Sunday, December 29, 2019

Cars in Yards: Grandma's 1972 Chevy Caprice big block, 4-door hardtop

Grill view of rusty 1972 Caprice

Big Block Grandma Car. Often we dream of coming across that elusive automotive unicorn. You know the one. Seems like every town has an urban legend about an awesome, big block-powered, grandmother car still in the hands of the original family simply because the head matriarch grew too old to drive it. We've heard that one too. Now we have proof that such a car exists! We were passing through a small industrial town on our way home from Tennessee when some locals at a gas station provided a tip (or myth?) that led to such a treasure. Putting on my famous Junkyard Life press hat* we followed the leads. And that rumor proved to be true when discovering this awesome 1972 Chevrolet Caprice four-door hardtop with a 402 engine waiting for us under the hood. Big Block power!

1972 Caprice still owned by original owner's family. Big block, 4-door hardtop.

Two Grannies!
Only a slight twist to this story of a grandmother buying a car and eventually having to relinquish the driving to someone else. This Caprice was owned by BOTH grandmothers of the current owner. That's right! One grandmother, on the mother’s side sold the Caprice to a grandmother on the father’s side somewhere along the way.

We had questions. For starters, who inspired Granny #1 to buy such a well-optioned Chevrolet with the (almost) biggest engine one could have in 1972? Was this Grandmother like the one Jan and Dean told us about? Did she want the 402 big block with dual exhaust or was it optioned on the car when she first saw it? Would the other engines just not do?

Original Dusk Gray paint is a memory. 

Well, the answer was very simple. This was a former Cadillac owner that had very high standards. This Caprice had power windows and a power seat. That alone would not do it. Deluxe cloth interior and a huge engine was what it would take to satisfy a Cadillac customer that would very gladly drive a little further for a luxurious automobile. Chevrolet better pony up if they wanted her business. This Caprice finished in Dusk Gray (code 18) with a vinyl top won the sale and several years later, our hearts. Go, Granny, go!

Deluxe cloth interior, power seat, power locks, A/C.

Low miles
"See the USA in Your Chevrolet" was the Chevy marketing slogan at the time. In this case, not much of the USA was covered by granny. The slogan should have been:
See Church, the Grocery Store, Bridge Club and Menial Errands in Your Chevrolet” **
That would have been a better advertising campaign in this case. The Caprice was very local, which was a good thing with an engine that large. Seeing the USA would cost a fortune at 10-12 MPG. The 48-year-old Caprice has 87k miles. 

Under hood engine decal proclaims "402 CU. IN. 4BBL CARB."

"400" emblem mounted to aluminum trip on Caprice fender.

Show me yours

So it was true. The car was real. The story was great. The family is still in possession of this really interesting car. Now we need to know your legends and want to learn the story behind them. If you think there is an element of truth to the local legends that you've heard about in your town, let us know! Junkyard Life loves to find them and remind each other to cherish them.

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life: The Story Beneath the Rust

Power window switches signal luxury in 1972.

Power seat in a big block ’72 Caprice.

Caprice Fun Facts:
  • In 1970, Chevrolet offered a color on the Caprice called Shadow Gray. It was Code 17. Previous, there was not a gray hue listed in the vast array of color Chevrolet offered.
  • The 396 big block received a factory overbore in 1970, thus making it into the 402. 
  • They never made a 402 emblem (that we know of) so when you see a Caprice with a 400 emblem on the lower fender…surprise! It could be the small block 400 or the big block 402.
  • The four door hard-top with no dividing post was still considered the lap of luxury by 1972. Despite that, buyers knew that as cool as it was to have all four windows disappear when rolled down, eventually they would be plagued with the famous whistle sound as the car reached highway speeds.
  • The Caprice was offered with a factory dual exhaust system. 
  • The Cadillac owner was the target audience for the Caprice. The Chevrolet had a much better sticker price and some car magazines of the day actually preferred the Caprice. The one compared to the Caddy had a 454. 

Editor’s Notes:
*This is Ron’s last warning about that ridiculous 1940’s newspaper reporter hat. “Press”? Really?

** “See Church, the Grocery Store, Bridge Club and Menial Errands in Your Chevrolet” is why Ron got fired from the automotive ad agency. Chevrolet may still have a restraining order. 

A/C hoses cross the front of big block 402 engine.

Detail of Dusk Gray paint in door jamb.

Toasty fender on bottom edge of driver's side.

