Saturday, January 26, 2013

1970 Chevelle SS 454 barn find found in New York

King of New York barn finds. Gary K. of Long Island, New York, a self-professed "Chevelle nut," and master of dozens of successful, search-and-find, muscle car missions, is always on the hunt. Gary has learned that discovering a prized, but neglected (cheap), big block Chevy muscle car is like finding a needle in a haystack. It requires keeping your head on a swivel, covering a lot of territory and making notes on the locations of cars that are "not for sale." Gary's vigilance was rewarded with a deal on a Cranberry Red 1970 Chevelle SS 454 (LS5) that the owner lost interest in around 1992. His loss, our gain.  

This 1970 Chevelle SS 454 parked for more than 20 years.

Roman Red 1970 Chevelle SS 454 still wears the factory cowl induction hood.

Jacked-up Chevelle
  Gary discovered the red Super Sport propped up on jack stands in a backyard out on the north fork of eastern Long Island, which is about an hour away from his home. The owner was ready to unload his cherry, big block beast after permanently parking it 20 years ago. Gary noticed a little bit of rust on the LS5 SS, but it wasn't enough to scare him away from owning his eighth A-Body Chevelle. 
  "Apparently, the owner, who bought the Chevelle in 1990, had lost interest in it back in 1991-92 and parked it for good," said Gary. "The only time the car moved was when it was relocated from one backyard to another." The New York inspection sticker on the windshield is from 1992.
  Unfortunately, the owner's backyard served as a pull-your-own Chevelle parts location. The Chevelle’s 454 engine and Muncie 4-speed transmission were long gone. Also, a number of other parts had disappeared while the Chevelle sat out in the elements. Memories and photos of the Chevelle during its cruising-and-bruising days were all the owner wanted to keep. Of course, a bit of cash changed hands to ease the transition and make Gary the proud, new owner.

This LS5 Chevelle was backed by a M22 4-speed back in the day. A tach and the cowl hood reminded the driver just how cool they were when they stomped their right foot.

Sizing-up a 1970 Chevelle SS 454
  A muscle car legend was born when the first 454-cu. inch engine was planted in a 1970 Chevelle. Size does matter when you talk about the biggest and baddest engine Chevrolet had offered up until 1970. The Bow Tie boys offered two versions of its new 454-cu. inch big block, which featured a 4.251-inch bore with a 4-inch stroke. There is no replacement for displacement and the ’70 model Chevelle was the monster of cubic inches.
  The LS5 version of the 454-V8 was conservatively rated at 360 horsepower in the ’70 Chevelle and featured either 2-bolt or 4-bolt main blocks with a steel crank and cast pistons. Up top the engine had a low-rise cast iron intake, 4 barrel Rochester Quadrajet and closed chamber oval port heads. This engine had a 10.25-to-1 compression ratio. Total production numbers for LS5 Chevelles in 1970 are 4,298.
  The LS6 was rated at 450 horsepower! This was the highest factory rated horsepower number of the muscle car era and it was offered in 1970 Chevelles. LS6 grunt was provided by 4-bolt mains, forged crank, rods and pistons along with solid lifters. Rectangular port heads with bigger valves and an aluminum low-rise intake with a Holley 4 barrel carb allowed the big block to drink gallons of hi-po, go-go juice. The LS6 was a high compression, 11.25-to-1 ratio. Total production numbers for LS6 Chevelles in 1970 are 4,475.

Looks like the 1970 Chevelle 454SS is ready to launch but first it needs an engine.

Options, by the numbers
  Gary’s car is one-of-299 LS5 Chevelles built in Canada. The trim tag reflects the Chevelle being a Z15 M22 (SS 454, 4-speed) and it was originally sold on Long Island and remained in local hands since new. Can you imagine what it felt like to drive out of the dealership shifting the Muncie, 4-speed transmission, feeling the torque of the 454 and gazing across the cowl induction hood? I can see the 5,500 RPM redline spooling up on the tach as the 12-bolt rear end housing 3.31 gears unleashed the horsepower to the pavement on every shift.   

