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My First Chevy

Industry enthusiasts share their early Bowtie experiences

Barry Kluczyk - August 23, 2012 10:00 AM

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IROC-and-Rolling 

NAME: Ron Fellows

JOB: Racing driver

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1986 Camaro

IROC-Z

 

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Mom’s Street Racer

NAME: Dr. Jamie Meyer

JOB: Product Integration Manager for Chevrolet Performance Parts

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1974 Monte Carlo

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A ’Vette from the Outset

NAME: Roc Linkov

JOB: Events Manager, National Corvette Museum

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1965 Corvette Coupe

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The Little Lady from Pasadena’s Chevelle

NAME: Dave Leonard

JOB: CEO/founder of OPGI (Original Parts Group Inc) 

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1964 Chevelle 327 convertible

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A Post with a Power Pak

NAME: Bill Mitchell

JOB: Founder of World Products

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1957 Chevy Bel Air

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Bought on the parental payment plan

NAME: Todd Ryden

JOB: Director of Marketing at MSD Ignition

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1956 Bel Air sedan 

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A Camaro before LUV

NAME: Matt Berger

JOB: Dealer at Berger Chevrolet, Grand Rapids, Michigan

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1975 Camaro

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Second-Gen Z

NAME: Jim Browning, Jr.

JOB: Former auto sales channel manager at CORSA Performance

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1980 Camaro Z28

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A Fateful Purchase

NAME: Rollie Purifoy

JOB: Dealer at Purifoy Chevrolet,

Fort Lupton, Colorado

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'It’s Got Cop Tires, Cop Shocks…'

NAME: Barry Kluczyk

JOB: Automotive writer

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1988 Chevrolet Caprice 9C1 retired police car

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A Stolen Dream

NAME: John Rydzewski

JOB: GM’s assistant chief engineer for the small-block engine group (LS engines)

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1973 Nova

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A relationship with Chevys starts with that very first car and everyone’s story is unique. We’ve rounded up the experiences of 10 enthusiasts from different corners of the automotive industry. And while each story is different, the establishment of a longtime relationship with the brand ties them all together.

IROC-and-Rolling

NAME: Ron Fellows

JOB: Racing driver

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1986 Camaro

IROC-Z

In 1986, GM Canada started a showroom stock racing series for the Camaro and Firebird. It was an eight-race series, televised nationally and showcased on Saturdays at events like the Montreal F1 event and the two Indy Car races in Toronto and at Sanair, Quebec. There were huge grids the first few years, including 76 cars at the first race at Mosport, back in 1986.

An ’86 IROC Camaro for that series was my first new car and I managed to get it financed through GMAC (those were the days). To go racing, you were only permitted to add a racing seat and a six-point roll cage. The drivelines were sealed by GM at the factory to prevent tampering with the engines, which made for a level playing field.

The series cars were totally street legal and it was my only mode of transportation. I drove my Camaro to and from the races – well, up until I managed to wreck it quite badly. Fortunately, I had a very generous GM dealer (the Rountree family) and the car was repaired, at their expense, in time for me to get to the next event and win my first race – and a $5,000 prize. That sure made the drive home a lot more pleasant!

I don’t have that 1986 Camaro, but I did manage to win the Player’s GM Series drivers’ championship in 1989. And I still have that Camaro!

 

Mom’s Street Racer

NAME: Dr. Jamie Meyer

JOB: Product Integration Manager for Chevrolet Performance Parts

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1974 Monte Carlo

My first Chevy was actually my mom’s first Chevy, but I grew up in the car and would later learn how to drive in it. It was a 1974 Chevy Monte Carlo that my parents purchased new in Watkins Glen, New York. It was silver with a maroon vinyl top and a maroon interior that featured the swivel bucket seats.

I had grown up being told that it was a big-block car, but it wasn’t. It had a 400-inch small-block and a Turbo 350 trans. Regardless, the car was faster than your average daily driver and my mom certainly treated it that way.

There were countless stories of that car getting into “serious social encounters” on her way home from work and one of her regular customers was a Firebird Formula. The Monte never lost.

