“Not For Sale”
Finding a rare car that’s also for sale can be the car-world equivalent to winning the lottery. Finding the car is usually the best part of the story until that all too common phrase, “but it wasn’t for sale” hangs at the end of a tongue with the bitter taste of disappointment. Constantly getting the same “I plan on restoring it someday” answer can easily discourage a person to a point where they don’t bother stopping when they see the silhouette a ’66 Mustang Fastback peeking out from inside a garage. That was the case for me when I first saw this 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS 454 nearly 10 years ago.
My First Barn Find
The car was parked on a lawn in front of a road service repair shop in a little town between Laredo and San Antonio, Texas. I was probably 15 or 16 years old the first time I spotted it on the drive to San Antonio, TX. I knew it was a Monte Carlo because of its rear fenders, but a blue tarp covered the rest of the car so I couldn’t get an accurate model year. It sat next to a horse trailer and a parted out late 70’s C3 Corvette shell. For years I saw this car while traveling between cities. It became a landmark to me whenever I made the trip. Seeing the Monte Carlo meant that I was halfway between both cities, which is always a sigh of relief because the 150 mile journey is just a mind numbing interstate snooze.
The Mile Maker Monte Carlo
Last year, around Thanksgiving break, I noticed that they had moved the Monte Carlo from its resting spot and was now inside the shop. By now I had made my peace about never asking if the car was for sale, but I was still curious about seeing the car up close, as any car-person would be. The only reason I never bothered to stop and ask about it was because the road trip is so boring that you are more focused on making good time than you are about stopping to check out old cars.(Shocking I know).
On Christmas Eve, I was driving home for the holidays after finishing a 9 hour shift of renting cars to people who love to complain. I was enjoying the peace and quiet of solitude when I past the halfway mark and noticed that the Monte Carlo was parked outside. This time it was uncovered and promptly displayed out on the lawn. I wasn’t in any hurry and the gate to the shop was open, so I got off on the nearest exit ramp and headed back to finally see the car.
The shop fixed 18-wheelers so there is a huge area between the gate and the building itself. The Monte Carlo was parked by the fence, but I was taught to always find the owner in these situations because you just don’t know. I’ve read and heard too many stories of shotguns and dog bites when hunting rare cars.
The shop looked empty but I saw different year C3 Corvettes in various stages of frame off restorations and then I noticed a closed car trailer with voices coming from the inside. The trailer was carrying a ’39 Chevy Business Coupe dragster that was being loaded up by the owner. Trying to sound as friendly as possible, I told the man I was here because I was curious about the Monte Carlo.
The rest of the story still feels too good to be true. The owner was very friendly and more than happy to stop what he was doing in order to show me the Monte Carlo. He told me to meet him by the car while he went to go grab the keys. I was excited because I was finally going to satisfy years of curiosity and hearing him say “keys” meant that the car was running, or at least had an engine. I always thought the car was just a shell since it sat for so many years.
I was up close when I saw why this 1970 Monte Carlo sat for so many years… it had no roof! Rust had eaten away the vinyl top and 90% of its sheet metal. All that was left were crumbs of metal and the cross member where the interior light was holding on by a thread. The black vinyl interior looked weather worn, but in surprisingly good shape for being exposed to the elements. The owner came with the keys and turned the engine over. The Monte Carlo started up quicker than my own ’69 Camaro!
The story goes that the owner purchased the Monte Carlo just for the engine, and that’s when he pointed to the worn looking SS 454 badge that was at the bottom corner of the front fender. He opened the hood and there was the beast of an engine purring away. The engine sounded much better than the state of its roof.
The owner wanted the engine so he could swap it into one of his pickup trucks and turn it into a street machine. When he first got the car he figured the engine needed a complete rebuild until he saw that it only had 42,000 miles showing on the odometer. New spark plugs, battery, fuel filter, oil, and fresh gas was all it needed to start up without a hitch. After seeing how well it ran he didn’t have the heart to separate it from its home and decided to sell the car to someone who would restore it.
The roof rust happened during the first owner, who was an elderly man who parked it under a mesquite tree for 15 years! That’s where all the rust damage came from, and why it was covered for so many years. Now came for the question I was nervous to ask, “Is it for sale?”
The owner’s response was short and sweet, “Yep.” We exchanged information and I told him that I wanted to talk with my father about the car. Three weeks later I was driving to meet my father at the halfway mark with a trailer to pick up the Monte Carlo.
Not Dead Yet
Some of my less car savvy friends are concerned that I purchased a rare basket case that is too far gone to be saved. I completely understand why they think that when you look at the car and see the sunroof that Mother Nature installed, but this Monte Carlo is very much alive.
Besides the 42,000 mile odometer and drive-able condition, the interior lights still work. Hell, even the horn works! The interior light on the roof is hanging on by a small section that hasn’t been eaten away by rust and works perfectly. As if its the only way it can tell people that its still got some live in it. My mother was the one who found the little light shining in an abandoned interior endearing, saying that it deserves to be restored for that reason alone. This car was saved once before when the previous owner decided not to pull its engine, and it was saved a second time when it came to our GM ranch.
Driving It Across the Country
Since we became the new owners the Monte Carlo has been fitted with a temporary top to keep it dry from the elements and restoration started this past weekend. We thought about cutting the top and making the first convertible Monte Carlo SS, but then we found out they made less than 3,300 SS package Monte Carlos in 1970 and immediately decided to restore instead.
Saving the car from a rusty grave is only the first step for this gentlemen’s muscle car. A trip that I have been bouncing around my head for almost a year has now infused with the idea of getting this car back on the road. If the car is road legal by the second week in October its maiden voyage will be a solo road trip through the west coast to Vancouver, BC and then come back down to Texas in a 6,000+ mile loop. Why? Well, why not?
“See the U.S.A in your Chevrolet.”
Stopping in cities like Los Angles, Portland, Vancouver, Helena, Denver, and Las Vegas (if time allows), to see national landmarks and parks in the Monte Carlo. Should make for quite the adventure if everything comes together at the right time. I even started a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money for just gas money since all my current assets is being poured into the restoration. However, I made a deal with a my pride, whatever is raised from the GoFundMe campaign I will only be using 20% and donating the other 80% to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. If the car is not ready in time for the trip then I will donate the full 100% since I won’t be needing it until fall 2017.
People ask me why I am so determined to pull this off and the reason is simple, I’m 24. I want to see the country I call home before the responsibilities of life delays my opportunity. If I hit the road in the Monte Carlo you can bet I will be writing and posting everything I encounter, and hopefully I’ll have a few surprises lined up for your entertainment.
Only Time Will Tell
I pray time and money are kind to us over the next few weeks as the car gets patched up and put back on the road where it belongs. Road trip aside, getting a rare muscle car back on the road is the ultimate goal.