Latest Reader Question (Dec. 20, 2017)

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Here is the latest reader question, along with my reply:

Bill asks: Dispensing with all the compliments I originally wrote, I’d like to get right to my questions:  I own a ‘92 Mustang GT 5 liter five-speed hatchback that’s mechanically tight but needs considerable body and interior work. One owner (me). I now have a chance to buy a ‘69 Chevelle SS 396 four speed that’s almost exactly my first (bought by me) car.

Oh, the memories!

It’s been rebuilt to the point it’s gorgeous and seems perfect. Tugs at my heart strings. Emotionally, I want it. I was a decent wrencher back in the day. Not great, but I rebuilt carbs, changed transmissions and clutches, that sort of thing. Hardly know what I’m looking at these days.

So, my question is: What would you do? Renovate the ‘92 Mustang or buy the ‘69 Chevelle?  I may be able to do both, if business picks up, and if that’s worth considering.

I’d appreciate knowing that too. Beyond the sentimental value of the Chevelle, would one be worth more than the other? Is one a better car? Anything at all to help me make this choice?FWIW I’m also a biker. I currently ride an ‘03 VTX 1300S retro with a lotta mods that I just plain love. It’s the one thing I really can work on. Sadly, I found out recently that I’m too damned old to ride the HD pan head hard tail I wanted. Getting old sure ain’t for sissies! And I’ve got a work van, but who cares about that? My apologies for the overlong and rambling message. I don’t know any gear heads anymore, and your advice would be very much appreciated. Oh, one more: The Chevelle has no air conditioning and I live in the Deep South.  There are aftermarket AC units I can install. Is there a downside to this? Thanks so much!

My reply: Several factors here… let’s deal with the objective ones first! The Chevelle – assuming it’s an original/documented SS 396 and not a clone or “tribute” car –  be sure about this! – is much more collectible and a better investment than the GT. It is also restored/road-ready  and does not need major work while the Mustang isn’t and does. Body work can get very expensive, very quickly if you have to pay to get it done.

Also, the Mustang is computer controlled and has emissions controls. The Chevelle has neither. The Chevelle will be much easier to work on and cheaper to work on – in terms of its mechanical systems and electrical systems. You will probably be able to do most if not all the work necessary – which should not be much work, given the car is restored. We are talking tuning and such. Easy meat.

You will also not have to deal with emissions tests as the car is exempt. The Mustang may not be (depends on the laws in your state).

Some caveats:

If you are planning to use the car regularly – especially as a daily driver – the Mustang would be the better choice, assuming stock vs. stock. The Mustang’s fuel-injected engine and overdrive transmission will make it as easy and comfortable to drive as any modern car, because it is a modern car.

It has excellent brakes, a good suspension – handles well.

The Chevelle, on the other hand …

It’s a big block muscle car – terrible brakes, clumsy suspension and prone to overheating (assuming stock cooling system) and with a crappy (if stock) ignition system that will require fairly frequent adjustment. Same goes for the carburetor. But the main negatives – as far as daily driving – are the non-overdrive transmission and lack of AC.

Both, however, can be easily remedied.

To make the car road-trip/highway viable, you could install an overdrive transmission. These are bolt-in swaps and massively improve the driveability of old cars that originally lacked overdrive, especially muscle cars with aggressive final drive ratios. You could change the rear axle to something more conservative, such as a 2.73 or 3.08 in place of the 3.42 or 3:73 gears the car probably has. This method is cheaper and keeps the car visually stock-looking. But of course you will lose some off-the-line quickness.

I’d go with the OD tranny swap – a five-speed Richmond or six-speed Tremec.

Adding AC is easy. But it will probably cost some bucks. Be sure you upgrade the cooling system! The factory system was marginal and with AC the car is certain to overheat. I recommend a high-performance/high-capacity radiator. These drop right in.

Also: I’d replace the stock points-type ignition with transistorized guts (e.g., Pertronix). The distributor will look stock externally, but no more points and much better driveability with less maintenance.

There are also suspension/brake upgrades – not very expensive – and they massively improve the road manners of the car.

Finally – before you buy the SS – be 100 percent sure it is an SS (as per my earlier comment) and that the car is straight and right and not overpriced or “rigged.” Get someone who really knows these cars to go look at it with you.

And, keep me posted!

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. I wouldn’t use that SS 396 as a daily driver unless it’s a beater. If it’s a nice one, it will increase in value over time if you keep it in good condition and limit the mileage (assuming it’s the original engine). I’d keep that Mustang as your daily, only repair the bare minimum to make it reliable, then buy that SS for a weekend fun-mobile.


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