We have all heard – or even have to regrettably tell – a depressing tale about the one car we wish we could get back. Whether it was your first car, or just one of the few that really stands out in your mind, it’s a memory we hear about quite often. But sometimes, that memorable ride is brought back to the garage where it needs to be.
According to Roger, this is a Kansas City-built COPO that Harrell tweaked. He’s got several pieces of paperwork with it.
Roger Day used to have a story of a long-lost classic, that is, until after an exhaustive search, he was finally able to reclaim his long lost Chevelle. But, rather than have us tell you about the history of the this truly great Chevrolet and the travels it’s made, we’ll let Roger tell us the story about this Chevelle in his own words.
From The Beginning
In the summer of 1969, I considered an engine update for my trusty ’66 SS 396 Chevelle. I put over 105,000 miles on it since I bought it new, and it never had any problems, except for a puff of blue smoke between shifts. That prompted a stop at Bill Allen Chevrolet’s parts department in mid-July of 1969, where I priced out a 427 crate engine. I had recently paid off the ’66, and an update made sense to me! The counter man suggested a few other improvements, like a heavy-duty four-speed, clutch, pressure plate, and 4.10 Posi. As the costs mounted up, my plans began to fade.
On August 19, 1969, I was on my way to work when I spotted a bright orange Chevelle with black hood stripes rolling onto the “showcase” section of Bill Allen’s lot. As soon as I stopped, the salesman, Mr. Fieden, didn’t waste any time – he hit key points about the Dick Harrell performance mods, and shortly afterward, I drove to work in a brand new 1969 COPO Chevelle!
I was never left behind at a streetlight, and the first race was against classmate John Carter. It was in early December 1969. We were out on Highway 33 near Plattsburg – he had a hot 396-powered Chevy Nova. John smoked his tires while I screamed to the turnaround. It was a hollow victory as my engine scuffed a cylinder wall. It was replaced under warranty at Bill Allen’s shop. While there, they damaged the hood, roof and deck lid, and patched it up without telling me. I discovered their botched repair a few weeks later when the fresh paint started cracking. They fixed it again.
…he hit key points about the Dick Harrell performance mods, and shortly afterwards, I drove to work in a brand new 1969 COPO Chevelle! – Roger Day
The Family Expands
It was during the Memorial Day weekend in 1970 when I stopped by my friend Jim Fansher’s home for an impromptu Memorial Day weekend event. We had a bonfire going in the pasture, and I met a pretty young girl, Karen Boulton. She was there with mutual friends, Steve Webber and Jill Nelson. I took Karen home afterwards, and we talked until 4:30 the next morning. Two weeks later, we were engaged. By the way, we recently celebrated our 40th anniversary, so, we think it’s going to work out.
I remember another memorable race that happened soon after Karen and I got engaged. It was the Summer of 1970, and we were riding around that evening when we were “invited” to race Ben Houghton in his strong running Challenger with a 440 Six Pack. Ben smoked his tires while I eased off the line and then hammered the gas pedal through the quarter-mile. The flashing red lights in the distance heading our way halted a rematch. Not long after that, family obligations came into play, and the Chevelle was sold. But, I never really forgot about it.
In the fall of 2008, I embarked on an effort to find the car. In December of that year, I tracked down and talked to the person that owned the car in the mid- ‘80s. During our conversation, he talked about a subsequent owner who contacted him in 2005 about the car. The ‘80s owner knew all about the car’s heritage, and told me the Dick Harrell emblem on the trunk lid had been removed the day he sold the car at auction.
I posted an inquiry on chevelles.com, hopeful someone out there might have information about my old Chevelle. I posted Photoshopped pictures of how the car looked in ’69, and copies of my documentation (minus key details). I followed up with a post on another site, thinking it would surely be helpful.
Roger learned later that the crushed and scrapped orange Chevelle that he heard about wasn’t his old car. Back then, his old Chevelle had already been painted white. It was, however, sitting on the same farm as the orange car that did get crushed.
Offers to help came in over the next several months, but nothing meaningful came from them. I tracked down the 2005 owner, but was told it had been “sold for scrap and crushed a couple of years ago.” My spirits were crushed when I heard that report. A few days later, I was back at it, trying to find where it had been crushed. I learned that it also spent time at a farm near Kansas City, Missouri, so Karen and I drove to the farm in May 2009, but all of the old cars were gone.
That was just one of many times I would “give up,” only to start again. That’s exactly what happened in February 2009 – something inside me just wouldn’t let go – I just couldn’t quit. So, I started again by going back to the farm contact (where it sat for years) and continued to ask questions. I tracked down and talked to the tow company that hauled it, but couldn’t locate any scrap yard in the area that could verify it had been crushed.
Then, on May 2, 2009, I received an intriguing email. It was from an individual on the East coast with a riveting one liner – “Roger, by chance was your cars VIN: 136397K470099? Dan”. I regained my focus, looking for anything I may have missed. I responded to Dan a couple of times. In late July, I emailed him one last time, but received no response. I began tracking Dan via old posts and emails, hopeful that I could locate his phone number to call him. On July 31, 2009, I located D. Palchanes.
“Harrell’s shop did the hood locks, black hood stripes, Sun tach on the steering column, ’67 Impala flags glued – no holes- to the front fenders, Harrell emblem on the deck lid, and tweaks under the hood to increase horsepower to 450 as shown on the original Harrell window sticker,” said Roger.
