Blowing Through the Years – Five Decades and 360,000 Miles in a Blown Drop-Top 1965 Chevelle
When Bill Keller dropped $700 for a five-year-old Chevelle convertible in 1970, he probably wasn’t thinking about keeping the car for 50 years. But that’s what happened. Today the much-traveled 1965 Chevelle has accumulated more than 360,000 miles, some in quarter-mile bursts but most in much more routine street driving.
Bill bought the 327-powered, four-speed car with about 50,000 miles on the odometer. In its early years in upstate New York, the Chevelle was a daily driver except for the worst winter months. One early incident hinted at the car’s durability. Bill married in 1973 and he and his new bride drove the ’65 from New York to Virginia Beach, where they ran into high water on the roadway.
“It was probably up to the headlights,” Bill says. “I kept it running and got up on dry land. I had to keep it buzzed up enough because of the water. Eventually it cleared out and ran fine.”
In 1975, Bill decided to convert the car for drag racing. As often happens, he went through several engines during the Chevelle’s racing life. When the local track closed in 1981, he put the car back to the street, first building blown small-block and eventually assembling the 468c.i. big-block Chevy topped with a BDS blower and electronic fuel injection that’s in the car today. A Doug Nash five-speed was installed in 1989 for one key reason: “I kept breaking the Muncies,” Bill says.
The pro-street convertible runs 29×18.50 Hoosier tires in the rear along with a 3.08:1 rearend. Power disc brakes in the front and drums in the rear handle the stopping.
“People are surprised to see a convertible pro-streeted,” Bill says. “No roll cage. I had one in the car when I drag raced it. When I put the car on the street with the top down it looked terrible.”
Bill has made a couple of passes since officially retiring the car from racing, though its last quarter-mile shot had a not necessarily happy ending. “The last time I was at the track I made a pass and as I came down the return road, they told me to park it,” he says. The Chevelle had turned a 10.55/133mph run – fast enough to require more safety equipment like a roll cage to be legal. Bill didn’t want to go back to that version.
Racking up 300,000-plus miles over 50 years has resulted in making a few repairs on the road. Driving to a show one time the car developed a miss. The analysis indicated that cylinder six wasn’t firing. Pulling the valve cover revealed a broken rocker arm. That’s not a spare part that most anyone carries on road trips, so a bit of scavenging produced a fix.
“Every garage everywhere has a small block Chevy behind it,” Bill says. “My buddy went to the nearest garage, found one, asked if he could have a rocker. He came back with a rocker, push rod and rocker ball. We got it going again.”
A bad vibration developed going to another show; the car just wouldn’t run. A friend helped tow the Chevelle to the campground where they were staying. “We straddled a ditch with the car and got underneath,” Bill says. The problem: The whole center section clutch disc let go. A trip to the nearest auto parts store produced a replacement that solved the problem.
Bill’s advice on putting so many miles on a 55-year-old car that can cruise the highways and turn 10-second quarter-mile times? “Drive it and if something breaks, fix it,” he says. “These cars are meant to go down the road.”
Bill has done all the work on his 1965 Chevelle except for bodywork, so he knows the car inside and out. What’s next? Bill says that after 36 years the paint is finally showing its age, so a fresh finish is hopefully in the future.
Photos by Robert McCarter