Street-Race Legend 1966 and Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396 Barn Find 30 Years Later

In the early 1970s, boys in small-town Virginia guerilla-raced hot American iron on public roads to insane levels that would make 200-mph NASCAR racing on a track today feel like a Sunday drive. One of the cars that was part of this street racing culture was a 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle SS396, which has recently been discovered as a barn find after sitting under a hay shed for over 30 years.

The car is a real SS396, but what makes it special is its local history, which has elevated the blood pressure of a certain local enthusiast named Jonathan Large. He was one of many who were amused by the sight of this Chevelle off Dobyns Road outside the little mountain town of Claudville, Virginia.

The car’s owner, Mark Heath, had inherited the car from his father, David Heath, who had purchased it in 1973, several years after he came back from Vietnam. David had highly modified the 325-horse 396 to compete with the “heavy’s” driving Hemis and 428 Cobra Jet big-blocks. He blew up the 396 racing a 1970 Mustang with a 428 Cobra Jet and replaced it with a 427, which he timed with a cam that didn’t smooth out until 3,000 rpm.

David’s Chevelle became a legend in the local street racing scene, with top-end speed races spanning five miles on Highway 103, also known as the Claudville Highway. The quarter-mile straight ended before entering a two-lane iron bridge spanning the Dan River, where the races would start under a big old poplar tree.

The car had been sitting on a back road under that hay shed since 1980, until Mark Heath decided to sell it in 2015. Jonathan Large, who had a feel for what the ’70s were like, as lived through David Heath and his Chevelle, was excited to buy the car and capture something of this mystique.

Restoring the car to its former glory presents some questions. Should Jonathan go back with a 325-horse 396 in his restoration? If so, should he keep the 396 stock? Or, would he serve history and all of us better to put the car back to its “killer machine” status of the ’70s? Can he get the high compression 427 that David ordered from Chevrolet? Ultimately, is capturing lightning in a bottle possible with a muscle car?

The Chevelle came from the factory with the knee-knocker tachometer, and the four-speed Muncie was intact. The body has been repainted black, but the original color was Marina Blue with a blue interior. The Chevelle has “a little rust in the frame,” surface rust on the driver’s side fender, the trunk is rusted out, but the floor pans are solid, and the body is “arrow straight,” says Jonathan.

Jonathan talked to the mechanic who originally installed the 427 in the Chevelle, who said that this Chevelle was the second-fastest car he had ever driven, the first being a 1967 Corvette with a 435-horse 427 with Tri-power. David Heath’s son has the 427, so it is possible that the car could be restored with the same engine that David ordered new from Chevrolet in 1977.

In the end, restoring this Chevelle is not just about fixing up an old car. It’s about capturing a piece of history and preserving it for future generations. It’s about reliving a time when muscle cars ruled the roads and street racing was a way of life. It’s about the thrill of the open road and the rush of adrenaline that comes with pushing a car to its limits.

As Jonathan Large summed it up, “I like buying a car, finding the story, and then tracing back the history.” And in the case of this 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle SS396, the story is one of a street-racing legend that has been brought back to life after 30 years in a hay shed.

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