If you’re a car guy or gal, we’re certain that you remember what you drove as your first car. Some guys are fortunate enough to get the car of their dreams right off the bat while some get a car that they no longer admit to ever driving. Yet there are others who get whatever dear ole mom and dad hand down.
Terry Bennett of Lakeland, Florida, falls into that last category, as he explained, “My first Chevy was a four-door Chevelle I got in 1979. I didn’t have to buy it; my mom gave it to me because I just got my first job and needed transportation.”
The epitome of a cool cruiser: A musclecar with understated looks hiding enough power to turn the tires into dust at will.
Terry fondly remembers that more-door people mover, but there were many, more popular rides that filled Terry’s garage throughout the following years. Cars like his ’72 Chevelle, 69 Firebird, two first-gen Camaros, and even an older Apache pickup truck. It’s safe to say that Terry has no problem driving vintage iron.
The custom pinstriping adds a nice touch and was applied before the Bennetts bought the car.
In 2010, He and his wife found themselves without a classic car that they could enjoy together, so, as a team, they planned to find something that they could enjoy. According to Terry, “When I found this Chevelle, I was looking for a 1970 model, so that worked out. I always liked the body style, and it was the perfect car for me.” Although not a Super Sport, The Malibu is a great alternative for anyone like Terry looking to build their idea of the perfect cruiser.
When he found the car through an ad on Craigslist, it was already painted this shade of dark green. Terry quipped, “The color was already on the car when I bought it, and the guy told me it was something he made up at the paint store. I don’t know what color of green it is.” Regardless of what the official name should be, the car wears it extremely well.
…the guy told me it was something he made up at the paint store. I don’t know what color of green it is. – Terry Bennett
Under the hood was a small-block that had been stroked to 383 cubic-inches. It featured a lot of the go-fast goodies the aftermarket has to offer, and was backed by a 700R4 transmission, and behind that was a 9-inch rearend. The small-block was able to shred the tires at will, and the overdrive transmission would make it a fun driver. Which is exactly what the Bennett’s were looking for.
When Terry first looked inside the car, he learned that the interior was in equally great shape, as the previous owner had taken the time to completely restore it to a factory fresh appearance. Sure, some might scoff that it was restored in the factory green, but it works in this combination and looks great. That means that Terry was getting a complete car that was ready to run and in great condition. But alas, sometimes things don’t go as planned…
After the small-block decided to take a break, Terry assembled this big-block to repalce it. Hedman headers with 1-7/8-inch primaries converge into Flowmaster 40 series mufflers flowing through a 2-1/2-inch exhaust.
Time To Regroup
After the Bennetts took possession of the Chevelle, they spent as much time as they could driving to local – and not so local – car shows and cruise nights. Basically, they were enjoying every minute of their spare time driving the car. The Malibu was a staple on the local car scene, but three years after the Bennetts purchased the green cruiser, tragedy struck when the small-block decided it was time make a few strange, unsolicited noises.
Those unwanted sounds coming from under the hood convinced Terry that the time was upon him to make a few changes. But, if he was going to make any changes, he was going to make them in a big way. Terry is a guy that likes things a certain way, and his improved vision of the Chevelle no longer included a small-block… or an automatic transmission… or a 9-inch rearend.
Gear changes courtesy of American Powertrain and Tremec.
Luckily, Terry is skilled with a torque wrench, so building an engine to fill the soon-to-be empty space under the hood was not going to be a problem. It was also easy for him to decide that it would be a big-block that would take up residence, although that meant finding a lot of replacement parts like brackets, pulleys, and mounts. Terry was up to the task.
He began the motor-vational transformation by locating a seasoned 454 cubic-inch engine block, and had it bored .030-inch over. The rotating assembly features a factory GM cast-iron crankshaft with stock connecting rods. Squeezing the fuel and air under the stock oval port heads in an explosive fashion are Speed-Pro forged pistons that create a 10.0:1 compression ratio. The hydraulic flat-tappet camshaft is from Edelbrock and features .560/.573-inch lift, and duration at .050-inch lift is 240/246 degrees. Up top is an Edelbrock Performer RPM intake and 800 cfm carburetor. This simple build delivers great drivability, and unlike an engine using high compression and a large-duration camshaft, maintenance is minimal.
Another aspect of the car that was a requirement for Terry was that the car be manually shifted. While a four-speed might have been the easy way to go, the 12-bolt rearend he used to replace the 9-inch was filled with 3.55 gears, and that helped him decide that a five-speed transmission would be a great upgrade. For that reason, he sourced a Tremec TKO transmission from American Powertrain to complete the install. By purchasing the kit, he got everything he needed in one bolt-in-style package. When looking at the interior, unless you know it’s under the floor, it’s imperceptible.
You need to keep in mind that The Bennetts live in Florida, and since there are only two seasons: Summer and Hell, air conditioning was also added to the mix. Yes, we’ve heard the argument that air conditioning does not belong in a musclecar, but remember that argument if you ever find yourself sitting in the car next to them at a red light and your skin is melting away. Since cruising is the plan, Vintage Air is an appropriate cockpit-temperature decreaser.
The Chevelle is carried by 15×8 and 15×10 American Racing wheels with 215/65R15 and 245/60R15 BFG Radial T/A tires.
The way Terry has assembled the Chevelle, you can be sure that the miles racked up every weekend not only bring enjoyment to the Bennett family, but also the many people on the road that pass them by, wishing they were the one behind the wheel of this perfect cruiser. Terry and his wife spend most of their “Chevelle time” driving around central Florida, and have no interest in subjecting the car to any quarter-mile tests of acceleration.