Why do great cars get parked outside for decades? The answer is the same for John Graham as it is for anyone. “I was gonna fix it up, like everybody else does, put bigger brakes on it,” he says. “So many things got in the way. It never happened.”
Graham purchased the 1966 Chevelle SS396 in 1966 after walking into LaPointe Chevrolet in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, with the intention of buying a new Super Sport. He had priced GTOs, which “were way too high.” He even test drove a new Oldsmobile 4-4-2, which was a 1965 model and “did not have the sail panels on the back,” a feature he liked on the Chevelle.
After deciding on the Chevelle, Graham ordered a four-speed transmission over the standard three-speed, the Astro bucket seats, a push-button AM radio, and a simulated wood steering wheel. As a preventive measure, Graham added a tinted windshield and undercoating.
Eight months later he began dating his future wife, Marilyn. “Our courtship was in the car, and I really hated bucket seats,” she says. “I’m beginning to have flashbacks of different uh, situations that we experienced.” John laughed, and she did, too. They were married on October 5, 1968, and had three children.
Graham drove his Chevelle through the mid-1980s. When it was time for something new, and lacking a garage, he parked it in his backyard in Charlotte, where it remained for 35 years as a keepsake. When it was obvious that the car was deteriorating and Graham had “turned 80,” he agreed with Marilyn that he wasn’t ever going to fix it up, and a sale might be best.
Through this author, Graham contacted Jonathan Large, a Chevelle enthusiast who was interested in the car for the story and the pedigree. He lived 100 miles north of Graham’s home in Charlotte. They met and talked for a couple of months.
Jonathan and Graham waited until they found a buyer that would restore the car instead of flipping it or parting it out for a profit, and made a deal.
The $30 Graham paid for the undercoating in 1966 proved important to the car’s survival 55 years later. The undercoat helped save the floor pans from the elements. Despite being outdoors for five decades, there were only two small holes. The fenders needed to be replaced, and the quarters needed work, but the frame rails were solid. The car was complete with the original matching-numbers 325-hp 396 V-8.
The day the Chevelle departed, John and Marilyn were smiling and in good spirits. They were happy the car went to a good home. It will be restored, and they will get to see it—and, Jonathan assured them, drive it again, too.