1970 Chevelle LS5 engines were rated at 360 horsepower.

The never ending hunt
  Gary is a true wheeler-dealer, who lives a junkyard life. He doesn’t rub elbows with celebrities at made-for-tv, mega buck, car auctions. He finds classic muscle cars on the cheap and makes it look easy. Gary also found a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro, 1969 Mustang Mach 1 and a 1972 Pontiac GTO. We’ve learned that digging up barn find bargains is an art form for fearless, savvy shoppers who know their way around a wrench. Gary offers some encouragement for you to get out there and find a deal on your dream car.
  "I found a real SS 454," said Gary. "This just goes to show you that there are plenty of desirable muscle cars still out there." 
  Gary’s encouraging words come with a caveat about exploring Long Island, New York. "If there is an old muscle car sitting in my neck of the woods, I already know about it and probably have tried to buy it."

– Jody Potter,

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Cowl trim tag reveals the ’70 Chevelle's (Z15) SS454 engine and (M22) Muncie transmission options.

1970 Chevelle SS's door panels and bench seat are covered in Antique Medium Saddle.

Rust is evident on the rockers and quarter panels of the ’70 SS454.

Gary says that most Long Island muscle cars that live outside have already rotted into the ground.

SS454 emblems were the calling card of many street racers.

The cleaned-up and re-bumpered 1970 Chevelle sits at Gary's house.

60,000 miles showing on the Chevelle’s odometer. How many times around the clock are just a guess.

Red on tan interior color combo is a departure from the usual black guts found inside many 1970 Chevelles.

Vintage 1990-era photo of the 1970 Chevelle SS454 from the previous owner.

Another 1990 photo of the 1970 Chevelle SS454. Not long before it was parked for 20+ years.

Production numbers for Z15, 454SS Chevelles in 1970

LS5 454 (360 HP) — 4,298 total

  • 2,763 — Manual transmission
  • 2,197 — Automatic TH-400 

LS6 454 (450 HP) — 4,475 total

  • 3,525 — Manual transmission
  • 2,923 — Automatic TH-400 

8,773 — Total Chevelles built in 1970 with Z15 option 454 engine (LS5, LS6)

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hot Rods in the Holy Land: American muscle cars find fans in Israel, used parts needed

Don't be surprised to find a Pontiac on your pilgrimage. Dozens of V8-powered, American muscle cars, from immaculate show stoppers to the project variety, can be found on the streets and dirt roads of Israel. I found out about the abundance of hot rods in the Middle East from my new junkyardlife facebook friend, Transam Ali
  Ali, a 30-year old, from Northern Israel, was in need of some parts for his yellow, 1974 Trans Am project car (shown above). Finding good, used parts more than six thousand miles from Detroit, Michigan, the birthplace of the American muscle car, has been a challenge. Fortunately, for us, Ali provided a glimpse into the world of muscle cars in the Middle East.     

Ali's 1974 Pontiac Trans Am project car rides a rollback wrecker in Israel.

Message from the Middle East 
  It started as a simple question about car parts. "Can you sell me two doors and a bumper for a 1971 Pontiac Trans Am?" No biggie, I thought. I get request for cars and parts everyday. But, this request ended with, "Can you ship to Israel?" 
  Wait a minute! Really? Some guy in Israel is planning on driving to Tel Aviv in a T/A? Revving up a big bird Trans Am in Jerusalem? I had to know more. 
  I responded to his request with my usual answer, "I wish I could help but I’m a writer/car nut on a shoestring budget with little time to find rare parts for myself." Then I pestered him with questions about his vintage cars. I wanted dozens of details about why and how he and his fellow Israelis started driving American muscle cars. 
  Ali opened my eyes to a group of like-minded gear heads living in the birthplace of civilization. These guys relish old school, hot rod performance and burn rubber on some of the oldest, inhabited land on earth. Ali sent junkyardlife a ton of photos, including some of his black ’78 Trans Am. A car he restored and has driven throughout Israel for ten years. 

Transam Ali takes his T/A to car shows in Israel.

Transam Ali's ’78 Pontiac at Akko (or Acre), on Haifa Bay in Northern Israel.

