Ray Cardia took auto mechanics during his junior and senior years at Glenbard East High School, revving him up to go get a speed machine of his own. About a year after his 1966 graduation, he went looking and, sure enough, the youngster found one locally near his Lombard family home.
Parked just down the street, the original owner was selling his Marina Blue 1966 Chevelle SS 396.
"It was close, convenient and priced right," Ray recalls. "Plus, I loved the color!"
Young Ray didn't just want an around-town cruiser but a full-blown race car, hoping to campaign it at Oswego Dragway. After the sale, he did drive it on the streets, spending many weekend nights at Tops Drive-In in Glen Ellyn. Yet once he started to get a plan together, and the needed funds, he took it to a local shop for work to commence.
The factory 396-cubic-inch V-8 was going to be swapped for a bigger, more powerful 454 power plant with a straight axle. The whole front end would be switched to lightweight fiberglass. Unfortunately, issues with the shop arose, which lead to the project getting stalled, then canceled. Ray finally retrieved the car.
Eventually, he sold the Chevrolet and moved on to other things. Fast forward to the early 1990s and, with kids grown, Ray deemed it time to start looking for another Chevelle.
Surprisingly, he was wide open for any model year, as long as it had a four-speed transmission. He and his wife Dottie scoured listings for two years and finally, in 1992, they discovered the perfect candidate in Alsip. As luck would have it, the vehicle they came across was a 1966 -- just like Ray's first ride.
Since the purchase, Ray has redone all the chrome and brightwork, repainted the door jams, replaced the front suspension components and rebuilt the transmission.
Whereas his teenage street dreams were all about race modifications, Ray took a different direction with this Chevelle. "Every time I do something, it's all about going back to stock," he said.
Not that it's a bad course to take; this classic Chevy packs plenty of punch.
"If you trounce on it, it'll definitely throw you back in your seat," Ray said. "There's no comparison with any new car on the road today."
While the make, model and year are more than enough to jog Ray's memory about times gone by, motoring in his second Chevelle triggers another sensory reaction.
"Back in the day, my aftershave of choice was English Leather. As a teen, I always carried a bottle in my car -- and on a good day, when I pop this car's console, it smells just like it."
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