By on March 23, 2012

Everybody has a favorite car in his or her dreams, but Jim Adams has a favorite big block engine to add to his dreams.

Jim likes the monster L-72 427 Chevy power plant that was factory rated at a conservative 425 hp. 60s Big Three factory horsepower ratings tended to lean toward a lower than realistic number for insurance purposes, these killer engines had a lot more horsepower than advertised.

Jim is a big fan of the large Chevrolets of the mid-60s, and he has begun to assemble his collection of the L-72 big block editions, including this very rare 10,686-mile beauty that spent 35 years in a Costa Mesa California GM dealership showroom.

This Bel Air has led an easy life and it will enjoy an even easier future in Jim’s collection.

The Chevy wagon is a low mileage big block 4 speed street monster that will never have to prove itself in the hands of an irresponsible owner. Jim has launched it only once just to see what a 60s kid-hauler with too much horsepower could do in pedal to the metal battle form. He found out. It was insane.

This car still has the original rear seat plastic from the factory and it feels like you have stepped back in time about 46 years when you slide behind the wheel.

Jim wants to keep that level of condition for as long as he owns it. He is a caretaker of a rare piece of Detroit automotive history, and he wants to preserve this ultra-rare wagon in its present condition forever. He also wants to keep it forever, so it will never be a Barrett-Jackson Saturday feature car under Jim’s careful watch.

Congratulations Jim, you own the only current example (one of two made and proved to be still in existence) of an extremely rare wagon from the General. And you own it for all the right reasons.

For more of J Sutherland’s work go to mystarcollectorcar.com

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64 Comments on “Car Collector’s Corner: Extremely Rare One Of Two Bel Air L-72 4spd Wagons...”


  • avatar
    bobkarafin

    I love it!
    Get a load of that huge strip speedometer and the itty-bitty tach way over to the right; I guess GM didn’t expect drivers to actually be reading it while driving.

  • avatar
    mikey

    All I can is “WOW”…Good for Jim.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    I’m trying to imagine being a teenager and the disappointment of seeing dad drive up in the new suburban dreadnought. Followed up by the pants wetting glee when I saw what it was equipped with.
    Though I’m not a big fan of the sweep speedos, the symmetry works well here.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    This is a rare one. The L-72 was a regular option in 1966 but only about 1,000 full-size cars (out of 854,000 or so assembled) were built with it. I have seen several but never a station wagon. They were all four-speed only cars even though the famed Turbo-Hydramatic 400 automatic transmission was available.

    In 1967 this motor disappeared entirely only to resurface for ’68 & ’69 as a “special order only” which meant it wasn’t advertised or listed in the sales brochure. The check box on the order form for the L-72 was buried on the reverse of the form in an obscure place. There wasn’t even an owner’s manual reference to it in those last two years.

    More often than not, L-72′s surfaced in Biscayne coupes, strictly a “street/strip” set-up and a holdover from the early ’60′s. By the late ’60′s the big block “rat” motor found its way into the Camaro, Chevelle and even the lowly Nova, relegating these “B” body hot-rods to the history books.

    This is an absolute fantastic find; my compliments!

  • avatar
    PaulVincent

    So does it have disc or drum brakes?

    • 0 avatar
      rpol35

      Drum brakes only in ’66, disc came along as an option in ’67.

      The heavy duty option was “sintered metallic” shoes. Now before everyone goes, “Oh my God, drum brakes!”, please be advised that the metallic shoes worked pretty darn well. I had a ’66 convertible with a 396 and the big shoes pulled it down quickly. Not disc quickly but safely & quickly. The problem was constant hard stops brought on fade and the shoes were useless when wet. The drum design pretty well eliminated the invasion of water but it did happen occasionally.

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        True. People who have never driven a car with drums all around believe that the car takes forever to stop. My experience with drum brakes….in good condition and properly set-up…is that they stop better when cold. The reason is that most drum brakes have more “swept area” than do discs. As you have noted, this quickly goes the other way as the brakes begin to heat up. Once the drums are hot, forget it. As, you have noted, drum brakes tend to resist getting wet from water splashing up into the wheel well. On the other hand, when drums do get wet…like when driving through very deep standing water….it takes forever to get drums dried out.