Chasing dream cars and parts
  Burt Reynolds thought getting parts for his black 1977 Pontiac Trans Am would never be a problem. If ol’ Burt lived in the Middle East, and I don’t mean Texarkana, Texas, even he would have a hard time finding parts. 
  Ali lives in the "real" Middle East, the one that borders the Mediterranean Sea. For Ali, finding usable parts is difficult. Ali and his friends travel the back roads, kicking up dirt, looking for vintage cars and parts. They have discovered a few basket case project Trans Ams and Firebirds throughout Israel, but most of those cars are too far gone. Ali must rely on connections he makes at Israeli car shows and finding parts on eBay. Judging by the job this hard-working hot rodder has done on his 1978 Trans Am, it won't be long before Ali is turning heads on the streets of Israel in his restored 1974 Trans Am.

— Jody Potter,

Know of a car or a junkyard I need to visit or want to send me photos and info about a barn find, car or junkyard? I welcome images from around the world.  
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Rusted-out second generation Trans Ams can be found in Israel.

Is Israel the place to look for a Buccaneer Red 1973 Super Duty Trans Am?

Ali's 1978 Trans Am has custom wheels and side exhaust.

Black Trans Ams look good in Israel, Indonesia and Iowa.

Ali has driven his 1978 T/A for the last 10 years.

Israeli police check out Ali's 1978 Trans Am.

Ford Mustangs can also be found at car shows in Israel.

Dozens of vintage American muscle cars have found a home in Israel. 1968 Pontiac GTO, 1968 Mercury Cougar, 1979 Pontiac Trans Am.

Ali's friends in Israel have vintage Firebirds too.

A pair of 1979 Trans Ams, SE and Tenth Anniversary models, make Israel home now.

Looks like an Israeli junkyard has good some parts.

Have all the 1970-1973 Trans Ams been shipped out of the U.S.?

This beat-up 1978 Firebird waits for restoration in the Middle East.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Beware of craigslist! You may find your dream car or a 1973 Pontiac Grand Am for sale

1973 Pontiac Grand Am bites new owner online. The Junkyard Life Colonnade Coupe score card could read: Anthony-1, Jody-0, Ron-0. Fellow Junkyard Life Galoot Anthony has scored one of our dream cars via craigslist. A 1973 Pontiac Grand Am. Actually, the three of us happened upon this car on a past Junkyard Life adventure about two years ago. This unique Pontiac changed hands a couple of times since then, despite being right in the same spot that we found it. Anthony landed the Grand Am when he least expected and needed it. He already has several project cars to deal with, but that's what happens when you feed your craigslist habit by looking for your dream car online every day. 
  So, what is this future fun mobile? First, let’s get a little history on Grand Am itself.

1973 Pontiac Grand Ams featured a host of gauges, Custom Sport steering wheel and a stalk-operated headlight dimmer control.

1973 Grand Am facts
  The Pontiac Grand Am was introduced in 1973 to make its mark in the dark years of American car performance. These Colonnade models, otherwise known as GM's A-Body or mid-size cars (built between 1973-1977), featured dramatically different styling from the 1972 A-Bodies. Design revisions for 1973 included the elimination of pillarless hardtops due to proposed federal rollover standards. These beefier-bodied A-Bodies were a bit heavier and slower due to new government pollution and safety regulations. Also, if you add in the rising price of fuel and insurance costs, you can see why Grand Am's didn’t exactly fly off the dealer's lots. Only 43,136 Grand Ams were built for the ’73 model year. 
  Pontiac put the Grand Am on temporary hiatus after three years of production (1973, 1974, 1975). In 1977, the LeMans-based Can Am model featured a tribute to the Colonnade-based Grand Am — louvered side windows. The Grand Am nameplate returned in 1978 on the downsized, G-Body platform. Unfortunately, the sexy shell of the 1973 Grand Am design was replaced by the boxy sculpture of the next generation Pontiacs.

Flowing curves extend from the 1973 Grand Am's painted urethane nose all the way to the rear bumper. Need more trunk space? Not if I have to sacrifice style!

