By Brian Earnest
Bruce Perreault tries to play it low-key when it comes to his menacing 1966 Chevrolet Biscayne. He tries not to brag about the car’s pedigree or its success at the major judged shows where it has recently appeared.
But when inquiring minds ask the inevitable question — “How fast is it?” — the Windermere, Fla., resident can’t bring himself to tell a lie.
“A lot of guys will walk up to it and kind of ignore it, but then they see the 427 flag and they see the hood open,” Perreault chuckles. “Then they want to know, ‘Is this car as bad as it’s supposed to be?’ I have to say, ‘Yeah, if you get in it, you need to have your seat belt on and you need to hold on.
“It’s scary fast. Back then, Chevrolet built them to compete against the MoPars and stuff, and they did a good job of it.”
Perreault didn’t buy his rare, fire-breathing big-block Chevy to race it, but that’s what the L72-optioned 427-cid/425-hp cars were designed for when General Motors was upping the ante in the horsepower race in the mid-1960s. Perreault’s car may have been literally driven straight from the dealer to the track. Actually, it never really had a private owner until several years into its life.
“Bader Chevrolet [in Fontana, Calif.] had it and raced it right from the beginning,” Perreault said. “That’s what these cars were really for.
“At one time, the front end was flamed. For awhile the car was raced, and then it was shown. When it was done racing, and the second guy owned it … that’s when he started showing the car. It was in Hot Rod magazine and Street Rodder. It never got driven much on the street. Even to this day it’s only got around 50,000 miles on it.”
And even though Biscaynes were the low-budget, bottom dwellers of the full-size Chevrolet family, it’s a safe bet that this car hasn’t traveled many of those 50,000 miles quietly. For guys like Perreault, they are the ultimate “wolf in sheep’s clothing” machine — as plain Jane as they come inside and out, but with the fiercest GM factory engine available shoehorned between the front fenders.
Less than 200 of the L72 Biscaynes left the factory, and not many of them lived easy lives. Perreault had been looking for a decent survivor to call his own for several years and eventually found one he thought he could restore. That plan took a detour, however, when a second car entered the picture.
“The first time I saw one of these L72 Biscaynes was in like 1987, when both my kids were in college,” he said. “A guy had one for sale and I just couldn’t buy it. So then in about 2000 I started really looking for one of those original L72 Biscaynes and I couldn’t find one. I was wishing I had bought the one I saw.
“I finally found a car out in Oklahoma, and I was going to use it to do the best re-creation I could do. I had it shipped in and started collecting things to do the re-creation … But then somebody told me about this one. It was going to be run through a Mecum auction. That was back in 2006, and I couldn’t go to the auction, but I had a guy I knew that would be there. He called me the day before the auction and said if I didn’t buy the car, he would. So I bought it that night over the phone.”
At that point, Perreault shelved his plans for a re-creation and decided to go have some fun with his pavement-pounding Chevrolet before tearing it down and starting over with a ground-up, concours-quality restoration. “Yeah, I played with it for a year and a half, getting it out of my system, running the crap out of it and that type of thing,” he joked. “The car is just scary fast. Before we put the thing back together, I’d take it out and do burnouts and run through gears up through 110 mph and back down, and then do it again.
“Even after we got finished with it, I took it out the driveway and said, ‘One more burnout,’ and I just lit it up one more time with those little nylon tires in first and second gear.’ My buddy, who helped me with all of it, said, ‘I hope you got that out of your system, because we got a lot of time invested in that car.’”
It’s a bit of a Cinderella story that any Biscayne would be a highly coveted collector prize these days, given that they were Chevy’s bargain-priced machines during their production run from 1958 to 1972. For 1966, the Biscaynes were offered as four-door sedans, two-door sedans and four-door station wagons that came standard with 140-hp inline six-cylinder engines mated to three-speed, column-shift manual transmissions. Of course, it was the 1960s, and it was the muscle car era, so there was a lengthy list of more inspiring drive train combinations available. Among the engines on the options menu were 283, 327 and 396 V-8s, a 390-horse L36 version of the 427-cid big-block, and the top dog — the 427-cid, 425-hp widow maker — one of which went into Perreault’s car.
“There are less than a dozen of these fully documented cars left,” Perreault said. “Supposedly between 166 and 188 were produced, but nobody can seem to tell you the exact number.”
