Barn Find Story: 1970 Chevelle SS396 L78

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By David Wilk

It’s safe to say that many of the folks who read Barn Finds regularly dream of finding their own hidden away, extremely special car.

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Here is a story of one such car, that originally ran in Hot Rod Magazine and now can be found on Automobile Magazine online here.

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Patrick Nichols is a car-geek, for sure, and has a longstanding and deep interest in Chevy performance cars. He saw a picture of the featured car on a Facebook post, showing it in a storage lot in California.

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One photo he saw caught his attention and made him think this car might be a real, original L78 solid lifter 396 SS.

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What got his attention was a single interior photo showing the high-redline (6,500 rpm instead of 5,500 rpm) tach, a sign that the car was equipped with a high performance version of the 396 cid engine.

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He flew out to California from Tennessee, verified the details on the car (this guy plainly knows his Chevelles) – it’s got an M-21 four speed tranny too – and bought it on the spot.

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After he got the car home, he found the build sheet, which further verified what he’d gone so far to find.

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At least according to the story, Mr. Nichols has decided to keep the car in as-found condition.

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Some of you may feel this car deserves to be driven, and not just displayed as a piece of muscle car history. What do you think about this car and what would you do with it if you were the lucky owner?

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Do any of you have similar finds to tell us about? If so, we want to hear about it!

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Comments

  1. Rob

    If there was ever a car that totally deserved a complete frame off, it’s this one. What a find.

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  2. RayT Member

    I’m with Rob. When you find a desirable car like this, one that can — judging by the photos — be brought back to life using mainly what’s already there, it should be restored!

    For the life of me, can’t understand why anyone would treasure this as a crusty, immobile hulk when they could be driving it, especially when a full resto most likely wouldn’t put the owner anywhere near upside down.

    I understand that some people prize originality and the dreaded “patina” to what I consider an excessive degree, but those attributes simply pale in comparison to a hi-po 396 with all the factory goodies!

    To me, any car that can’t be/isn’t driven (with the possible exception of a corroded Bugatti pulled out of a lake) has all the value of a well-worn rock….

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  3. Rando

    I’m thinking he’s waiting for the value to rise some more. If he does ANYTHING else to it, it’s no longer original. The temptation to fix and drive would be too much for me though. Get it running and drive it. But to each his own…

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  4. ron

    its his car, he should be able to do whatever he wants

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  5. AMCSTEVE

    Yes, I have my 1971 AMC Javelin/AMX 401 4-speed that I found in a garage stored since 1995 when the seller blew the motor and parked it.

    Would you like to know the rest of the story?

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    • grant

      Well don’t tease us Steve! Nobody likes to be led on…

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    • AMX Brian

      I would!

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      • 67rebelsst

        Lets see some pics and a write up. I found a 73 AMX with Pierre Cardin interior. I still have it. Now has a 401 but originally had a 360.

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      • AMCSTEVE

        I would like to do a feature but this website won’t let me post pics from my IPad. I have video too.

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    • Josh Mortensen Josh Staff

      AMCSteve, you should be able to post a photo to a comment. It will only let you upload one at per comment. It might be easier to just send me an email with the photos and info, then we can do a proper feature on your car! Our email is mail@barnfinds.com
      I can’t wait to see your AMX!
      Josh

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  6. jeff6599

    Not even fix the tires? Just leave it on Stands where no one else can see it or know about it? Put a nice old windshield in it? OOOOps, not original. Hey, do the car; have some fun. Or donate or sell it for the greater good. To many, the fun is in the hunt.

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  7. Rock On

    I’ve been into Chevy muscle cars of this era for years. Never heard of a m-71 transmission. Are you sure it is not a m-21?

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    • JW454

      The magazine story got it correct. M21.

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      • David Wilk Staff

        The dreaded typo strikes again. Yes M-21! My error, not in the original.
        Sorry guys.
        David

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  8. Gary K

    Appears to have had a rough life for a California car. Looks like it spent some time out of state or was kept close to a coastal city,.. for many decades. I have to agree with others here that would totally restore this bad boy and drive and enjoy it. It would definitely be a head turner at your local shows. My younger brother found a big block ’72 SS with 4 spd in a neighborhood a mile from where we grew up, bought it for about $200 in ’91. Still sitting unrestored, says it will be done one day.
    This ’70 is a very nice find!

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  9. The Chucker

    As they say, the good news is, it’s original. The bad news is, it’s original.

    The ’70 Chevelle SS is an icon of the 60’s-70’s muscle car era…it deserves a proper restoration in my opinion.

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    • Rocco Member

      Ditto!!! I agree.

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  10. Rick

    There are so many of these around I don’t get what all the fuss is about. I get that its a solid lifter 396, but is it that big of a deal? NO. Just another SS Chevelle as far as I’m concerned, and its a beater. And wants to keep it the way it is and display it? Weird. Get a life,

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  11. JW

    I say restore it but with some modern touches such as 4 wheel disc brakes 5 or 6 speed manual and electronic ignition and a FAST Fuel Injection conversion which uses a throttle body in place of the 4 barrel carb which would make it more streetable in todays idiotic distracted driver congested world we live in then save the original parts and drive the wheels off it.