Nose job
  The Grand Am was all about style even though they were offered in both two and four-door models. All featured a beak-like, flexible, urethane nose perched atop the body-colored front bumper. Unfortunately, Anthony's Grand Am is missing the nose, its most distinctive styling element. Not to worry, fiberglass replacements can be had for under $800. I believe that is a bit more than Anthony paid for the car! 

Anthony's Grand Am needs a restoration, but at least it was rescued before the crusher got it.

Pontiacs aplenty
  It was a challenge for Pontiac and their sister companies to build exciting, performance cars without the performance under the hood. Pontiac's designers and engineers made the most out of what they had to work with. They developed and marketed the Grand Am as an American car with European flavor. 
  Pontiac loved to name their cars after exotic automobile races. That sounds like the case here, but the Grand Am race didn’t exist until years later. Could Pontiac have had a crystal ball? I've also read that Pontiac took the luxury-implying “Grand” name from the Grand Prix and “Am” from the performance-oriented Trans Am. Bam! A new car model that also happens to be a future race. Perfect.

Strato bucket seats with lumbar adjustment were standard in the 1973 Grand Am.

Fred CarSpender has choices
  Keep in mind that Pontiac alone had three entries into that mid-size market at the time. The LeMans, The Grand Prix and the Grand Am. Four, if you count the 1973 GTO as its own model. Imagine trying to sell the corporate bean counters that they too, needed three (or four) models on a 112-inch wheelbase (116-inch wheelbase for four door models) platform, when all the other divisions had several models already cooking. How specific could each demographic be? How could Fred CarSpender ever narrow it down to pick one? Imagine selling them on the production costs of parts specific to each one. These days, that would lead to the cleaning out of one’s desk and a security escort to the front gate.

Ron Kidd guides the ’73 Grand Am off the trailer. Anthony Powell, right, works the wench on the trailer.

Closer look
  A brief stroll through Craigslist caused Anthony to stumble onto a car that he had to buySo, what does Anthony have here? A great, restorable example of a moderately optioned Grand Am in Starlight Black, that’s what! Standard on the Grand Am were a lot of cool toys. 
  A quick inventory of this car went well. A 400 C.I.D Pontiac mill with a four-barrel carburetor for power. Strato bucket seats, which recline and have adjustable lumbar support. A center console and Rally gauges to look at as you grip the Custom Sport steering wheel. Front and rear sway bars and 15-inch Pontiac Rally II wheels, which will make riding a downright pleasure in this Pontiac. 
  Anthony's Grand Am is an odd combination of "haves" and "have nots." It has cruise control, but no tilt wheel. It has power windows, but manual door locks. There are only a few obvious options this car doesn’t have. A tachometer and a sunroof are missing. The obvious thing it doesn’t have, and we are so glad of it, is the vinyl top. That’s why the car is still here today after all those years in the weather. That evil option is responsible for so many deaths of otherwise solid cars that were eaten alive by rust. Not in this case. A "thank you" goes to whomever was responsible for not ordering it on this car.

Anthony, left, and Ron, right, unload the ’73 Grand Am.

Another rescued
  Anthony grabs a Grand Am but Jody and I are not left out entirely in the cold. Him having it, is just like us having it. Hopefully, it will be on the road soon for us all to enjoy. One day I will have my 1974 Pontiac Grand Prix SJ and Jody will have his dream 1973 Pontiac GTO. But, in the mean time, we will all have the satisfaction that we rescued a very cool car.

Happy Hunting!

Ron Kidd 
- junkyardlife

Know of a junkyard I need to visit or want to send me photos and info about a car or junkyard?  Send emails to Ron at or Jody at

1973 Grand Ams featured plenty of eye candy in the instrument cluster.

Ron steers and wonders why Anthony didn’t buy a 1973 Grand Am with an engine installed in the car.

How many Starlight Black 1973 Pontiac Grand Ams do you own?

This ’73 Grand Am was originally equipped with a 400- cu. inch engine and automatic transmission.

Colonnade Grand Ams were designed to meet tougher government rollover standards. Sometimes we wish we had a rollback wrecker. 

