(originally posted 5/19/2013) Opportunity was knocking, but thankfully the engine was not. After riding a motorcycle as my only mode of transportation for a while, my parents called and made me an offer that was quite tempting…
Uh, no; not a new car with insurance paid and a gas card. However, they did have a set of friends visiting from Germany that had flown into Seattle, purchased a used car there and then drove it all over the western seaboard, eventually making their way down to Los Angeles to fly back home. Problem was, what to do with the wagon? Well, for $500 I received the keys to a well-running, if slightly battle-scarred and definitely non-babe-magnetized station wagon.
This was all handled over the phone, and a few weeks later I actually laid eyes on the magnificent beast. Metallic “Gulf Green” outside, green inside, blackwalls, no hubcaps, a dent in the rear bumper and Washington plates. Oh baby! I got the keys and the first difference from my prior non-domestic rides struck me – different keys for the door and ignition. I got in, fired up the 350 and liked what I heard. (Note: the only picture of my actual car is the one at the very top, sadly no other pictures appear to have been either taken or saved.)
Pulling out of the driveway and down the street that first time was a revelation. So smooth, so relaxed. So…waftable! It just rode so well with that soft suspension, long wheelbase, and road-hugging weight. Then the first corner arrived and all that weight and the soft suspension made itself known all over again, but in not such a good way. She rolled like an overloaded freighter in a storm. But it’s something you get used to quickly; once my internals had recalibrated themselves, it became a non-issue over time.
When the car was built in 1972, things were changing in Detroit. Cars were peaking in size (the Colonnade Malibu wagon that arrived in 1973 was even bigger than this one), gas prices would soon be heading up, and compression ratios were dropping along with how power outputs were measured. The base V8 in CA that year for Chevelles was the 350 with a 165 net hp rating, with 280 ft-lb of easy torque. Of course it had to propel a mass of some 4000lbs! Top speed was supposedly 108mph, but I don’t think I ever topped 75 or 80, (the needle was a bit wobbly); anyway, it got to feeling just a wee bit unstable at those speeds.
After getting a set of CA plates for the car, up it went with me to college. I came to really love the way it rode down the freeway, and all the space inside. I still have a thing for large American cars that I can trace back to this one; whenever I have to rent a car these days I always hope I get upgraded to something large and domestic but non-SUV.
That big bench seat in the front made it possible to really lounge while driving and while the windows were not powered, the rear tailgate window was power, with a little rocker switch on the dash. As long as you opened the driver side window you got a great breeze going through the car instead of just the fumes being sucked back in.
Concours was the trim level of the wagons comparable to the Malibu version of the Chevelle of the time. As far as I can tell there was a fancier version called the Concours Estate with fake wood paneling, and there were the more budget versions Nomad (entry-level) and the mid-level Greenbrier. My source says that Chevrolet built 54,335 of these wagons for 1972, which seems like a huge number!
Other than the power tailgate glass and the tailgate that was hinged both at the bottom and at the side so you could open it either way, the car did not really have many other features of note. The engine was the ubiquitous 350 V-8, with the THM three-speed, over-boosted power steering, front disc brakes that seemed to work adequately and the kind of thirst for the cheapest gas that I could find that can only be described as vulgar. I’d hate to have to pay to fill this thing up these days, that’s for sure.
For spring break that year a couple of buddies and I decided to go to Mexico. This was the late 80’s when it was still sort of safe (compared to what’s on the news nowadays). One of my friends had recently fractured his back in a car accident and still had to wear a back brace for a large part of the day, he found it most comfortable to actually fold the rear bench down and lay in the back. So he did, for several hours until we actually entered Mexico. Safety First!
Driving through Tijuana and on the highway on the way to Rosarita, we realized that our car really blended in with the local traffic better than anything else we had ever taken down there or ever would in the future. It was also one of the few times that we were not stopped by the Federales and offered the opportunity to pay a “fine” on the spot. Never any receipts, of course.
Baja Mexico has a very smooth coastal highway, however once you get off of that the roads are very bad. The big Chevy really did great on all the bad and unpaved roads; it handled the bumps and giant potholes with aplomb, and we cruised smoothly to the liquor store nearest our hotel, where we filled the back of the Chevelle with cases of Pacifico and Tecate for our vacation week.
It’s weird, but this was one of the older cars I ever owned (and would own going forward) and yet it turns out that I really do not recall ever having to do anything to it. Sure, I changed the oil and checked the tires, but on virtually every other car I have owned I remember all the repairs, but not with this one. I’m assuming there weren’t any, certainly nothing that ever caused any worries. In some ways I suppose they really don’t build them like they used to (and in other ways that is good I guess!) but this big wagon really was a great car. Engineered and built here for the conditions at hand, with the well-proven drive train and mechanicals, it did what it was supposed to very well and without complaint; always faithful and eager to head down the road.
Eventually I moved on again, and something different caught my eye. I vaguely recall giving this one to my mother to drive for a while when something happened to her car; between her and my little brother it acquired a few more dents and then it eventually was sold off. I really liked this wagon a lot, but weirdly do not have a lot of strong memories of it; I suppose it just did its job quietly and as expected without drama. Upon reflection, that’s a very nice thing…