78 375hp 396 with a four-speed. It’s not a bad thing, but buying a car from a fast-paced auction is whole different deal than being able to take one’s time and shop around.
Rare doesn’t always mean worth more money. An unusual example like this 1967 Beaumont SD 396 that went for $47,300 might be a Canadian citizen’s dream car evoking copious amounts of nostalgia while a U.S. buyer that’s never heard of a Beaumont might think it’s related to a Yugo.