Curiously, my dad never encouraged my love of cars. I clearly remember one of my first driving lessons in that car with him yelling, “Where’s the fire” when I took off a little too aggressively.

Honestly, it was the Monte’s fault and I’m sticking with that story. I drove the car as a daily driver for only a few months. It sat in the yard for several years until a young neighborhood kid got it running and bought it for $500.When I saw the car again, the chrome trim had been stripped, the rims had been painted orange and there was no exhaust system.

My mom still compares every car she gets to that Monte Carlo; they are either as fast or slower. I think my daily driver ’06 TrailBlazer SS could take the Monte – but then again, maybe not.

A ’Vette from the Outset

NAME: Roc Linkov

JOB: Events Manager, National Corvette Museum

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1965 Corvette Coupe

I bought the car in 1972, after a few weeks of dickering with the owner, for a final price of $1,700. During the 22 years I owned the car, I put 100,000 miles on (it had 45,000 when I bought it). I wore out a set of studded snow tires that came with it and drove it all over. When our first son was eight weeks old, we put him in the back and took off from New Jersey to Cleveland, then to Chicago, back to Cleveland and then to Washington D.C., before heading home. Both our sons learned to drive a stick on that car and how to work on cars; and both had a chance to drive it to high school once in a while. My older son’s experience with that car was a key to his current work.

That ’65 Corvette was a 327ci/300hp manual transmission car with air conditioning. When you hit the gas hard and the secondaries opened, those Carter carbs caused the exhaust to really boom and everyone knew you were coming. My wife and I traveled a lot in that car, but as the boys got older most of the driving was kept to the back roads of New Jersey. Our younger son was driving when a kid T-boned the car and threw it across three lanes of traffic. Fortunately, our son walked away from the crash, but the car was considered totaled. I still carry the VIN with me on the hunch that it has come back somehow as a “body off” restoration.

The Little Lady from Pasadena’s Chevelle

NAME: Dave Leonard

JOB: CEO/founder of OPGI (Original Parts Group Inc)

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1964 Chevelle 327 convertible

I literally bought it from a little lady in Pasadena. One day I was working late, around 8:00 in the evening, when the office phone rang. It was after hours, and I usually didn’t answer, but this time I did. It was a woman from Pasadena who wanted to sell her dad’s 327 Chevelle convertible, which had been parked in her yard for 10 years, but apparently still ran.

She wanted $1,200 for the car and I said “sold” without even seeing the car. It had about 120,000 miles on it and was one of those cars that was somewhere between fixing it up and driving it or completely restoring. I ripped it apart and restored the whole thing from the ground up, taking about four years to do it. It took so long because, in those days, we didn’t make as many reproductions as we do now, so whenever there was something I had to scour the swap meets for, and I found something that the car needed, I would first put it into our manufacturing queue. From the headlight eyebrows to interior dash and everything else, it all went into the manufacturing queue!

The best thing about this car was cruising with my kids out to the desert, going to Angelo’s Drive-in, piling the surfboards into the backseat at 5:30 a.m. on summer mornings – always with the top down. The worst thing? I had to sell it in a divorce in 1995. But, heck, there’s always another beauty around the corner waiting to be restored!

 

A Post with a Power Pak

NAME: Bill Mitchell

JOB: Founder of World Products

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1957 Chevy Bel Air

In 1962, I was driving to work in my ’53 Olds Rocket 88, which was nosed and decked, and there it was, sitting out front in a used car lot on Route 109 in Farmingdale, New York. It was a 1957 Chevy with a 283 and the 220hp Power Pak, meaning a four-barrel and dual exhaust. It also had a Powerglide.

It was a Bel Air two-door post. Because it was only five years old, there was no way I could afford it. After stopping every day to ask more questions, my girlfriend’s mother said she would co-sign the loan to buy it. The next day, it was mine. That week, I installed 4.56 gears. The next weekend, I was at Islip Speedway’s 1/8-mile drag strip and won my class – although I can’t remember which class it was. If you won your class for three weeks, you were class champion and you got a special window sticker. Well, I won again the next week, but the Powerglide was not going to make it, so I bought a three-speed transmission with overdrive from a junkyard. I bought all the clutch linkage and column shift linkage from Robert Chevrolet in Hicksville, New York. I made it to Islip the next Saturday to win my third race and become class champion.

