Article by Chris Krutch Wall
1968 Chevrolet Chevelle SS
You don’t get much more badass than a 396 cubic inch 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle SS, especially when there are only three known to be in a driveable condition in the country. This big block bad boy is a real head-turner thanks to a comprehensive ground-up rebuild by owner @RianBrandt. I know people often frown on stereotypes, but just close your eyes for a second and imagine what kind of man would build and drive a muscle car like this and chances are you will have pictured Riaan perfectly. After meeting the guy I’m not sure who’s meaner – Rian or the Chevelle…
These Chevelles, the big block 396 in particular, are pretty hard to come by. Rian found his project car thanks to a suggestion from Bryce Roberts, owner of Creative Rides in Fourways. “It was presented as an investment opportunity because of its rarity and undisputed reputation as one of the true American muscle cars of the sixties.” says Rian. There are plenty cars out there that could fill the same need, but Rian opted for the Chevelle because of just how good they can look. If you’re going to build a car that has to compete with other legends from the same era, it’s always best to take the one with the status of being awesome.
When undertaking a new project that’s a ground-up rebuild you can often get carried away with things, producing an end result that’s too far removed from the original car, but when you’re doing things as a potential monetary investment, the only real way to guarantee a return on your investment is to stick to what the manufacturer did in the first place. Rian says: “It’s an attractive and legendary car that had to compete with other legends of the day and in many cases, came out on top. The potential of restoring a true classic piqued my interest”. While the Chevelle was in a fair condition with a good and functional drivetrain, the interior was a wreck. Everything was in place but it all needed at- tention in some or other way to bring back its former glory. This prompted Rian to rather go for the full ground-up rebuild because there would be nothing worse than spending time and money getting the car right only to find out there’s something seriously wrong deep down later on.
“When I acquired her, I decided to break her down to ground level to ensure there are no hidden misfortunes. My vision was to keep the clean original look but enhance and replace all the essentials.” says Rian. The entire suspen- sion set-up was replaced with new, original components. Rian also ordered a one-inch lowering kit from Rally Sport Spares – this is why the Chevelle has such an aggressive stance. The chassis remained standard and original but was completely cleaned up and painted black, because black is always cool. To enhance the drivability Rian fitted the car with some tasty American Racing wheels in that classic five-spoke style. There are 20-inch wheels at the rear and 18-inch wheels up front. “The wheels tuck nicely into the body arches without affecting the handling of the car.”
Under that expansive hood things are also pretty sweet now; Rian kept the original engine but decided to add a few choice mods when putting it back together – as you do. The intake manifold received a gas flow and a Compe- tition Camshaft was fitted to help increase performance, along with a sizeable Holley 670 carb, which was a necessary replacement – these mods brought the big block to life. A new distributor and all-new wiring are now in play too. Completing the engine mods, Rian fitted a stainless steel free flow exhaust with some new, wrapped branches. “I wanted to keep heat exchange from the branches to the engine bay to a minimum so the branches are wrapped with fibreglass-infused heat-shield- ing tape. The new exhaust system produces a pleasant sound when driving on the open road. When the accelerator is pushed to the floor, the roar awakens your senses on every level. She makes heads turn and ears burn!”
I can attest to this; shooting in a basement parking lot amplified the sound. It was awe- some! The Chevelle came with a 2-speed Powerglide box but Rian opted for the popular 3-speed Turbo 400 box as a replacement. It increases driveability and also makes better use of the power coming from that big old 396. To help stop 1.8 tons of rapidly moving old-school steel, the original braking system was replaced with new components all round, including the booster, master cylinder, lines and finally new front discs with a set of new two-piston calipers.
The Chevelle looks great thanks to the new paint that was applied after some minor rust repair in a few spots. RPM Technologies in Sunderland Ridge, Pretoria (who also did the car’s wiring), skilfully applied the paint, which is a brilliant red, a slightly brighter shade than the paint from the ‘60s. “The colour was chosen to match the original, yet I decided to eliminate brown from the mix to enhance the brilliant red seen on some Italian sports cars. The red on this car has a complete and brilliant shine not seen in standard red cars.” Rian tells us. As for the chrome on the Chevelle, only some of it had to be redone and the larger sections, for the most part, are untouched. The engine bay was plastered with chrome and Rian found it to be a tad excessive, so it was removed and the parts were paint-matched to the rest of the car. The hardest part with redoing the bodywork was getting the big and heavy panels lined up right, but after some serious attention and time was spent on it, things are now good.
Rian decided on using the original gauge clus- ter in the cabin. The interior clock was redone and serviced and an additional heat gauge was added to ensure accurate readings, and was fitted without compromising the aesthetics of the original dash. The original seats were re-covered in fresh black vinyl and they look great again. RPM Technologies was again involved for this part of the build. Before the interior was put back, the body-inside was covered with T-Mat sound-deadening material and heat shielding to quieten the drive down a little and to provide a good base for the new black automotive carpet- ing.
I quite like the wooden steering wheel; the deep-dish, three-spoke is too cool. The Chevelle’s insides were finished off with air-conditioning and electric windows as well as a good sound system upgrade – without it, hearing any tunes over that big bore exhaust is a futile exercise.
Rian is happy with the results of his efforts: “I’m ecstatic. There were many challenges to overcome as with any ground-up restoration and a lot was learned and a lot was gained. The car drives like a dream now; I’ve driven many muscle cars and some have been much less pleasant. The Chevelle is a crazy mistress that has the ability to float like a modern luxury car but can explode into brute American muscle in a heartbeat.” This badass big block rocks and, as often happens now that it’s done, Rian is putting it up for sale and moving on to some- thing new again. R750k will see you taking ownership of this rare classic. Once it’s gone Rian will be turning his attention to his custom low-rider, a ‘48 Chevrolet Fleetline with some seriously cool mods planned. Not to mention his ‘65 Corvette Stingray Coupé that’s also in the beginning stages of an awesome build…