      • 0 avatar
        probert

        I hate to spoil the party but some of the most hair raising moments in my life came from trying to stop using drum brakes. And yes they were carefully maintained. In the modern day with so many more cars and the way people drive, drums will eventually kill you or someone you love.

        Maybe metal shoes helped but anyone switching from a modern disk brake to drum would be shocked- absolutely shocked at how bad those things were.

      • 0 avatar
        nikita

        Those sintered iron linings did not work well cold. They had to warm up. And then they were a bit noisy and grabby. They were part of the Oldsmobile CHP package. Standard linings in these cars were adequate for sedate driving, but that was about it.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        I owned several drum braked cars and front drum brakes are awful – mostly just because of heat fade. A good example was my ’66 Mustang and my ’72 Beetle. I drove the Beetle hard in Naples, Italy where the main highway wandered through curved tunnels and stopped hard often.

        First stop – no drama. Second stop – a growing concern. Third hard stop (100 kph – 0) and hold on and lean backwards. Fourth stop – well, after the third stop I’d purposefully stay off the gas so I didn’t need to stop hard. Any gap between my vehicle and the one in front would quickly be filled by another opportunistic driver.

        Riding alone the brakes were fair, riding with four people in the car the brakes were heat fade prone. My ’66 Mustang was no different. I grew up on a mtn and the ride down would heat the brake up pretty good and the car only had a manual three speed so it wasn’t like I could shift down much and maintain the 40 mph pace of the other cars. 3rd was too high, 2nd was too low. And then there was the single circuit master cylinder… Lost a wheel cylinder once and lost the whole braking system.

        I like good brakes. Non-ABS vented disc/drum is fine but no less.

      • 0 avatar
        nikita

        At least that Mustang had a three speed stick and was relatively light. I did own a Chevy wagon similar to the one in this article, but with a two speed Powerglide behind the 327. Mountain driving was a thrill.

  • avatar

    Maniacal laughter – check; sideways standing on the gas – check; dial turned to 11 on the fun knob – check.

  • avatar
    skor

    “Big Three factory horsepower ratings tended to lean toward a lower than realistic number for insurance purposes, these killer engines had a lot more horsepower than advertised.”

    I believe that was an urban myth perpetuated by the auto makers. Years ago Hot Rod Magazine rebuilt a Ford 289 Hi-Po engine factory rated at 271hp. The engine was carefully redone using quality parts…..”balanced and blue-printed”….in other words it was better than when it left the factory. After careful tuning and a number of runs on the dyno, it did not make 271hp. I think it maxed out at something like 230 or 240. The ordinary 4 barrel version of the 289 was rated at 225hp.

    Don’t believe the hype.

    • 0 avatar
      rpol35

      The earliest of the L-72′s built in the Fall of ’65 were rated at 450 HP. Mysteriously, they were “rerated” at 425 HP later in the year and stayed that way.

      The “theory” bouncing around for years was that 450 sounded too high and 425 sounded “safer”, I really don’t know for sure. I do know that the SAE “Gross” ratings such as this, which were used through ’71, had a tendency to be subjective. I also know, to your point about running a rebuild and a dyno test, that the L-72′s big brother, the L-88, which was made from ’67 until ’69 had a 430 SAE gross HP factory rating and the later dyno run put it at 530 to 535.

      The numbers in those years seem to be all over the place which is one of the reasons for the SAE Net ratings employed from ’72 forward. They are more realistic in terms of useable HP and measured in a more consistent, controlled manner.

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        We’re in agreement. HP ratings from pre-SAE net days are suspect. Unless there are some reliable dyno results to back it up, don’t believe it.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        You’re both right.

        In the early days of the muscle-car era (roughly 1962-67), auto makers fudged the horsepower ratings upward to have bragging rights. That Ford 289 would have been built during the early part of the muscle-car era (the 302 V-8 replaced it in 1968).