After that, I took off the heads and lapped all the valves. I don’t know why I did it, but I just knew I could make it better. I went to local speed shop and bought Traction Master bars (my first aftermarket purchase), because the standard shift needed more bite. I eventually installed a Duntov cam, the two four-barrels from the 270hp engine and “cheater” fuelie pistons from the Ramjet engine. I street raced the car for a couple of years like that. The experience with that car hooked me on drag racing. It was a great Chevy. I spent the next 40 years or more racing everything from drag cars to circle track cars – all with Chevy engines.

 

Bought on the parental payment plan

NAME: Todd Ryden

JOB: Director of Marketing at MSD Ignition

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1956 Bel Air sedan

My first Chevy was my first car. I was scouring the local Auto Swapper for Chevelles or Novas from about the time I was 14. My dad saw an ad for a ’56 Chevy and we went to take a look. I was a little disappointed with the two-barrel 283 latched to the original cast iron Powerglide, but the car was from Texas and completely rust-free – and equipped with very rare factory air conditioning. We ended up getting the car for $2,200 and I was on a $50 per month payment plan with Parents First National Bank.

It was a great car. We put door panels and a headliner in it to clean it up. I did a Rust-oleum rebuild on the small block and the oil bath air cleaner. Put some rally wheels on it, too, then swapped to the stock wheels and dog dish caps. I drove it every day to school, work and all summer. It was parked during Michigan’s winter months. I even used the car in my senior picture.

Though it wasn’t fast, that little 283 started every time and my friends and I cruised for hours on M-59 in Waterford and Pontiac, Michigan, as well as Dort Highway outside of Flint and the occasional run over on St. John Street where the street racing took place.

Again though, the ’glide and 283 didn’t present much of a challenge to anyone (maybe that’s why my dad liked it). After graduating high school, I really wanted something faster but didn’t want to tear out the factory A/C to get it out of the way. I pestered a guy who had a ’67 Chevelle sitting in his yard for years and he finally accepted my offer. That starts the story of my second Chevy, then a third, fourth, fifth and on – I’m up to 30 different Chevys now.

The ’56 was sold to a fellow in Indiana and I’ve never heard of or seen the car again.

 

A Camaro before LUV

NAME: Matt Berger

JOB: Dealer at Berger Chevrolet, Grand Rapids, Michigan

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1975 Camaro

Back when I turned 16, I had a little run-in with the local authorities. Seems it was illegal to ride a motocross bike down a state highway at night with three people aboard. Who knew?

The judge thought an additional six months of reflection was in order, so that first Chevy ride was delayed a bit. It was Christmas of 1974 and, even though I hadn’t been that good, Dad hooked me up with a sweet ride: A Camaro Rally Sport in Firethorn Red. [Editor’s note: Matt’s “dad” was Dale Berger, Jr., who was the third generation to run the family’s Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Chevy store. It opened in 1925 and became one of the most well-known muscle car dealers of the ’60s. Matt Berger is the fourth generation to run the business.]

The Camaro had a V-8, automatic transmission, rear spoiler, sport wheels and raised white-letter tires. My friends and I had many fun times learning the limits of early radial tires. Unfortunately, the fun only lasted a couple of months, as I had to turn in the car when it reached 5,000 miles. It was “traded” for a new LUV pickup. At least that wasn’t my first Chevy!

Second-Gen Z

NAME: Jim Browning, Jr.

JOB: Former auto sales channel manager at CORSA Performance

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1980 Camaro Z28

My first Chevy was a 1980 Camaro Z28! What sold me was the functional Air Induction hood. When you put your foot to the floor, a trap door would open up to allow fresh air right into the carburetor. I bought that car in 1990 and owned it for two years before a new Camaro Z28 in 1992 was in my garage. The only color I wanted was black and that is what I found.