The sun sets on the day we rescued a 1973 Pontiac Grand Am.

Production totals for 1973-1975 Pontiac Grand Am
  Changes for each model year

1973 - 43,136 Grand Ams built
  • Urethane nose featured 6 grill opening.

1974 - 17,083
 Grand Ams built
  • Redesigned nose and grill with 12 openings with small horizontal bars inside each opening. 
  • The rear end styling was redesigned for the 5-mph crash standards 
  • Vertical rear taillights. 

1975 - 10,679
 Grand Ams built
  • Body-colored rear bumper
  • Louvered rear quarter windows were standard on Grand Am coupes, while a formal rear quarter window was a no-cost option.

Know of a junkyard I need to visit or want to send me photos and info about a car or junkyard?  Send emails to Ron at or Jody at

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Dad's 1963 MGB returns home, restored again

Charles Haynes' father ordered this Iris Blue 1963 MGB after seeing one just like it in a sales brochure.

The prodigal 1963 MGB. A son restores, then sells a classic, 25-year-old MG that belonged to his father since it was new. Twenty years later, the son, Charlie Haynes of Guntersville, Alabama rediscovered the 1963 MGB, 
that his dad bought, in a Hemmings Motor News ad. As fate would have it, the Iris Blue MGB caught Haynes’ eye just like it caught his dad's eye during his mid-life crisis.
  Charlie's story follows, in his own words.

Charlie Haynes' dad, Charles, washes his "mid-life crisis" 1963 MGB.

My Dad's MG  
  This story begins with my wife's recovery from what we thought to be a life-threatening illness. To celebrate her first day out of bed, I suggested an afternoon outing in nearby Huntsville, Alabama. She could shop at her pace while I amused myself at a bookstore until she returned. I ordered a coffee and found a table. As usual, I scanned the flying and motorcycle magazines, and then looked over the magazine rack for other entertainment. Staring back at me was a Hemmings Motor News. Although a faithful reader of Hemmings many years ago, I hadn't even looked at one for at least 5 years.
  I went straight to the MG section to find out what MGBs were selling for these days. While doing so, I saw the following want ad:

"... Iris Blue 1963 MGB roadster, second owner, restored by first owner, 82,000 original miles, complete books and records. Call ... in Atlanta."
Could it be?
  Well, I remembered selling a 1963 Iris Blue MGB roadster to a fella from Atlanta in 1988. Could this be him? My wife returned shortly afterward and I told her about it. She suggested I call "because she had never forgiven me for selling the car and thought we should get it back." In reality, I didn't want to sell it at the time either, but I was finishing an experimental aircraft that needed an engine and one used Lycoming aircraft engine at the time equaled one 1963 MGB roadster in immaculate condition.

  I called the Atlanta telephone number and a familiar voice answered. Don had been trying to find me to see if I wanted to repurchase the car. I had moved, though, and all my old telephone numbers were useless to him. He said that he had retired and was getting out of the car collecting business. He had sold all his collection except the MGB. To be honest, I had called only out of curiosity and really didn't want the car again as I had "moved on" from hobby cars since 2004 and had even sold my airplane in 2005 after 16 years of reliable service. The longer we talked, however, the more reasonable the price became. To make things even more interesting, my Dad began to talk to me ...

Mid-life crisis

  I was in graduate school at Penn State in 1963 (a long story in itself for an Alabama boy) when my father had a mid-life crisis. He called to say that he had bought a new MGB without even looking at one in the flesh, only seeing a sales brochure with a pretty blue roadster on it. He had ordered the one in the brochure. Since I was about 1,000 miles away, he figured that I wouldn't be back to wreck it for him. He did, however, drive it to Pennsylvania for a visit, and later to west Texas after I had begun a petroleum engineering career out there. My dad commuted in the MG to his truck driving job at the steel mill for several years, obviously posing a strange sight in a "Buy American" work locale.