Parked for decades in the dirt, the metal under hood has felt the wrath of moisture damage from the ground.

Caprice emblem adorns rusty decklid.

The shape of big Chevys in 1972 rusting in peace.

Thrifty man's Cadillac? - a loaded 1972 Caprice.

Buried up to the hubcap. This Caprice hasn't moved in years.

Deluxe cloth seats with small headrests.

Lighter, fake wood, AM/FM. Perfect.

1972 Caprice hood ornament is a beauty in silver and gold. Silver Fleur de lis on a gold shield.

Got a great car story? We want to know it. Send us details! Send emails to Jody Potter at and Ron Kidd at

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

G-Body Dreams: 1988 Monte Carlo SS

A cautionary tale of a young car enthusiast and lost love. The young car enthusiast was me (Ron Kidd). The year was 1994. The car was a 1988 Monte Carlo Super Sport. It was silver with black stripes and it caught my eye at a dealership in north Alabama. I was working as a parts delivery driver and I spotted the car a few times grazing on a lot of average modes of transportation. The SS was the oldest car there. So one day I stopped. It seemed like it was meant to be. My horoscope* even read, “Sagittarius: Ron Kidd, yes, you. Buy this beautiful silver Super Sport Monte Carlo today!” But at the time, the horoscope was too vague.

The stars aligned! 
  There was something different about this particular car. Was it in great shape? Yes, but that wasn’t the hook. It was a little different from other Super Sport Monte Carlos I had seen on GM's famous G-Body platform offered from 1983-1988. This one had the distinctive front fascia. It had the expected rear spoiler. It had the aluminum alloy wheels that looked perfect on the Monte Carlo. It had the full array of gauges including the tachometer that we love so much. This SS benefited from a prior owner taking excellent care plus it was a low-mile example. 
  This is so happening even without the hook.

The one I fell in love with was CFF3 Maroon.
My famed bench seat and column shifter! This one was in Code CQQ3 Gray. The one I fell in love with was CFF3 Maroon.

What could be so different?
  Silver paint was a common color for the Monte Carlo SS and black stripes were a natural compliment to that exterior. This one had the stripes around the middle of the car BUT it had tiny “SS” decal lettering. They were subtle and not very noticeable from a distance. The letters were incorporated in the stripes making them far less distinguished from the bold Super Sport decals common to most. This sleeper also had they key ingredient that made the SS competitive on the street. Despite only having 305 V8 power, the Super Sport Montes also had a massive 3:73 rear gear that gave it a lot of unsuspected push.

Is that all? We need more.
  Here is the thing I loved most… the car had a power, bench seat and a column shifter! I have since learned that 1988 was the easiest year to find such a combo. The maroon, cloth interior flowed in harmony with the exterior. I know Chevrolet and GM did that a lot with those colors, but this was the first time I had been struck by their beauty. I wanted that car. Yes! I will take it.

My dream Monte Carlo SS had these same wheels. I always thought GM did a great job of picking wheel and tire combinations over the years with very few exceptions. This one is perfect.
The code PD7 aluminum alloy wheels. My Waterloo had these same wheels. I always thought GM did a great job of picking wheel and tire combinations over the years with very few exceptions. This one is perfect.

If you don’t buy your Monte Carlo SS someone else will
  And so they did. I went home to Birmingham and spoke with credit unions and all my other possible financial options. I spoke with my best friend, who had a beautiful black 1986 model. I communicated with everyone necessary to buy this car – except the people actually selling the car. When I went back to buy the Super Sport on a Saturday, yes, it was gone. 

The one that got away
  We all have them. The car we never owned that we would have/should have bought. This is mine. I still look for the bench seat and column shifter combination to this day when I run across one. Recently, Junkyard Life staffer Keith Lively and I were doing a photo shoot when we ran across the one used in the photos with this story. When I saw that it was in my color with a bench seat, the memories came back. 
  “Didn’t you lose one of these?,” said Keith.
  I immediately checked the trunk lid and bumper for the remains of a ‘Kilpatrick Chevrolet - Boaz, Alabama’ emblem. There was not one. It is not professional to end a story with a sad face emoticon. ** If I could I would place one here but my editor won't do it.

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life: The Story Beneath the Rust

*Editor’s Note: We should add a disclaimer about using horoscopes for information about buying a car, but I feel like Ron may have made that part up. 

