Friday, February 23, 2024

The Awesome Story of a Woman, a Long Lost Chevelle and The Ford Guy who Made it Happen

Chris Sanderson surprises his wife, Stephanie, on her birthday. 

Surprise! Stephanie Sanderson is a wife, a mom, a nurse and a Chevelle fan. After marrying into a family well known for being Ford enthusiasts, it didn’t take her long to acquire a very fast and loud Coyote-powered Pony all for herself. It sounds as if she jumped ship and is now waving a blue oval flag. Stephanie appears very happy and content behind the wheel of her Mustang. And she really is. However, something was bothering her.

Stephanie Sanderson looks happy behind the wheel of her new ride.

Mustang Girl Jumps Ship

A certain Chevelle from her past races through her heart and soul every so often. A childhood car that she couldn’t get out of her mind. The Chevy in question was her father’s 1968 SS 396 Chevelle. It was their family car in fact. This red big block meant way more to Stephanie than simply a used car for day to day domestic transportation. Just the meaning behind it alone stood out for her.

You know the next chapter of the story. As years went on, the Chevelle eventually got sold off, traded away or traded in on newer transportation. If we had to guess, perhaps something with a little more room and better fuel economy. The Chevelle lost in time somewhere in Illinois.

A complete 1970 Chevrolet is purchased.

Birthday Chevelle?

As Stephanie's 40th birthday approached (or her tenth anniversary of her 30th birthday?), she had no idea what her Ford-loving husband had in mind. Chris Sanderson set the bar pretty high for the rest of us. He had plans to FIND her father’s actual Chevelle and bring it home once again. Chris is Junkyard Life’s Ford consultant and a very dear friend. When he asked us to help-we were all in!

Editor’s Note: When Chris asked us to help find the Chevelle- Ron thought the answer was to simply build a time continuum vortex and travel back to retrieve the car. We really need to take the TV out of his office.

Our searches fell short. We tried the Illinois Department of Motor Vehicles and various other searches. Nothing. With all of the privacy laws guarding the most basic of information, we emerged un-victorious.  

That may not have been a bad thing. All the while, Chris was subtly gathering information from Stephanie. When doing an image search he learned something…she wanted a 1970 model and not a 1968 like we first thought. Of course she did. The most difficult to find of all Chevrolet’s mid-size line up. Now Junkyard Life is no stranger to the search for a 1970 model. We just did a special birthday Chevelle of the 1970 vintage. Could we do it again? 

It was not actually us. Chris found Stephanie’s future Chevelle through some savvy networking! Call off the dogs, the search is over. A very extensive search. Still, it almost didn’t happen (see Fun Facts below).

Chris Sanderson, center, with his kids, CJ, left, and Shelby, right, bring the Chevelle home.

The 1970 Malibu went into hiding, for some improvements before Stephanie's birthday surprise.

Got and Got it Green

Before Stephanie was born, her future Malibu rolled out of Ed Mollison Chevrolet in Birmingham, Alabama. It was December 24th 1969. A special night to say the least. A Christmas to remember for sure for Mrs. Cherry of Pinson, Alabama. She didn’t know she was getting a new Chevelle in her favorite color, nonetheless. Now most of us don’t expect a gift of this nature. Mrs. Cherry really didn’t see this coming because of one minor detail...she didn’t drive. 

Oh, Mrs. Cherry could drive. She just didn’t. Even with a brand new very cool car at her fingertips. She did take extraordinary care of her new Chevy, hence the miles are still 78K. Years later it was destined once again to be a special gift, first a Christmas surprise and now a milestone birthday present. It now resides about 15 minutes away from where it lived with Mrs. Cherry.

You would think that finding the car would be the hard part. No, not really. Compared to the far more difficult challenge of hiding the car to present to Stephanie on her birthday. You think hiding jewelry is hard? Try disguising a 3,700-pound hunk of steel, glass and rubber. 

We are so excited to be part of this and readers know how we love the history and the story. We also love the codes and deciphering what this beautiful car actually is…it is a 1970 Chevelle Malibu two door hardtop with a 307-V8 engine. The car wins you over with the classy color (code 45 Green Mist) and matching vinyl top. It was no bare bones transportation. It had air conditioning, power steering, power brakes and an AM radio for news and weather. It rolled out on 14-inch rally wheels and was and still is quite the looker from any angle. Though not the 1968 Super Sport from Stephanie's childhood, this 1970 will do nicely. Great find, Chris and happy birthday, Stephanie. We can’t wait to see what he gets her next year. No pressure.