  In the late 1960s I was between jobs so I interrupted my career to get a PhD at the University of Texas and then joined the engineering faculty at The University of Alabama. One day in 1975 Dad called and said that the MG was available but needed some work. He had the "hots" for a Ford F-150 pickup and was out of garage space so the MG had to go. Having only one car at the time, my wife and I were only too happy to get it even though it had seen better days. I did some basic repair to make it safe for daily use, put a cheap paint job on it, recovered the seats, and used it as a second car for several years. In the early 1980s I decided to rebuild it, so that started a 3-year ground-up restoration project. By 1985 I had an as-new MGB. I then turned to the construction of an experimental aircraft and by 1988 it had progressed to the point where an engine was needed if it was to be finished and flown. What could I use to fund the engine? An ad in a car magazine was hastily placed:

"1963 MGB roadster. Iris Blue. Family owned since new. Ground-up restoration in 1982-85. As-new condition. Call for details."

New owner flies in

  The prospective new owner flew in on a commercial aircraft, walked across the airport to my hangar, looked the car over, gave me a check, dropped the top, and drove it back to Atlanta. He made the trip OK, though I feared that the MG might not make it to its new home without a tow truck. I called about 4 hours later to see if he made an uneventful trip. He said it was one of the best he could remember. We kept in touch into the 1990s but lost contact in 1995 after I wrote him asking for first dibs, if he decided to sell it. Meanwhile, I wanted another MGB and scratched the itch by restoring a 1971 roadster for its owner, a 1976 roadster that I cosmetically restored and sold, and rebuilt a basket-case 1964 Tartan Red roadster that was probably my best work. I sold it in 2004 during a toy-clearing episode before moving to our new retirement home.

Haynes' 1963 MGB underwent a second restoration when it returned to the family in 2008. 

Back to the present time ...  
  My wife and I, now into our 40th year together, took a tow dolly to Atlanta, got the MG, and headed home to Guntersville. It was in remarkable condition considering that it was now 45 years old. Each time we stopped for gas or goodies, some fellow, of my vintage would walk up, examine the car, comment on its fine condition, and mention that he longed for the "good 'ol days" when he was young and had an MGB. I too had aged a lot over the MG's life but it looked perpetually young.

  As I drove it around town over the next few months, several small things were put on the to-do list. It still looked young but had a few aging problems. Finally there were enough of them on the list that another teardown would be necessary. I started this round of rebuilding in December. This time, work is confined to the inside of the car, with removal of everything possible in the interior, including the instrument panel, all instruments, cables, wiring harness, heater, firewall accessories, all hydraulics, chassis alignment, and renewal of anything that is soft and worn. The floorboards are being resealed as well, still original and still without rust holes. The project is now completed, although it really never is ... The old reliables, Moss Motors and Victoria British, are still in business so good reproduction parts were available. The e-Bay store, unknown at the time of the last restoration, is rife with MGB parts new and used. We entered it in a local car show in August and won 2nd place, so it has reached the good balance of being a daily driver as well as a show car.

  Is dad talking to me about all of this? Is he enjoying the strangeness of it all? Can't really say. I'm not superstitious by nature, but sometimes in the evening when the workshop is very quiet I can look at his smiling caricature on the wall and almost hear him. He has been gone since October 30, 2000. I decided to drop by the nursing home around six that evening to look in on him and had a strange feeling that he was in the process of leaving us. At 10 p.m. they called me to confirm it.

"I'm sure he is amused"

  Dad was a very religious man. If he was able to claim his "heavenly reward" and is capable of celestial observation, including the ability to see through earth's supposedly dirty atmosphere, I'm sure he is amused by my seemingly perpetual MG maintenance. He would have enjoyed this strange turn of events. Sorry it didn't happen while he was with us.
  Dad, this may be my last time around on MGB restoration, so what do you think about this ad ...
"1963 MGB roadster. Iris Blue with matching original-style interior and tops. Everything works. Owned by my family for 26 years and by others for 20 years, but loved and maintained by both. Restored in 1982-85 and 2008-09. Should last a hundred years or more given proper care. Call ... "

Story submitted by Charlie Haynes; Guntersville, Alabama

Know of a car or a junkyard I need to visit or want to send me photos and info about a barn find, car or junkyard?  
Send emails to Jody Potter at