**Editor’s Note: Never before have we mentioned “sad face emoticon” in a Junkyard Life article. Instead of disciplining Ron for unconventional methods of journalism, we are actually impressed that he knows what an emoticon is. He usually lives in technology denial.

The bold and confident lettering you usually find. My lost love had a small “SS” decal incorporated into the stripes and a tiny “SS” on the rear deck lid.

This Monte Carlo SS front end is timeless. Classy and powerful – in the 1980s and now.

Chevy targeted NASCAR fans with "Unwind after the Race" tagline on their advertising.
Chevy targeted NASCAR fans with "Unwind after the Race" tagline on their advertising.

Special thanks to for a wealth of information and enthusiasm about these special cars.

Did you chase a dream car that got away? Send us details!  Send emails to Jody Potter at and Ron Kidd at

Saturday, December 7, 2019

1975 Pontiac Catalina 2-door with a for sale sign

Found for sale in Mulga, Alabama in front of a tire store.

Goose chase.
Not all wild goose chases result in disappointment. Sometimes they go rather well. When JYL got the call that there was a garage find we might like. It was for sure a mid-1970’s Pontiac. The tipster indicated it may be a Grand Prix. We might be borderline obsessed with Pontiac Grand Prixs. It might be 45 minutes away. Do we chance it? Heck yes, we do!

A tan colored half vinyl top on the 1975 Catalina.
1975 Pontiac Catalina's clean lines and huge quarter panels wrap around to the squared off tail lights.

Holy Mother Goose 
  Armed with some vague directions and a few landmarks, this tip turned out to be very true. It was a 1975 Pontiac Catalina! Oh, what a Catalina it was too. It was a beautiful car that was well taken care of since new. The original owner’s wife decided it was time to go to other hands.

New Goose 
  During the fall of 1974, the new 1975 full-size line-up was proudly displayed at Brownell Pontiac in Birmingham, Alabama. In that row of Bonnevilles, Safaris, Grand Ams and Grand Prixs sat Emma Goose – this beautiful Catalina.

The saddle interior looks new. No cracks, splits, tears. Signs of a low-mile garage queen.

Emma Goose
  So what is Emma Goose exactly? She is a 1975 Pontiac Catalina in Oxford Brown with Saddle interior. She is propelled by an appropriate Pontiac 350 and the expected automatic transmission. Emma Goose was moderately optioned, saving money on certain features and a little spendy on others. A bench seat covered in the previously mentioned code 63V Saddle interior-one of the most beautiful colors they could have matched with the regal Oxford Brown (Code 59) exterior. A trivial fun fact is that Oxford Brown was not shown on most factory sales literature. Why? Because in 1975 it was ONLY on the Catalina! Making Emma a rare goose indeed.

Radial Tuned Suspension emblem is mounted above the radio.
AM/FM 8-track stereo serves up the tunes in the 1975 Pontiac Catalina. Note the Radial Tuned Suspension emblem mounted above the radio.

Counting on Emma

  How many options can you spot? We spotted the Cordova vinyl top and the Rally II wheels – those were not free. We also noticed the air conditioning. Don’t think for a second that we missed the AM/FM stereo with the optional 8-track tape player! Emma rocks! She even had the famous RTS badge (Radial Tuned Suspension) on the dash.
  This Catalina presented itself so well that we really didn’t miss the options not checked. Not present were power windows, cruise control, power seats, extra-cost material called Morrokide or even a 4-barrel carburetor. We didn’t care. We loved this car.

  So Catalina fans, what did we miss? A low-mile, garage find, straight from the original owner in preserved condition. This car was amazing enough. Our goose was cooked! We were feeling lucky just to be near it. Junkyard Life sincerely hopes this incredible Pontiac finds a great new home to keep up the preservation and the life it deserves. How great is it to be reassured that these treasures are still out there? We would say…very!

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life: The Story Beneath the Rust

A grandma-fresh garage find.
$7,000 on the sign in window. This pristine brown beauty was found in Mulga, Alabama in front of a tire store.

Catalina Disclaimers and Fun Facts

  • The name “Catalina” first appeared on Pontiac’s top of the line Chieftain series in 1950. The most expensive in the 1950 Pontiac line was a Catalina.
  • By 1959 property values went down considerably and the name remained on the entry level, lower optioned, lower price cars. A demotion that never affected Pontiac loyalty. Buyers loved the name Catalina, despite the fact it was now the least expensive in that line of Pontiacs.
  • Some sources say Catalina is Spanish for the name Catherine.
  • Other sources claim the word “catalina” is a Greek word meaning pure. This makes sense for the base model association.
  • Some indicate “catalina” is a type of balance wheel, named for St. Catherine whom had a dire experience with such a wheel.
  • Junkyard Life writer Ron Kidd was sure a Catalina was a commercial fishing boat. He will still try to tell you that it is. Other staff members thought it was named after Catalina Island. (Discalimer: We don’t really know.)

