Gary Alexander has always had an affinity for classic cars. The one he never had—and always wanted—was a 1970 Chevelle SS 454. At the time of its debut, it was one of the fastest production model vehicles ever built, and since his teen years, Alexander dreamed of owning one. It would take nearly 40 years, however, before the manager of Alexander Body Shop in Natchez, Miss., had the chance to restore the prized vehicle.
In 2005, Alexander and his brother found the shell of a body for a ’70 Chevelle Coupe sitting in a barn full of rats’ nests. Despite the car’s missing engine and transmission, Alexander approached the owner. “It had potential to be my dream car, so I offered him $700, and he took it,” he says. After doing some research, he discovered the car was born a shadow gray Chevelle Coupe with a 396 engine. Not to be dissuaded from his love of the Chevelle SS 454, though, he spent the following three years transforming it into his dream car. Now, the once-forgotten Chevelle is worth an estimated $35,000 to $45,000 and receives plenty of accolades.
HARD AT WORK
Alexander had his work cut out for him. “The first part of the project involved tearing what was left of the car apart to identify what was ahead of me, and to get rid of the rats’ nests in every nook and cranny,” he says. “With no frame damage, I began the restoration by sandblasting the frame and completely restoring the drive train to the original specifications.” He traded up for a Mark IV 454 crate engine and rebuilt a Turbo 400 automatic transmission.
Afterward, Alexander began the body work. “I had the body bead blasted and replaced the sheet metal, like the trunk pan, with aftermarket sheet metal and quarter panel patches.” Since replacing sheet metal was fairly new to him, Alexander enlisted the help of some colleagues at the shop. He spent about 20 hours a week for three years on the restoration.
Seeing the car slowly come to life was worth the wait. “I spent a lot of time and effort finding the correct pieces and parts to put this vehicle together,” Alexander says. “They gathered and gathered. I wasn’t ready to put it together until the body work was complete, and then I was ready to use all these parts that I had stored over the years. In one moment, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and could see how well my efforts were going to pay off. That was the most rewarding part.”
ONE MAN’S TREASURE
Alexander decided he didn’t want to do a 100 percent original restoration, so he incorporated some modern touches: “The changes include not only the 454 crate motor, but an SS gauge package with Dakota Digital gauges, Pro Car front bucket seats, three-point retractable seatbelts, Classic Auto Air, Harrison classic radio with 500 watt amp, GM Performance Serpentine belt system, Painless wiring system and Cragar ‘SS’ 17-inch wheels with Fuzion tires.”
When it came time for the paint job, Alexander chose to match the car’s original hue of shadow gray. His nephew, who owns the repair center, performed the paint work.
Throughout the entire restoration, Alexander never worried over the cost. “I kept track of the lists of parts and materials it took to accomplish this project, and the list is endless, and I determined it was costly,” he says, “but I didn’t do this project based on cost. [I did it] based on desire and pride, and that is what typically determines the value of these cars. As the old saying goes, ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’”