Yesterday’s original, today’s survivor

Old Cars Weekly archive – July 17, 2008 issue

Treasured 1970 Chevelle SS 454 has 16,000 miles

Story and photos by John Gunnell

In days gone by, this 16,000-mile untouched 1970 Chevelle SS 454 would probably have been referred to as an original or unrestored car. Today, the more specific term “Survivor” has been coined to help collectors assess condition.

If you like original cars, you may have heard that the organizers of Bloomington Gold expanded their Survivor class this year to cover all makes and models of cars and trucks, rather than just Corvettes. Survivors are vehicles at least 20 years old that are judged to be more than 50 percent unrestored. Their finish and condition are good enough to allow them to be used as a reference for the authentic restoration of a similar vehicle. 

The 1970 Chevelle SS 454 shown here has never been restored and has just 16,000 miles, making it a great example of a survivor. In addition to its great condition, this car has almost all the goodies. This car left the factory with the Z15 — or SS 454 — option, which includes bright engine accents, dual exhausts with bright tips, power front disc brakes, a black grille, wheel opening moldings, a special rear bumper with a resilient black insert, a special domed hood, a heavy-duty suspension, 14×7-inch sport wheels and F70x14 wide-oval white lettered tires. It has a Turbo Hydra-Matic with a column shift and a bench-style front seat. Some enthusiasts might prefer bucket seats and a four-speed gearbox but, like we said, the car is original all the way and it is how it was ordered.

Under its hood is the hot LS6 454-cid/450-hp V-8. This was a true “muscle car” engine featuring four-bolt main bearings, nodular iron bearing caps, heavy-duty connecting rods, big-diameter exhaust valves and a solid-lifter camshaft.

This SS 454 retains most of its original green paint, an original white vinyl interior and all of its original drivetrain components. The car is documented with four factory build sheets and its original Protect-O-Plate. This is an embossed plate that dealers made up to track warranty work. It carries information about the car that matches the details of the actual vehicle. The car also has a completely documented chain of ownership and comes with all titles issued to it. The original owner is still available to answer questions about the car.

As has long been the case in the old-car hobby, stampings and markings are important to document a rare car. This number is found on the frame of Steve Bimbi’s 1970 Chevelle SS 454.

Despite lacking a few typical muscle car extras, the car was sold with a number of other rare options, such as the ZL2 Cowl Induction system, a factory tachometer, gauge package, 3.31:1 Posi-traction rear axle and a sport steering wheel. The car was shown at the Chevy Vette Fest/Rick Nelson LS6 display in Rosemont, Ill., where it earned a Silver Spinner Award.

Original factory-placed production line markings show up all over the car. The frame has the inspection number “532” stamped on it. There are other factory numbers marked on the sheet metal and other under-hood components. The alternator is stamped with a CZ/4 code that proves it to be the original. Markings like these were made by assembly line workers and inspectors and usually wear off with age. Sometimes, restorers research them and replace them. According to the car’s current dealer owner, the markings of the Chevelle are original.

Bimbi’s unrestored Chevelle still retains its original alternator, which carries the CZ4 code. The presence of a stamped code such as this is important in an authentic restoration

The car still has the correct type of power steering hoses with factory fittings, which is another sign that nothing was changed under the hood. The loop-type handle on the engine oil dipstick still has a telltale dab of factory yellow paint on its end. Some under-hood and frame areas show slight surface rust, because the car has not been touched up. While not detailed, the engine looks practically new, other than rust on the exhaust manifolds and a few other mechanical parts.

Owner Steve Bimbi, of Nickey Chicago, pointed out numbers stamped on the trunk lip that verify this car was built with a Chevelle hardtop body. Steve also showed us a factory flaw. During the car’s assembly, a line worker left a piece of weld wire in a corner of the trunk near a welded seam. When the car was spray painted, the paint went right over the welding wire. Steve said this was an “original error” that you don’t see on perfectly restored Chevelles.

Here, Steve Bimbi, of Nickey Chicago, points to markings on the original weatherstrip on the trunk opening. The car’s decklid also has a stamping on it that verifies the body style of the car.

All of the door stickers on the SS 454 show what collectors call “matching numbers.” In other words, the VIN on the door tag is the same one on the Fisher Body tag and on documentation, such as the Protect-O-Plate. Under the never-touched trunk lid is an original (not reproduction) factory sticker that cautions the owner about the correct procedure for jacking a car with a Posi-traction rear axle. There is also a jacking instructions sticker and spare tire stowing label. The flawless light gray textured trunk mat came with the car when it left the factory.

As a dealer who specializes in selling choice muscle cars, Bimbi believes that top-notch “Survivor” cars, such as this SS 454, are “worth two to three times what normal cars are worth.” It’s hard to argue.

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