This Pontiac Catalina is one-of-40,657 2-door hardtops built for ’75 model year. 

Brownell Pontiac dealer emblem on trunk lid.

100 mph speedometer in the round gauge that sits next to clock on dash.

66,359 miles on odometer of ’75 Pontiac Catalina.

Six distinct grille elements mimic the six outline shapes on the tail lights. Design details that add bonus points for the discriminating collector.

Style, class and determination. The face on this Pontiac Catalina captivates.

Rallys II wheels and white wall tires on the 1975 Pontiac Catalina. Radials beacame standard equipment in 1975.

Large quarter windows keep blind spots away when merging in the big Poncho.

Under hood shot of the all original engine.
A Pontiac 350 engine powers the 1975 Catalina.

Manual window cranks for the passenger in the ’75 Catalina.

The Catalina could fool people into thinking this was a time machine. One loaded with options like air, AM/FM stereo with 8-track.

Got a classic car in your driveway? Send us details!  Send emails to Jody Potter at and Ron Kidd at

Sunday, November 10, 2019

1979 Pontiac Trans Am Rescue

A bird in the hand is way better! Have you considered that our treasured dream cars are rapidly becoming endangered species? Cars we could have bought even 20 years ago in decent shape are disappearing. Junkyard Life speaks to a high number of enthusiast with reverse buyer’s remorse… 
  “Why didn’t I buy a Trans Am 20 years ago?
  Combine that thought with modern sticker shock. We are paying more for whatever is left of whatever Pontiac carcass we can find. Rust waits for no one, especially us. The combination of the effects of time and rising prices due to glamorized auctions geared toward very deep pockets have taken these cars out of the hands of most of us.

New owner, Carl Brownbridge, holds the keys to a rough but worthy one-owner 1979 Pontiac Trans Am.

Well, meet our new best friend Carl Brownbridge. This 19-year-old is somehow immune to the powerful effects of physics and economics. He did it! He set out to find a late 1970s Pontiac Trans Am (in good shape) and he made it happen. Tenacity paid off rather quickly when he set his search on Bird Watch 2019. 

Check out what he found and all the reasons we have to be jealous. A 1979 Pontiac Trans Am 301 Hardtop in (kind of) a rare color with a very rich history! Can you believe Carl is only the second owner? At his age? Owner number two of a 1979 TA? With full documentation and a new lease on life, Carl let us take a closer look.  

Silver paint, worn thin, gave way to surface rust on the top of the T/A.

Dig in!
After we exchanged pleasantries with this disco Bird, we got to know it a little better. We actually became very acquainted when Carl let us disassemble the back seat in our quest for the factory build sheet. Sometimes referred to as “the body broadcast sheet”-this coveted piece of paper went down the assembly line with the car as it morphed into the finished product that a lucky owner was to soon be cruising in. We found it hiding in the usual location for most GM F-bodies. Behind the back seat in the upright section. 
  “Carl, I have some good news for you.” 
  I confirmed the build sheet was still in place for the excited new owner.

Factory build sheet still tucked behind back seat of the 1979 Pontiac Trans Am.

What the build sheet could not tell us
The story the build sheet could not tell us was that the original owner got this Pontiac brand new for his 16th birthday! What a present that must have been! Can you imagine? It really did mean something to him, because he kept the car until very recently selling it to Carl. We also found an inscription from 1979 on a keep sake under the back seat. 

Engraved memento found under back seat of 1979 T/A.
It reads "Michael 9-6-79."

What did the build sheet tell us?
This Bird was delivered to Brownell Pontiac in Birmingham, Alabama in paint code 15 Platinum. Intended to be more of a long term car than a rumbling street fighter, this Bird served duty with a 301 4-bbl Pontiac motor. This was a new power plant for 1979, allowing a third engine option for the sporty Trans Am. When equipped with a 2:73 rear gear, this car would move it down the road and not max out the gas card.    

301-V8 under the shaker on the 1979 T/A.

