When Melbourne’s Paul Soklev popped up in the Street Machine inbox with this killer 1970 Chevelle and an equally cool backstory, we had to know more.
First published in the December 2021 issue of Street Machine
How did you end up with this Chevelle, Paul?
I bought it off a dear friend of mine, who has a fine taste for collectibles. One of my other mates was going to the States, and he told him, “If you see something of decency over there, can you buy me a car?” He saw this ’70 Chevelle at a car show in California and gave the owner, Tom Mueller, an offer he pretty much couldn’t refuse. It wasn’t cheap, but it was worth every goddamn Yankee dollar that was poured into it. It ended up coming back here and sitting in a shed for about 10 years, all covered up. So about three years ago I came along and said, “How much do you want for it?”
Do you know the history of the car?
Tom’s uncle, Fred Whitfield, ordered the car through a local agriculture dealer, and it was delivered to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1970. It was ordered with most SS options, but as Tom stated, his uncle was a very private man and decided he wanted the SS gear but no fanfare. The car was delivered in Gobi Beige with black stripes. It was ordered from the factory with a small-block 350, power steer, air con, Malibu trim with bench seat, TH350 column auto, and a 12-bolt Positraction rear end with 3.31 gears. It was also ordered with bonnet pins and cowl bonnet, but standard steel rims – no mags.
Tom does recall a ’69 Camaro that was owned by a local councillor who wanted to see how it would go up against Fred’s Chevelle. They were at a set of lights and townsfolk were everywhere. Fred let his ’70 go and left the Camaro in his dust. Tom was in the back seat. Fred turned to him and said, “Wow, that was easy. Let’s get home before we get a ticket!” It was apparently driven around town with a real soft touch aside from that, as Tom said his uncle never received one speeding ticket in his life.
When Fred passed on to the clouds, the car went to Tom’s aunt. It was parked under a carport in 1992 with a seized engine, a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River.
That sounds like a tough life.
Gators there are like sparrows on our window sills here. There was one that had a fascination with the Chevelle. It would plant itself by the driver’s quarter panel on a regular basis. Tom received a phone call from the aunt a couple of weeks after the car was taken away for its restoration. The gator wasn’t too happy about losing the car, and destroyed one wing of the outbuilding. It never returned, so I’d say it was pretty pissed!
How was the resto process?
Tom had an ace in his hand in the form of Randy Walker, national and world drag racing champion. Randy had been a close friend of the family for many years, so the Chevelle was put together with the finest bits according to the tastes of Randy and Tom. “How do you think Randy started in this game?” Tom once asked me. I told him I didn’t know, and in response he said, “I taught him how to be an engineer and turn steel, but he decided he wanted to turn tyres!”
It was decided all the work would be carried out on the family farm in the barn. The car was completely overhauled with not a dollar spared due to Tom’s love of the car and his history with it. He was a retired mechanical engineer who wanted a fast car. It had to be Cranberry Red with black stripes, and it had to go!
It was placed on a rotisserie and pulled to bits, bead-blasted, painted in two-pack Glasurit and glossed in sheets of clear. One door and one fender were replaced, but all other panels are factory. The seats are original; the dash and all the fascia displays are factory.
Let’s talk mechanicals.
The chariot still has its original 350ci small-block. It has a steel crank, Edelbrock aluminium heads and manifold, and two 500cfm Edelbrock carbs. Inside are flat-top pistons, shot-peened and strengthened rods, a Clay Smith race cam and all the fancy leads and aluminium pulleys that look sensational. The car has Doug’s Headers custom ceramic headers and exhaust system, with cut-outs. It makes 400hp at the flywheel. There’s a huge radiator, high-volume power steer unit, big block-spec braking system and F41 factory suspension.
Has anything changed under your ownership?
I’ve just had the airbrushing on the quarter panel done. I always wanted to get a mural of some sort, and one day I realised I’ve got a Clay Smith cam in it. I tried to source out the best bloke, so it was done by Laurent at Allstyles Customs, who does the airbrushing for Kenworth trucks. It’s done in pearl and wasn’t cheap, but the effect is crazy.
It’s safe to say you’re a fan of the Americana theme, then.
Absolutely. I ride quarter horses and used to rodeo a bit, so the American stuff is really up there for me. The Chevelle’s seatbelts are the same print as Jimi Hendrix’s guitar strap he wore at Woodstock. I’ve also had a ’65 GTO and a ’63 Dodge pick-up.
How often does it get out and about?
As long as weather permits, I’ll get it out every weekend. I’ve never shown the car, but I’m going to show it this summer. Kids come up and tell me how much they like the big bird, girls giggle and dogs just wag their tails!
Tom passed away last year. He was sad when he knew it was going to Australia, but happy to know someone on the other side of the world would appreciate his work, his uncle and aunty’s legacy, and Randy’s recipe of a fine street-and-strip car.
What other cars feature on your CV?
I’ve had all sorts of cars: early Falcons, a VL Walkinshaw, and I think I’ve had four SSs. Predominantly I’m a Ford man, so I’ve currently got a 2009 FPV GT Falcon. That and the Chevelle are just two different cars altogether – I drive one to Canned Heat and one to the Eagles!