My father is the one that actually located my car and with his experience in the automotive industry, working at Mr. Gasket. The first winter, we installed a new cam, intake and Edelbrock carb, which really helped the overall performance. I continued to drive the car until I ordered the 1992 Z28 with the larger 5.7L Tuned Port Injection engine.

A Fateful Purchase

NAME: Rollie Purifoy

JOB: Dealer at Purifoy Chevrolet,Fort Lupton, Colorado

My first Chevy was a 1933 Master four-door sedan that I acquired at the age of 15. I found the car at a farm outside of Fort Lupton, Colorado, where I still live today. It was completely covered in yellow flowers and was blue with black fenders – and it had obviously been painted with a brush at least three or four times.

I bought the car for $100, not knowing that my father was arranging the first bank loan of my life. The same day we brought the car home, we managed to actually get the old 216-cubic-inch six-cylinder engine to start. That very evening, three friends came by wanting me to go duck hunting early the next morning, but I declined, telling them that I wanted to stay home and work on the ’33. Tragically, they were all killed the next morning after being hit by a train. I will always believe that old car saved my life.

I owned the ’33 until recently, when I sold it along with several other cars. It went to North Dakota and eventually ended up with a friend there. He says when he’s done with it, he’ll give it back to me.

 

“It’s Got Cop Tires, Cop Shocks…”

NAME: Barry Kluczyk

JOB: Automotive writer

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1988 Chevrolet Caprice 9C1 retired police car

While in college, I spied a notice in the campus newspaper about an auction for used equipment from the school. It included a trio of three-year-old ’88 Chevy Caprice 9C1 police cars from the campus police department. My $1,800 sealed bid for one of the cars was low, even for 20 years ago, but it was accepted and I soon was the proud owner of CMU Caprice #2. It was painted light blue, except for exposed primer spots where the door and fender decals were pulled off. It had a rubber floor, holes in the dash from the removed radio equipment and the rear doors didn’t open from the inside.

The Caprice had a 350 engine that made a great “buh-WHAHH” sound when floored and then sounded even better with the air cleaner lid flipped upside down. It wasn’t fast by today’s standards, but was quick for its day. It was also solid as a rock, dependable as hell and had terrific handling for a full-size sedan. With such a recognizable car in a small college town, it caused more than a few double-takes and once, a kid simply pulled over when he thought he’d been busted for speeding – but I was simply making a U-turn.

I sold the Caprice before moving out of state for my first automotive writing job, but I’ve always missed it. I scan craigslist ads periodically, searching for another 1987-’91-vintage 9C1, with the dream of dropping in a 505hp LS7 crate engine.

 

A Stolen Dream

NAME: John Rydzewski

JOB: GM’s assistant chief engineer for the small-block engine group (LS engines)

MY FIRST CHEVY: 1973 Nova

The day I passed my driver’s license road test, my dad and I went searching for my first car. We drove all around the Detroit area, then spotted a mint condition, midnight blue 1973 Chevy Nova with a for sale sign on it. The next day, I drove it home, enjoying the sweet sound of exhaust rumble of the 350 engine and the acceleration it delivered (my dad said I was driving too fast).

After a few months, I saved up some cash for a new sound system, paint job, chrome “mag” wheels and wider performance tires (“60s”). The car was beautiful – and then it was stolen. Only three hours after the tires and wheels were installed, my mom’s car broke down and she needed to get to work on the afternoon shift at Chrysler. She used my car while my dad and I fixed her vehicle. At about midnight, I answered the phone and my mom was crying. The Nova was gone. A week later, the Detroit police found it completely stripped, sitting on blocks, in an alley.

Fortunately, insurance covered most of the repair work and I added an alarm system. I was able to enjoy all my high school senior year activities, driving around in one of the meanest looking vehicles in my class. After that, I was accepted to General Motors Institute (now known as Kettering University) and hired into Chevy Engineering, where I needed to get a four-cylinder vehicle to drive across town because gas was rising over a dollar a gallon!

I loved that Nova and have dreamed of someday finding another.

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