While the fancy new Caprice was grabbing much of the spotlight for big-bodied Chevys from 1965 and into 1966, the Biscayne had to make do with a rather humble list of standard “features:” a slightly revised grille, new headlight bezels, new rectangular tail lamps that replaced the traditional round units, vinyl and cloth interiors, foam cushioning in the front seat only, carpeting, dual sun visors, heater and defroster, seat belts in front and back, a glove compartment with a light inside and black sidewall tires.
About the only option Perreault’s Biscayne received was power steering, although it doesn’t have it today. “The first time I got on it, it was scary,” he said. “It just floated and drifted so much. Then we went and got a conventional steering box and had it rebuilt and took the power steering off it. Then it drove a lot nicer.”
Fancy or not, the Biscaynes remained plenty popular with John Q. Public. Chevrolet built 307,900 for the model year, with prices starting as low as $2,379 for a six-cylinder equipped two-door sedan.
When Perreault finally got a hold of his L72 Biscayne, he found it a had a few flaws and problems associated with its racing days. The car’s warts didn’t really matter to its new owner, however. He planned to start over entirely with the car, anyway. “I planned to do a complete frame-off restoration. That’s the only way I’ll do a car — completely disassemble it and start over,” he said.
“I knew it was a drag car before I got it, and I knew there were some things wrong with it, but all the numbers were right. It had a roll cage in it, for one thing, but the floor was the worst thing … We didn’t have to replace anything, just pieced some things together they way they should be. They beat the crap out of the chassis and we had to re-‘X’ the frame and cut the frame out where the roll cage was… We took the motor all apart and there were some issues with the motor. All the main bearings were in the wrong sequence, and when I saw that I was surprised I didn’t blow the car up. The alternator was wrong, the water pump was wrong, the starter was wrong… We rebuilt the motor and transmission; rebuilt the rear end. We put in all new glass. The bumpers are re-done.
“We completely replaced the interior. We sent the door panels off to CARS Inc. in Michigan. We got new carpeting; had the seats redone; new headliner; padded dash… I had to buy a set of Impala sun visors and then take them apart and modify them to make them correct… The belts were sent off to Ssnake Oyl in Texas. They refurbished the seat belts.
“And it was missing a few nuts and bolts, but we have a junk yard here — Late Great Chevy. Every time I was missing a correct bolt or washer or screw, I’d make a list and walk his junk yard ’til I found everything. There’s not a stone unturned on the car.”
Leaving no stone unturned meant springing for a ridiculously expensive hat for the air cleaner, too. “I found one on eBay for about $1,500,” Perreault laughed. “Now, 99 out of 100 guys couldn’t tell you mine was wrong, but I knew… Then, when I got it, I had to get it restored. I probably spent another 2 1/2 days just on the air cleaner, getting it so I could paint it.”
Perreault finally finished his 20-month restoration in October 2009, and since then he has been parading the stellar black Biscayne through some of the biggest events on the East Coast, including the Lake Mirror Classic in Lakeland, Fla., the Winter National Chevrolet Meet in Cocoa Beach, Fla., the AACA Meet in Homestead and the concours at Hilton Head. “It won the Chairman’s Award at the Lake Mirror Classic,” he said. “That was in October, then in Cocoa it got 994 out of a possible 1,000 points. Then in March at Homestead we got a perfect 400 score and got the First Junior Award… At the International Chevy meet in Orlando it was one of three cars that got a perfect score.”
At another event, Perreault said, the car scored 997 “and they took off three points for ‘over-restoration.’”
For now, the Biscayne is mostly a trailer queen, with its road time reserved to occasional “short rides around the subdivision to get it warmed up good.” That won’t be the case for ever, though. Perreault figures the car’s days as a show pony at big events are probably numbered. “It’s pretty much shown itself out,” he said.
“I’m waiting to see if it gets accepted to Amelia Island, then I’ll probably start driving it a little bit more. For now, I don’t want to take it out too much and ding it up.”
Regardless of what the car does competitively in the future, Perreault figures he’s already accomplished his goal of turning his jumbo-sized muscle machine into a shining specimen of the breed.
“My goal was just to make the car the best L72 ’66 Biscayne in the country,” he admitted.
“Based on what some guys who know the cars tell me, I’d say we achieved it.”
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