        In 1967, insurance companies began slapping surcharges on high-performance cars, and the surcharge was based on horsepower. Automakers began fudging the horsepower ratings DOWNWARD to get around this.

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        @285exp, The old car, riding those same “skinny biased ply tires” managed to out stop the new car….and did so with rear drums. Please to explain.

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      Most “cooking” engines were over-rated by the manufacturers, but they really did underplay the ratings in many of the true high-performance engines. Both the Ford and Chevy 427s were deliberately rated low. The Mopar 426 Hemi was rated at 425 hp but was actually producing well over 500 hp. The 1969 Ford Boss 302 engine was rated at 290 hp yet actually made over 350 hp.

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        @tonyola, I have a hard time believing that 302 Boss made 350hp. Consumer reports tested a new Boss 302 Mustang back in the day. They also tested the 2012 Mustang with the V6. Guess which one is quicker?

        BTW, the old Boss Mustang managed to outdo the 2012 V6 in braking……… and it managed this with drums on the back.

      • 0 avatar
        285exp

        @skor,

        The 1969 Boss 302 was running on the skinny bias ply tires of that era, so it’s certainly possible that the engine made 350 hp but you couldn’t put it all on the road without the tires going up in smoke.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        @skor, here is a dyno test of a boss 302 and a 302 Z/28 done a few years back. The engines were rebuilt to factory specs. The link also has tests of a shelby 289 and L-65 327 chevy, and a 71 351 Cobra Jet vs LT1 350.
        Back to the boss 302, on hot rod’s dyno it put out 372 hp (stock). The boss featured cleveland heads which had tremendous airflow, and many racers modified these engines to make 550 hp and more with only 302 cubes. The boss didn’t put out much torque at low rpm’s because the valves and ports were very big for an engine with only 302 cubes, so the engines didn’t start making power until past 4,000 rpm’s. The engine was designed this way on purpose for trans am racing, where the engine spends all of it’s time in the mid to upper rpm ranges.
        The Boss cars were not meant to be quater mile cars, but with the right gear, a sticky set of tires and a driver that knew how to launch them they could cut a decent quarter mile time. The dweebs at consumer reports certainly wouldn’t know how to launch a high strung musclecar like a boss.
        http://www.hotrod.com/techarticles/engine/hrdp_1001_muscle_car_engine_shootout/ford_boss_302_chevy_dz_302.html

  • avatar
    probert

    I learned to drive in a 60s era olds f85 wagon. I loved doing power slides in that thing and it was easy to do because you didn’t really have to be going that fast.

  • avatar
    MT

    My parents sedan version was 2 tons of fun. We teens sat four across on weekends-an eight passenger sedan…

  • avatar
    skor

    BTW, that’s a nice car. I miss the vent windows.

  • avatar
    mfgreen40

    Metalic linings made the drum brakes halfway decent. I remember one very high speed panic stop, as the shoes heated up I had to ease up on the pedal to keep from locking up the wheels,at least the rear wheels. 1967 was a long time ago.

  • avatar

    Brigadoon

  • avatar
    77MGB

    Oh man that pic of the speedo put me back on my dad’s lap in 1972, driving his 69 Impala around an empty parking lot while he worked the pedals. I was five. I also remember playing in the back of that car on long trips … no seat belt on and nothing to do but flick the ashtray lid open and closed, unless you could convince the grownups to play the license plate game. No gameboys or backseat DVD players in those days.

    • 0 avatar
      Maintainer

      Tell you’re uncle to stop racing with dyno sheets and turbo maps.. A 2010 Camaro SS is rated at 426 “real” horsepower. It weighs in at 3800 lbs and runs 13 seconds in the quarter on a very advanced independant suspension with modern tires that are close to 10″ at the tread. A 70 Chevelle LS6 was rated at 450 “horsepower”, weighed 3900 lbs and ran 13 seconds in the quarter on an antique 4 link live axle rear suspension and 6″ wide Bias Ply tires..

