Destiny; A Restoration Journey

In the March issue we completed the restoration process on our “barn find” ‘56 Chevy wagon. On June 30, 2011, Joyce and I bought the car and pulled it out of a storage unit where it had been for the previous 38 years. Over the course of the next 38 months (and 15 issues of The Motor Market) I completely restored the wagon. Now the car is ready to move under its own power for the first time since 1973.

I must admit that apprehension was building as the day for the first drive neared. After working tirelessly on the car for over three years, I couldn’t help but wonder how this initial drive was going to go. Did I re-assemble everything properly in the chassis, steering, and brakes? Is the engine going to perform properly? Are electrical “gremlins” going to arise in all the new wiring? These and countless other questions were in the back of my mind.
One other thought also loomed: building this car had been such an enjoyable experience, that I was actually feeling some pangs of regret that the build process was over. It seems odd, I know, but I’ve heard the same thing from other car guys upon completion of their cars. For many of us, the building of a car is a huge part of the overall enjoyment of that car. This probably explains why we see recently completed car projects for sale around the country; many folks enjoy the build more than the driving, or ownership experience.

But, the moment of truth had arrived. On August 11, 2014, I (very cautiously) backed the car out of the garage and drove to the local convenience store for its first tank of gas. It was a pretty memorable experience: a beautiful summer day, my first drive in a freshly completed car, and everything felt good and seemed to function. After filling the tank with gas, I took a short drive around the immediate neighborhood getting a feel for things and letting all the new parts settle-in just a bit. After 15-20 minutes, I headed back home to look things over and check for any problems. There was a minor engine oil leak to resolve, but no problems of any consequence were found. Later, after everything cooled down, I snugged down several different fasteners, re-torqued bolts, and called it a good first drive.

The next day, Joyce and I went for more of a shakedown cruise. We left town for a drive on some local county roads, and found that nearly everything still checked out well. It didn’t take long at highway speeds, however, to learn that the rear differential had a serious howl; the rear end howled so badly that you could barely talk over the noise! In addition, the speedometer had an intermittent condition where the needle would jump wildly all over the speedometer range. Beyond these two issues, though, the car drove great! It steered well, stopped straight, and the engine and transmission were performing well. Even with the differential howl, we had a good drive, and returned home knowing that the two problems encountered were relatively minor issues and easily correctible.

Within a couple of days, I replaced the rear end with a spare, and cleaned and lubricated the speedometer head; problems solved. A couple pesky engine oil leaks tried my patience for a few days, but were eventually tracked down and resolved. There are always the expected engine tuning adjustments, but those are just part of the routine. That was really the extent of the problems encountered after the complete restoration…not too bad for a car that had been 100% apart!

Five days after that initial test drive, the wagon was ready for its first public outing, and we took it to the Saturday cruise night at the Hardees on South Minnesota Avenue. With summer winding down, and some vacation in the mix, we only took the car to one or two additional cruise nights, but did get in more driving both in and out of town. By the end of the cruising season, everything on the car was working well and I was confident that the car was going to live up to our expectations.

In the August 2013 issue of this magazine, I titled the article “So…What’s the Plan?” As discussed in that segment, my plan was to build a 1960’s “junior stocker” drag car replica complete with:
• Radio and heater delete
• Fenderwell exit headers
• Tachometer on top of the dash
• Original style interior
• No billet aluminum or braided lines
• White steel wheels or vintage custom wheels
• Period race car paint scheme
• Authentic engine details

Once I locked in that plan, I stayed quite true to it, even adding some additional period-correct touches to further accent the theme. (Any deviations from the original plan are strictly for improved drivability.) Most observers that have looked the car over, and are familiar with drag race “stockers” from the 1960’s, feel that the wagon is quite representative of the times.

So, what are my impressions and feelings at this point? To sum it up, I absolutely couldn’t be happier with how the project came out! Several people at the recent Winterfest of Wheels car show asked me what I would do differently if I did the car over again, and my answer is “not one thing…this is exactly what I envisioned!” The colors, paint quality, roof stripes, stance, sound, and overall image is everything I was going for. Is this style of restoration something that everyone will “get”? Probably not, but for this drag racer and fan from the 1960’s, it doesn’t get much better.

As I write this, we’re just home from showing the wagon at “Winterfest”, the first major outing for the car since completion. Over the course of three days, I visited with literally hundreds of people about the car, the majority of which are folks that have been following this series in The Motor Market. The overwhelming response to the car has been completely positive, and I appreciate that immensely. It’s incredibly rewarding to know that people have enjoyed the series of articles and appreciate the finished product. I thank you for that.

And then there are other thanks to be made. As I was building the car, dozens of people contributed their time, and/or parts to the project. Some have been mentioned in the articles along the way, but many have not. The list is long and space does not allow me to itemize the individuals and their assistance to the project. You know who you are; I trust I offered my thanks at the time and I now, again, extend a sincere “thank you”.  

Now, all that’s left to do is enjoy the car! We may take the car to a show or two, but we really built it to drive and re-live some memories of racing and cruising in the ‘60’s. I plan to have the car out regularly this coming summer, and I look forward to showing it to many of you at an upcoming cruise night. Thanks for following along! TMM

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