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    • Rocco Member

      I believe I would just fix up as my wallet would allow, and drive it. A ’70 Chevelle SS396/375HP needs respect not modernization. This car is an Icon. You do that stuff to a 6cyl. or 307 car.
      .

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  12. SunbeamerStu

    I’d fix it. Do it while it can still be done fairly easily.

    Before you know it, 20 years will have gone by, parts/knowledge will be unobtanium, and owner will be stuck with a hunk of old barn junk that “can you believe at one time people actually paid more to keep the cars looking like crap?!?” is no longer in vogue.

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  13. JD

    This car is made to be driven. Keep it crusty, do a frame-off, or something in between, but at least make it driveable again. And clean it up.

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  14. Steve

    Keeping a car “original” is fine, as long as it is in relatively decent shape. This one is past that and should be resoted to some degree, if not a total frame off resto. At least get the mealchanicals in good shape as well as tires so it could be driven.

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  15. Barzini

    While I love original cars as much as anyone, it would not offend my sensibilities to do a full restoration. This kind of patina looks fine on a truck but less so on a beautiful car like this.

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  16. Rex Kahrs

    I’m with Rick on this. So many Chevelles, Vettes, Mustangs, GTOs. Plus, in my opinion, the interiors in these 70s cars were just black vinyl and were so boring. Give me a ’60 Chrysler 300 or an Invicta, or any bubble-top.

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  17. Chuck F 55chevy

    With my budget, I would have to get it driving as is, maybe no budget remains after the purchase. In any event, I feel a car owner can do what they want with it, even though it drives car guys crazy to see one sit and rot away, at least it won’t deteriorate further. Also, there are a lot of them, if I saw it restored at a car show I probably wouldn’t pay attention to how rare it is, I guess I’m more of a custom pre 64 kind of car guy, not to mention Little Brit Cars, although 1/4 of my collection is Buick Reattas, and another 1/4 is 65-66 Mustangs.

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  18. angliagt

    “Luckiest Chevelle guy in the world”?
    To me,the luckiest one would be finding one
    in great shape,for a great price.
    And they didn’t mention what he paid for it.

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  19. Charles

    Why buy the car if you are not going to do anything with it? If nothing else, clean it up, rehab the mechanics and drive it!

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    • brian crowe

      bragging rights

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  20. Tom

    Had one just like it without the cowl induction and hood strips – same color with matching vinyl top – gold interior – SS396 with 4 speed. Sold it for $600.00 in1979.

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  21. John P

    …looks like a lot of deep pocketed readers commenting here and sharing their ignorant opinions.. This Chevelle looks very solid as it bears the “sunburned” Northern California or desert body typical of most cars subjected to constant UV attention.. The car can be cared for however this fella wishes–he made the commitment to chase it down… Now he decides, relish the hunt or pretty up the old mule and enjoy the drive..

    Attached is the ’70 Cyclone Spoiler that I owned for only a week before a more loving owner pried it from me.. After sitting for 30+ years it was running in a few weeks and should be scaring little old ladies on street corners at an undisclosed area in North Carolina.. The 33,XXXMI Thunderbird Convertible also got saved and is in the adoption process currently..

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  22. John P

    And here’s where my knowledge comes from–three northern California stowaways which I brought back to Wisconsin with varied degrees of sunburn.. The Biscayne will likely never see fresh paint, however the ’65 Suburban and ’41 Deluxe with shine again.. Love the hunt, enjoy the drive..

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  23. John P

    Etc…

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  24. Pete

    Well I would be hard pressed to leave it alone and not at least see if I could get it running, Then I would have put some tires on it and check the brakes. Yup it would be really hard to just tuck it away and leave it be. Although i don’t know what kind of racket the dude is in for a living. Maybe he restores cars for a living and has to many lined up before he could even get to this one. Could be he is waiting on that guy who had one exactly like it back in the day that is willing to pull the trigger on a full resto no expenses spared to get his dream car back in his hands. That dude that retired from Boeing or IBM with crazy money to spend. That or like someone else shared earlier he may just be waiting for the price to go up. One thing I can tell you though is that thing is not original. See the steering column notice the shift lever for the tranny missing? Also the front end looks like it came off another Chevelle, maybe the aft portion of the car was a Malibu at one time. All is not right with this car. Yeah something is amiss here, we do not have the whole story by a long shot.

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    • Rocco Member

      The hole in the steering column is for the ignition switch. The shift lever for the tranny is in the floor(4-speed).

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  25. harit

    The owner has the right to do whatever he wishes with his. When any car is featured in such posts where comments are invited, we the readers can let our opinions flow. We MUST keep it civil though.
    I am not in favor of this patina thing, vehicles should be at least presentable. No very old car can ever be truly original, some work has to have been done to keep it running. Or to make it run. A car being kept as original as possible is a good thing, I’m also not for those dolled up show cars. Paint touch-up looks much nicer than sun faded patina. I would like to see this car restored, or at least work done on it to make it presentable.
    I hope that no one is offended.
    Cheers

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