    • 0 avatar
      Maintainer

      Tell you’re uncle to stop racing with dyno sheets and turbo maps.. A 2010 Camaro SS is rated at 426 “real” horsepower. It weighs in at 3800 lbs and runs 13 seconds in the quarter on a very advanced independent suspension with modern tires that are close to 10″ at the tread. A 70 Chevelle LS6 was rated at 450 “horsepower”, weighed 3900 lbs and ran 13 seconds in the quarter on an antique 4 link live axle rear suspension and 6″ wide Bias Ply tires..

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    I have an uncle that was fully-invested in the original golden age and maniacal muscle car era of the late 60′s early 70′s. Now, he is a born-again crazed LS Gen 1V maniac, complete with twin ball bearing turbos and radical computer tuning. He believes nothing unless he is personally present when it is proven on a dyno.

    He says that none of those crude Big Blocks can put out power and torque that is even CLOSE to the LS Gen IV’s, stock or modified.

    On the other hand, he was at dynos where they were testing brand new Z-28 302 GM motors (rated by the factory at 300 horses or so), and in his Okie drawl says “There wasn’t a one of them that didn’t put out over 450 horses.”

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      How can I say this as nicely as I can in my Jersey mook accent? Your uncle was full of CRAP.

      1.5hp per cube out of a carburetor, push-rod engine on pump gas? Sure. I also believe that real estate is on it’s way up. Got any dyno runs to prove it. I thought not.

      The terror of race tracks back in the 60′s was the Ford 427 cammer. With duel 4 barrels, an overhead cam, and nearly straight intake plumbing, it managed a real world 615hp or 1.4hp per cube.

      • 0 avatar
        tiredoldmechanic

        I’ll try to be a little more polite than skor,in my western Canadian accent, but he’s right. I owned a beater ’69 Z and I spent lots of time wrenching on it and several others. A stock 302 put out maybe 350 gross bhp IF you had the guts (and the ignition) to spin it past 7000 rpm and IF you could find fuel of high enough octane to run all the ignition advance you needed.
        We used to have to blend Chevron Premium with 115/145 avgas obtained from the back door of the local airport, back in the days when A-26s were still used as airtankers. Best one I ever saw ran mid 13s at Spokane with 4.10 gears. On the street a good 340 Mopar (’71 or earlier only) would eat a ’69 Z up to about 80 mph, as long as gearing was reasonably close.
        The 302 powered Z-28s looked cool, and they sounded fast, but they were probably the most misunderstood and over rated muscle cars ever built.

    • 0 avatar
      Moparman426W

      I hate to be the one to tell you this, Larry. But your uncle needs to check out engine builds over the past few years. People are pulling over 700 horses from big block chevies and mopars with single carbs on pump gas, and I’ve seen 460 fords making close to that. There are 2nd gen chrysler hemi’s making 1500 hp and more on pump gas with dual carbs.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        @tiredmechanic, you are correct on most counts. But a 340 mopar would stomp a Z/28 and a boss in the quarter, unless the former had VERY steep gears. The boss and the Z didn’t make much torque because they were made for high RPM power. They would run away from a stock 340 on the top end for sure due to the radical camshafts and bog carbs, and in the case of the boss the heads.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        @tiredmechanic, you are correct on most counts. But a 340 mopar would stomp a Z/28 and a boss in the quarter, unless the former had VERY steep gears. The boss and the Z didn’t make much torque because they were made for high RPM power. They would run away from a stock 340 on the top end for sure due to the radical camshafts and big carbs, and in the case of the boss the heads.

      • 0 avatar
        tiredoldmechanic

        @Moparman
        With 3.91s, It’ll be the 340 in a walk every time, as long as it’s a ’71 or earlier engine. I can’t speak with any authority on Boss 302s because I never saw one that wasn’t in a car show, but my ’70 Torino with a 351C-4V was a dog on the street for exactly the reasons you state.
        I liked the old Z’s, but Chevy went to the LT-1 in ’70 for a good reason. I’m glad I got to play with this stuff in the days when matching numbers meant bracket racing and not date codes on starter motors.