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life: The Story Beneath the Rust

Ron Kidd, left, and Chris Sanderson share a laugh at the Mississippi-Alabama state line. The 1970 Chevelle is on the way to a birthday party.

Work starts on the Chevy surrounded by Fords in driveway at Chris' dad’s house.

Ron Kidd hops in the 1970 Malibu.

Chris' dad Darrell digs in on the birthday project car.

Front end sheetmetal was damaged and needed replacement.

Chris sets up shade to work on the 1970 Malibu.

Some sanding and primer clean up the body.

Holes filled in where vinyl top trim and Malibu body molding clips removed.

Shined up and ready to party!

Rolling to the Party in Mississippi

Mississippi-Alabama state line sign stop.

Chris walks (holds) dog during state line pit stop, Jody holds camera.

Old signs like this, “Mississippi Welcomes You,” example are a hidden treasure on the backroads.

Jody Potter and Ron Kidd guard the Chevelle before the birthday surprise in Mississippi.

Stephanie sees the 1970 Chevelle for the first time

The smile on Stephanie's face says it all.

Chris gets a hug.

Stephanie takes her first voyage in her birthday surprise.

The birthday Chevy wears a 1970 tag.

A new key ring!

Fun Facts, Lies and Near Misses When He Almost Got Caught:

  • Chris and his family have their cell phones GPS monitored so I (Ron) would accompany Chris on the search. When we would get caught in other parts of the state, at odd times, it was readily explained that I was looking at a car and needed his opinion. Often ending with “Whew, that was close!”
  • Once a package arrived at their doorstep clearly marked “1970 Chevelle Hood Hinge.” When questioned, Chris explained, “those are for Ron’s station wagon. I guess the parts interchange.” Stephanie told me later, at the time, she thought “why is Ron having parts shipped here?” 
  • When another suspicious GM package arrived right in front of her, she asked Chris what the part was for. Not expecting to be on the spot, his clever answer was “What do you think it is for?” To which she replied, “I think it is for that ’68 Chevelle you have under the cover in the shop.” A very panicked Chris replied “I don’t have a ’68 Chevelle in the garage under a cover!” That was true. It was a 1970 model. And it was hers. I thought we were caught at this point. I asked Stephanie later and she really didn’t know. She was just teasing him. She really had no idea.
  • Stephanie was dividing her time between Birmingham and family in Mississippi. This allowed Chris his much needed time to work on the Chevelle. One weekend he had big plans for wrenching when she announced she was not going to Mississippi. Chris panicked and said, “No, no! You have to go!” He made sure she did. Later, she confided in a co-worker that she felt Chris was trying to get rid of her on weekends and didn’t know why. 
  • Another time after Chris acquired the 1970 Chevrolet, Stephanie saw a 1968 Chevelle on TV  and declared “That is the one I want!” Chris froze and said, “No! It was a 1970 model…remember? You liked the ’70 better!” Stephanie reminded him that a woman can change her mind anytime. Chris argued “No! Sometimes it is too late to change your mind!” Stephanie had no idea where he was going with that.  
  • We almost didn’t get the car at all. Chris had it all worked out. We were on site with a trailer and money. The entire deal got canceled when the seller thought we insulted the car and asked us to leave the property. Oh, the car was for sale…just not to us. Chris used every ounce of diplomacy he had and got us back on the property. Only now we had to pay full asking price. 
  • The green birthday machine was presented to Stephanie in Mississippi and has since been to Florida’s Cruising The Emerald Coast show and several local cruise-ins. She loves it. So do we at Junkyard Life. That is a fact!
  • Stephanie has the paperwork from the dealer, brochures, user’s manuals and the seldom surviving build sheet! Treasure to us! That actually led us to the original owner’s son.
  • She has plans for a green repaint, updated wheels and more punch under the hood. Stephanie’s Chevelle will have a new lease on life and will be enjoyed for years to come.    

307-V8 engine, A/C, power steering. Who could ask for anything more?

Chris and Stephanie and the birthday surprise 1970 Chevy.

Family and friends in Mississippi were all in on the surprise.

Interior of the 1970 Malibu is original, bench seat and column shift.

Cowl hood gives the Malibu a more intimidating look.

It was a very good day! Chris showing Stephanie around the Malibu and all the modifications done so far.

Trips to the store, car shows, and more to come for Stephanie's ride.

Do you have a car story?
Send us details and we’re on the way!
Send emails to Jody Potter at
and Ron Kidd at


Uncle Mike said...

Can't wait to see that when it's back on the road again! Lol Mike

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