I left voice mails on each of at least four D. Palchanes phones in the Northeast U.S. that day. About 6:00 p.m. that evening, my phone rang, and it was the same Dan who had emailed me. After a brief exchange, he asked, “Was that your VIN?”. I affirmed and added that I was sure my car had been crushed based upon research. I questioned Dan about where he found the VIN. After a long pause, he responded, “I think it was on eBay or something, on the West Coast.” After a few additional words, I thanked Dan for calling me back.
A few days after I spoke to Dan, I found an expired Craigslist ad with the VIN, from Illinois. It was inactive, but hopeful the seller might relist. He did, and on August 12, shortly after 6:00 a.m., I found his relist. Several emails later, he responded and I connected with Jon W via phone. We agreed to meet at the rental unit the next morning at 7:30 a.m. where the car was stored.
“Everything on this engine – the block, cylinder heads, carb, exhaust manifolds, alternator, water pump, and cooling fan – are date coded to early 1969 when the car was originally built,” Roger explains. “The same applies to the Turbo 400 transmission, 12-bolt rearend, and 14×7 wheels .”
After the information exchange, I called Karen to bring her up to speed. She already knew I found the ad early that morning, and was anxious for an update. I started explaining about the pending trip and she interrupted, “meet me at the house, I’m leaving work now”. I immediately headed for home, packed for the overnight trip to Chicago, and a short while later, we headed to the airport. We arrived in Chicago about 10:00 p.m., and I was fortunate to find a room for the remainder of the night. I was up at 5:00 a.m. the next morning, pacing the floor and trying to stay calm.
Money changed hands, papers were signed, and I took ownership (again) of my old ’69 Chevelle. – Roger Day
I knew I would need a place to store the car if it was indeed my old Chevelle, so I started searching the internet. First call I made had space available, but politely said “no” to space for a non-running vehicle. During my next call, I explained my urgent need for space to store the car in which my wife and I had our first date over 40 years ago, and that it wasn’t running right now. The agent just couldn’t say no. They were even running a special on the first month’s rent for just $1.00.
At 7:15 a.m. Thursday Aug 13, 2009, I was waiting for the seller at the storage unit in Ottawa. Jon arrived, we exchanged pleasantries, and a few minutes later he was opening the door to the storage unit. As the door opened, a yellow inspection sticker on the driver side of the windshield caught my eye. I moved in to examine, and my heart raced – it was a mid-’80s Missouri inspection sticker.
Roger says it came with the Malibu trim inside, and, no Super Sport front fender emblems, grill or tail panel emblems.
I asked Jon if he had any documentation to go with the car, and he pulled out a clear Illinois title along with a Missouri DMV marked envelope. Inside the envelope was an old (owner copy) title application – it was the same mid-’80s Missouri owner to whom I had tracked the car in December 2008. It all matched. Money changed hands, papers were signed, and I took ownership (again) of my old ’69 Chevelle.
My rental space was just two spaces down from Jon’s, and he helped me push it from his space to mine. During the flight home, memories came flooding back from ’69 and ’70, and I looked at the pictures I took while there. My Orange Chevelle had been painted white, but it didn’t matter.
Since the original 427 was long gone, Roger replaced it with a seasoned “512” block that was rebuilt to stock L72 specs. It has been fitted with a stock GM steel crank and NOS rods, pistons, rings, rod bolts, and bearings. The solid-lifter camshaft and valvetrain are Comp Cams pieces, built to stock specifications.
I was at work early Friday morning, met with my boss, and explained the situation. I called a friend, Ken Hull, to see if he was up for a road trip, and at noon, we headed for Ottawa, Illinois. We drove straight through, spending a very short night about 60 miles South of Ottawa. After coffee and a light breakfast on Aug 15th, we headed to the storage unit. After loading the car, I settled up at the front office ($1.00 total cost), and we started for home. Every time we stopped for gas, someone would walk up and ask about the old Chevelle. We spent the night in Springfield, and the following day, arrived back home in Texas.
I was unable to do any real work on the Chevelle until March 2010. I did, however, search for and bought needed NOS GM parts during that time. Trying to find a good body/paint shop was a real challenge.
I know there are many good, reputable shops out there, but it’s difficult to work through the short list after you narrow them down. Karen and I finally met with Jeff and Darren of Premier Body and Paint in May 2010. We immediately took a liking to Jeff and Darren. It was as if we had always known them. They couldn’t start the restoration until late August, but we were okay with that. When they were ready, Karen and I headed for their shop with a trailer loaded with the NOS GM stuff and the Chevelle.
Over the next three months, the guys took the car completely apart, sandblasted the frame, removed the rusted body panels, and replaced them with the NOS parts. They took great pains to get it right, and then came the primer and paint. On December 1, 2010, the paint work was complete.
After a 40 year separation, Roger and Karen were reunited with their old Chevelle. Since the restoration was completed, the COPO Chevelle has been a huge hit at both large and small car shows, but the most interesting aspect of this Chevelle isn’t its rareness or the documentation that Roger saved. The real story is how a decades-long search finally concluded with a husband and wife reliving their first date in the same car. This time around, however, they can bring their grand-kids with them in the backseat.
Editor’s note: There are some in the hobby that do not feel this car was actually worked on at the Dick Harrell shop, and according to Roger, “It is confusing not only to me, but many others as well, considering my original circa ’69 paperwork is from Dick Harrell Performance Center, and more recently, confirmation from Bill Allen’s son.”
So, think what you may, but regardless, this is still one beautiful, 427-powered ’69 Chevelle that will never again be sold by the original owner.