  • avatar

    I walked by this car all day at the time-until somebody far smarter than me steered me toward the car and its owner. I forgot the basic rule in car world: never judge a book by its cover.

  • avatar
    tiredoldmechanic

    That is one strange beast. I’d love to ask the original purchaser what this was all about. The L-72, while streetable, was certainly not a general purpose engine. It also wasn’t cheap, so whoever spec’d this car would have to have known exactly what they were getting into. Did they still have moonshine haulers in ’66?
    Looking at this also makes me feel a little guilty, because many years ago before anyone cared about this generation of big Chevy I harvested an original 396/4 speed out of a ’67 bel air wagon. I remember wondering why anyone would order one that way back then, but all I wanted was the powertrain and the hulk went to the crusher. Oh well, the sins of youth…

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      Given that the story says it spent most of its life in a dealership showroom, I’d assume the original purchaser was the franchise owner, for use as a floor ornament.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Reminds me of the mid 60s 4 speed manual Impala wagon I saw on Auto Trader Classic a few years back. Although I think that was “merely” a 327V8.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    The boss and Z28 were purpose built race engines, only they were built for high rpm power. The 340 was more of a hot street-quarter mile engine. It could put the hurt on many 350 chevies and 351 fords. It was also a good engine to make more power with. It had forged pistons, double roller chain and a windage tray. They were very successful in drag racing. Ed Hamburger made alot of nice parts for them that were used by the racers.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    Regrading SAE Gross vs. Net, I am still amazed that some old timer knuckle draggers do not know the difference. They still complain that “HP got cut down bad in ’72″. To them the raw # on spec sheet is it.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      Yup, Gross hp, net hp, and wheel hp are not all the same.

      I remember when Top Gear’s Hammond tested the 2008 Shelby GT rated at 500hp net. He compared it his own 1968 Mustang GT with the 390 engine rated at 325hp gross.

      Both cars were place on a dyno and hp measured at the rear wheels.

      The new Shelby managed 447hp at the rear wheels which means it did put out an honest 500hp net.

      The old Mustang (rebuilt to factory spec) put out 250hp at the rear wheels, indicating about 300hp net while the factory rated it at 325 gross.

      • 0 avatar
        texan01

        Yup, my friends 71 Chevelle convertible has a fresh 270 gross 350 , with TH350 and a 2.73 axle ratio, 3600 pounds curb weight. Runs 0-60 by my stopwatch at a shade over 10 seconds. My 77 Chevelle sedan, 3900 pound curb weight, 170,000 mile 145hp net 305 and 2.56 rear axle runs 0-60 again by my somewhat inaccurate watch around 12 seconds and it’s got taller tires.

        In theory his car should be able to walk mine easily with nearly double the hp, but instead mine only gives up 2 seconds which is big, but not a run away and hide from me, that his HP rating would suggest. And If I spent some time tweaking it and running high test gas in it, and as much advance as the engine would allow, I could cut that to a photo finish. But since I like putting 87 octane in it, it’s not tuned that tight.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    It was a combination of both. The 72-up ratings were Gross vs Net for earlier models, but actual power was also going down each year.

  • avatar
    tiredoldmechanic

    I’m not sure if you were refering to me with the net vs gross hp rating, since I mentioned ’71 or earlier engines, but in the case of the 340 there is a good reason why I specified ’71 or earlier.
    The 1968-71 340 used premium components and 10:1 or so compression ratio. It made a LOT more power than it’s rated 275 gross bhp.
    In 1972 most of the premium components were replaced with run of the mill small block mopar stuff and the compression ratio dropped a couple of points. I don’t recall what the rated power went to but it transformed perhaps the best small block street engine out there into just another lukewarm smallblock V-8. In ’73 the smog equipment was added and it only got worse. It was still a strong engine in comparison to GM and Ford for the time, but that isn’t saying much. As the song says, I was there when it happened, so I think I oughta’ know….

