Curbside Classic: 1968 Chevelle 300 Deluxe Sport Coupe – The Living High School Time Capsule From 1974

(first posted 11/14/2017)       When I first spotted the jacked-up rear end of this ’68 Chevelle coupe from a block or two down the street on my afternoon walk with the dog, I assumed it was the typical and predictable Malibu coupe, meaning the car its owner lusted after in high school and finally got to the point in life where he could recreate it, and then some. As in resto-modded, with heavy doses of big-block crate-engine steroids, unlike the wimpy 307-powered coupe with a loud muffler that managed to just barely peel a bit of rubber as it pulled out of the high school lot every afternoon back in 1974, but still managed to plant the seeds of lust in his youthful imagination that eventually just had to be consummated.

No, this turned out to be something altogether different. This actually is the car that pulled out of the high school lot every day, chirping its little 14″ tires thanks to a dumped clutch, not an excess of power. And it’s still being driven by the same guy. And it’s never been improved or modified the slightest, so it’s really showing its age. Which makes this the ultimate Chevelle time capsule; in other words, the ultimate Chevelle CC.

Confession time: I don’t actually know that it’s still being driven by the same guy. But it’s an extremely plausible bet. This is the perfect representative of the kind of Chevelle that a 16 or 17 year old kid would buy with his after-school job earnings. Yes, of course he lusted after a SS396, or even better, a 1970 LS4 SS454.  But who could afford that on burger-flipping wages? Maybe at least a Malibu with a 327. No such luck.

He scoured the papers and used car lots and found this, and it was close enough, and doable: A Chevelle 300 Deluxe Sport Coupe. Two-barrel lo-po 307 V8. But at least it didn’t have the Powerglide; the three-on-the-tree at least allowed for mini-burnouts. And to top it off, it had a factory vinyl roof. Deal!

Just to clarify: back in the day, the overwhelming majority of Chevelles would sport a Malibu badge here on their front fenders. Malibu was the higher-trim version of the Chevelle, and also the big seller, by far. Malibu coupes where everywhere in ’68 and ’69. My high school girlfriend’s parents traded in a ’63 VW Beetle on a gold with black vinyl topped ’69 Malibu coupe, which was undoubtedly the most common color combo then. 307, PG, power steering, and as dull to drive as dishwater. Give me the Beetle any day.

But this one is almost a unicorn: a 300 Deluxe Sport Coupe, which was actually the middle trim level, and also came in a regular (post) coupe (yellow) and sedan (below).

The only thing below that was the regular 300, which only came in a post coupe (above) and wagon. Having been an eagle-eyed car spotter in 1968 or so, I can assure you that these 300 and 300 Deluxes were mighty scarce on the ground. Why? The economy was booming thanks to the Vietnam war, and nobody wanted a stripper anymore (except of course my father, the neurologist). Strippers (the car type) just were not cool anymore, and in ’68, almost everyone wanted to be cool, if even just a bit so. That had changed very quickly from say 5 or 7 years earlier, where strippers were all too common. If you were so poor in ’68 that you couldn’t afford a Malibu, you bought a Nova instead.

Less than 13k of the 300s were sold, and all of 43k 300 Deluxes, most of them probably wagons and sedans. Meanwhile, close to 300k Malibus rolled off the lots in ’68. Most of them coupes.

So let’s check out this high-school time-warp-mobile from 1974 (or so). What I first noticed as Lil’ Man and I approached from the rear was the lack of two big chromed exhaust pipes sticking out the back of its lifted rear end. Hmm. Side pipes? Nope. Maybe a shorty pipe (or two) with cherry bombs, for the true 1974 experience?

I did notice that the vinyl roof was showing its age; well, a bit more blatantly than the rest of the exterior.

I mostly loathed vinyl roofs back then. Yes, there were a few cars they looked right on, but by 1968-1969, just about every car coming off the lines in the US had the same patterned black vinyl roof. Of course one paid extra for the pleasure, and it undoubtedly was a great source of extra profit for the car makers, as how much can a couple of yards of black vinyl and glue cost? When you’re buying it by the million square mile? But the extra price was paid twice by their owners.

Once at the time of purchase, and then again years later, when the moisture trapped under it began to bubble up, in the form of rust.

And left holes in the process. This is the only kind of rust cars in Oregon get, unless they live really close to the beach. Our Oregon Healing Rain™ can only do its job if allowed to wash the entropy-inducing impurities away. If the miraculous molecules get trapped under vinyl, they slowly regress back into plain old water, and it starts to do its thing. Ugly.

I’ve never claimed that our healing rains work on aftermarket wheels; these Cragar S/S wheels are rusty too. Well, they’ve been there for a mighty long time, because nobody would put 14″ Cragars on a proper dream-mobile Malibu. Not since the mid 80s, or even sooner. But then if you’re going to peel a little rubber, better to have little rubber.

I was very tempted to raise the hood of the Chevelle to confirm my hunch that it more than likely still has its 307 V8, given how everything else is so original. Yes, I have done that to one or two older parked cars that had outside hood releases. What’s someone going to do? Oh, I thought that was my Chevelle; it looks just like it! Anyway, I’ve got my dog along for protection…

Of course there’s a very good argument to be made that the original 307 (I assume, although the call-out badges have also melted away) might not have lasted the duration. In which case some other variant of sbc sits under there, thanks to a junkyard donor mobile.

The interior is showing its decades of wear and tear quite visibly, especially the tears. When I saw the floor shifter and clutch pedal, I did have a moment’s wonder if this might be a four-speed. Nah! This is an aftermarket conversion for the original three-speed. Which fits the rest of the car’s original mission quite well: somebody in 1968 of relatively modest means who wanted a bit of style (and a vinyl roof), a basic V8 and a three speed, to make that basic V8 feel a bit more lively. The original buyer most likely drove a similarly equipped ’55, ’56 or ’57 Chevy 210 two-door previously. And a Chevelle equipped like this was as close as to a perfect replacement as possible. The vinyl roof was a concession to changing taste, but that was plenty. Armstrong steering and manual drum brakes, for sure.

All in all, just the thing for its second owner to love, cherish and protect, to the extent of his abilities. And to spice up with two big splurges: the Cragar wheels and the floor shift conversion. Nothing more…in over 40 years. Maybe things didn’t go so well for him, career-wise.

If you noticed that the blanket seems to be covering up a mini-crater in the driver’s side cushion, you’re a good noticer. The passenger side’s crater is fully exposed, revealing several geological strata. The next layer down is likely to poke holes in one’s pants, which undoubtedly explains the blanket. I’m going to make the safe assumption that the owner is single and doesn’t date much anymore.

I told you this car was truly original.

But the rear seat is still in quite good condition. Too bad the lower cushion is so short, otherwise it could be swapped with the front one. Yes, these 112″ GM A-Body coupes had miserable room in the back. The legroom in my GF’s parents Malibu back there was no better than their Beetle’s had been, especially since her mom was so short, which made the VW pretty doable back there.

The vinyl roof is doing its ugly thing on the A-Pillar too.

I do wish the owner would have showed up. I bet this Chevelle has a hell of a story, or three.

But then this Chevelle wears its story on its tattered body for all to see. I have a hard time imagining any further hidden details or dark secrets. I am what I am; and that’s not something you see every day.