No tunes
According to the grail, this Pontiac was ordered with no radio whatsoever.
That in itself is not too unusual. Dealers and customers didn’t mind this so much because they intended to rock their own systems provided by the aftermarket. What usually happened in cases such as this, most cars were equipped with a provision to easily install such melody makers as the dealer or customer saw fit. This car was not. They were like Patty LaBelle when it came to wiring up the driving music — own their own. 

Unmistakable second gen Trans Am instrument cluster.

How was it optioned?
Like most cars randomly put together by Pontiac, moderately. Tilt wheel, but no cruise. It has the deluxe lighting option that shines a light on the floor, the trunk and the console. However, it doesn’t have the deluxe map light. It came with standard black vinyl interior that looks really great against the silver. It had a positive traction rear differential (G80) as most Trans Ams of that era came with. 

1979 brought a restyled nose to the Pontiac Firebird lineup.

Decal option?
The Trans Am currently does not have a hood bird, although it was indeed born with one according to the sacred build sheet. Ah, the build sheet. A cavalcade of information all crammed on one beautiful sheet of paper. Carl’s car was subject to a partial repaint at some point and the graphics were left off. The Bird is mostly straight, despite having suffered some slight side damage somewhere along the way. It has great floor pans and the louvers that we used to hate made us eat our words when we saw the level of protection they provided against the harsh Alabama sun over the years. We are envious of the great condition the interior panels including the dash. Some Carls have all the luck.

The truly great thing we learned on this find is that these cars are still out there. Carl focused and then he found the Bird he wanted. He paid what we would have paid when these cars were more plentiful. His enthusiasm is contagious and we can’t wait to see how this project rewards Carl and gives the silver Bird a new lease on life!

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life: The Story Beneath the Rust

Junkyard Life’s 1979 Trans Am Fun Facts
  • Debut of 301-V8 engine option for the Trans Am.

  • Last year for the 400 W72 Pontiac motor. Interestingly, that motor could only be had with a 4-speed.

  • Nose change in 1979 would be used through 1981.

  • First year for the tail lights to run across the middle of the car, with the middle fuel door hidden in the lights.

  • First year for the bright light switch to be located on the turn signal stalk. Previous to 1979, they were located on the floor.

  • First year for blacked out window trim. Only it was not prepped properly at the factory. The customer drove off the lot with black trim, only to have chrome eight months later.

  • 1979 was an anniversary year for the Trans Am. It was commemorated with the beautiful 10th Anniversary Edition. However, as it was the silver anniversary, most silver Trans Ams around today are anniversary editions. This is what makes Carl’s car so cool. A silver (Code 15 Platinum) non-anniversary Trans Am is seldom seen.

  • By 1979 it was becoming more difficult to special order a Trans Am. Dealers would much rather swap with another dealer to realize your Firebird dreams. Some people report having to put down a significant deposit and then pay a note on a car they didn’t have for several months. “Or we can get you this one today…” 

  • Most 1979 Trans Ams sold were of the 403 automatic persuasion. This would also be the last year for them. Engines only got smaller from there. 

Editors Note: We give credit to Ron for writing this article and not working in the phrase “Bird Delete” just to bug Scott Scheel of ‘Smoke Signals’ magazine. Our good friend Scott and Ron have argued this point for years. Scott says the famous hood bird was an RPO option, therefore there is no such thing as “bird delete.” Ron claims that most Trans Ams had them, and it was easier to get one with a hood bird and a buyer had to go somewhat out of his way to not have one. Plus, Ron says it is just easier to say “bird delete” than it is to describe a Trans Am with all graphics, sans the hood bird. These guys can go on and on...  

15x7 snowflake wheels with original, round, steel center caps.

The big hood covers a lot of real estate in the Trans Am engine bay.

Aftermarket power antenna added in trunk.

Rear seats in superb condition thanks to the louvers shading them.

Black back seat area in nearly new condition.

All the lights work on this 1979 Trans Am. 

Bird-less hood still looks good.

Seat covers hide the original front bucket seats.

Carl cranks up his "new-to-him" 1979 T/A.

Ron Kidd climbs inside the T/A for some seat time.

Aftermarket equalizer installed in the glovebox.

Tunes provided by the aftermarket on this radio-delete T/A.

If a Trans Am is on your bucket list get one soon, the prices are climbing.

Original compact spare still in trunk.

Full length Firebird tail lights were new design for 1979 models.

Got a classic car in your driveway? Send us details!  Send emails to Jody Potter at and Ron Kidd at