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    Am I correct that 1966 was the year of the plactic motor mounts that had a tendency to break ? I remember driving a roommate’s 1966 Impala sedan (which he bought using his father’s credit card- A Texaco card if I’m remembering right when his father , a rather sleazy scam artist was about to declare bankruptcy) when the mounts failed -luckily causing the brakes instead of the throttle to completely stick . The roommate was a bit annoyed . One car I regret not buying was a 1959 Bel Air wagon equipped with a 348 4 barrel and a three-speed stick I looked at in the early nineties. It was in pretty good shape but I stupidly hesitated not liking the beige/ beige color . I knew it was unique but didn’t move quickly enough and it sold. It was even cheap as people just weren’t collecting wagons then .

    • 0 avatar
      tiredoldmechanic

      They weren’t plastic, but the rubber wasn’t bonded to the metal very well. ’65 to ’68 as I recall. GM’s fix was to attach a short length of chain between the frame and the engine block on the left side to prevent the engine shifting and jamming the throttle linkage.
      No, I’m not kidding. I haven’t seen one in years but GM vehicles modified this way still turned up in the 80′s. Eventually they came up with a motor mount that had an interlocking setup to accomplish the same thing. Another engineering classic.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        Believe it or not I’ve seen some restored chevelles and camaros at shows with the cable on them. I’ve seen them on models as late as 1970.
        My sister’s husband had a 64 chevy with a 283/glide that the mount broke on and the engine turned on it’s side, ripping the transmission lines and the rear trans mount in the process.

      • 0 avatar
        tiredoldmechanic

        Yeah, some had cables and some had chains welded(!) to the frame rail if the dealer was out of stock on the cables. I wouldn’t be surprised if the wagon that started this whole discussion had one.
        Anyhow, it’s late here in BC and the wifes callin’. Good talkin with you, have a good night.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    I believe 72 was the year they stopped using the forged pistons. I can’t remember any actual dyno tests of the earlier engines, but I remember the NHRA factoring them at 325 hp and moving them up a class.
    I remember stock 340 A bodies being solid mid 14 second cars. Mods like headers, intake and carb with a good set of tires would put them into the 13′s.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    You have a good night also :)

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    I just can’t get into the head of the car collector who maintains their collection like garage queens. Take car of them and maintain them above and beyond, sure. But barely if ever drive them, and never let them stretch their legs? I mean are you car enthusiast or a museum enthusiast?

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      I like all aspects of old time car collecting, but I’m also glad that cars like this exist…they are time capsules…examples of cars EXACTLY as they left the factory. For one they serve as a reference for people trying to rebuilt cars to true factory spec, and second they dispel the hype and myths that have grown up over the years. “These cars could blah, blah, blah.” Yeah? Lets go look at one that is the same as the day it left the factory.

    • 0 avatar
      WildcatMatt

      I tend to agree with you (especially when it comes to restorations), with two exceptions:

      – Pristine all-original, very low-mileage cars
      – Ultra-rare/sole survivor cars

      I also agree though that once you reach this category, yes, you’re as much about museum preservation as anything.

  • avatar
    Timbo64

    As a station wagon lover, I can say this in all honesty: I would rather have this wagon than a Hemi Cuda or a big block Chevelle . This rare wagon is my DREAM vehicle.

    As my wife, Alyson, knows, I’m a weird egg when it comes to automobiles.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Yah me too. My third to last Ford was my favorite. A ’73 Torino Squire wagon with a 351 Cleavland hooked to a C4.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    I read an article somewhere a while back blaming the Chevrolet of this era for bringing in the government mandates for 5-mile an hour bumpers . The theory is that the pointy front ends of these cars( and presumably other GM cars of this era )were prone to much more front end damage , that a low speed collision that on the prior generation of Chevies would have maybe needed a new bumper would in this generation need a new bumper , grill, fenders etc. As a result the insurance companies put pressure on the government to toughen bumper standards . In additon was the number of problems involving the bad motor mounts , leading to fatal accidents and more regulation .

  • avatar
    obbop

    “..blaming the Chevrolet”

    I blame Bush.

    Either one will do.


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