If there is one thing that inevitably happens to a project car, it’s the initial vision of the finished ride sometimes changes. It can happen at any time between start and completion. It never fails. Trends can change, new ideas can emerge, and personal tastes just veer away from the original design.
During the latter years of ownership of this ’69 Malibu convertible, you could say the “planned outcome” changed. At one time, Joe and Vicki Sheehan planned to rebuild this project back to a factory-appearing look. But partway through the process, a change in direction was realized. In fact, the change was a complete departure, and at the other end of the spectrum, from the original idea.
“At first, I was going to restore the car to original specs,” said Joe.” I took the body off of the frame and started repairing the sheetmetal. However, halfway through the work, I decided to go another way. I realized I like custom cars better than restored, so we changed direction.”
While we’ve given you a glimpse into Joe’s mindset for the finished project, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The car has a long and storied history with the couple, and we really need to start at the beginning. “I purchased the Malibu from a friend in 1973,” affirmed Joe. “While he owned the car, he was having a hard time keeping it running when he would drive it. He replaced a lot of parts, but never actually fixed the problem. He finally got so disgusted with it, he sold it to me for $600.
“When I got the car home and started troubleshooting, I found a small cut in the fuel line near the fuel tank. I replaced the short piece of rubber hose, and the car worked great. The next thing I did was install a set of Cragar SS wheels and L-60 tires on the back. It was the mid-’70s after all.”
With his new found hot rod running and looking sharp, Joe spent a lot of time cruising the local hangouts. “One Saturday night, a friend and I were driving around town and met two girls,” he said. “One of those girls was named Vicki. She and I dated for the next two years. I even took her to her high-school graduation in the Chevelle. All of our dates were taken in the Chevelle, and when we got married, we even drove it on our honeymoon.”
At one point, the Chevelle was not the only car in Joe’s life. He also had a ’69 Z/28 that he raced at York’s U.S. 30 Dragway. “When I was drag racing the Z/28, I used the Chevelle as my tow car,” Joe quipped. “When Vicki and I would get to the track, I would race the Camaro, and she would race the Chevelle.
“When our son was born, I took Vicki to the hospital in the car. Afterward, I then drove them both home in the car. The Chevelle was our daily driver until 1980 when I parked it. In 1985, I decided to do a mild restoration, and when that was done, we drove the car on nice days and weekends until 1990, when I once again parked it in the garage.”
A New Plan Gets Underway
It wasn’t until 2012 when the couple decided they either needed to restore the car or sell it. “Vicki said we have too many memories in the car to sell it, so another ‘restoration’ began,” Joe stated. If you remember, Joe actually planned to restore the car, but those plans changed.
“I smoothed the firewall, removed the side-marker lights, and all the moldings,” Joe stated. “I then filled all unnecessary holes in the frame and sheetmetal, smoothed the bumpers, and the list goes on.” The initial plan for the newly rebuilt Chevelle was to drive the car to local car shows. But that changed after attending their first show. “We took the car to Autorama, and after we took First place, we were hooked,” said Joe.
Winning a show like Autorama requires a car with flawless details. With the help of Borneman’s Blast from The Past body shop and Trick Works, the Wineberry exterior is a testament to creating a gorgeous – some would say flawless – car.
That gorgeous, roofless shell is perched atop a stock frame that has been upgraded with Wilwood disc brakes, coilovers, and a rack-and-pinion steering system.
As beautiful as the exterior looks, the interior is a collaboration of classic design and modern amenities. Bux Customs in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, took the original seats and covered them with a Mocha and maroon leather. The rest of the interior is a lesson in customization. The console, dash cluster, sun visors, and door panels are a substantial departure from stock, but bring a stylish touch to the cockpit of this droptop. Let’s face it, when the top is down, everyone can see the interior, so it better be top-notch.
When Joe first purchased the Chevelle, the 350 under the hood was sufficient for getting the car around town, but now… The 454 engine is a staple in the muscle car world. You either own one, or you want to. Joe and Vicki’s Chevelle now features the legendary big block, but this is no stock tire-fryer.
The LS6 engine was taken to Lingenfelter Performance where the stock crankshaft was mated to a set of Manley connecting rods and pistons. In the middle of the mill is a COMP Cams hydraulic roller with .680-inch lift and 288/296 degrees of duration at .050-inch. Finally, a set of Dart heads, Edelbrock intake, and a Quick Fuel Technologies carburetor complete the powerhouse.
Although the outcome of the Chevelle is a sharp departure from the initial idea, you have to give Joe credit for following through with the project. It takes a lot of work to create a car like this, and we’re confident the couple will continue to make many new memories that will rival the first 25 years of the duo’s ownership.