Mike Artman and Enzo Morales have been friends since high school. Both got married out of school and now have children of their own. With house payments, the cost of kids, and just the crush of remaining financially afloat these days, Mike and Enzo began to feel that life was a little stale. One day, Enzo decided he’d had enough of poseur Porches and look-at-me Mercedes that he says just “didn’t feel right.” So Enzo asked Mike to help him find a car. With one son and another on the way, common sense dictated a machine that could comfortably seat four and was a little more practical than his prior life’s 11-second 427 1969 Camaro. Once the hunt commenced, Enzo says Mike was like a Craigslist ninja—stealthily scouring the for-sale ads until he who found a rust-free, small-block 1966 Chevelle for an amazing price: $4,300. The body was rough but solid, and the drivetrain was healthy enough to survive the 90-mile trip to San Diego through L.A.’s notorious rush-hour traffic.
About this same time, Mike’s wife suggested that now that the Artmans were a family, they needed a station wagon. Her vision might have been a little different than Mike’s, however. While she might have been envisioning a Volvo or perhaps a Caddy CTS wagon, Mike ran down what he considered a much better and more affordable alternative—a 1964 Pontiac Catalina Safari wagon. “I bought it off a guy who bought it from a police auction. It was in really bad shape; I mean, really bad. The car was full of beer cans, a birthday card, and a pair of girl’s panties. Oh, and the fender was bashed in, too. Apparently, somebody had a really good birthday!” That guy’s loss was Mike’s gain. But the move was not without a little pain.
It took five long years for Mike to rehab the Pontiac beyond empty-beer-can status. Originally, Mike’s modest goal was a daily driver surf wagon, but as so often happens, the plan took some aggressive turns. The third actor in this play was another high school buddy, Tom Nelson, who built what Mike says is “probably the motor with the least horsepower to come out of his shop”—a 590hp big-block Chevy to stuff in the Pontiac’s expansive engine compartment. With the engine in the works, Mike tore into the car, completely disassembling it. That’s when the process began to bog down. “I actually tried to sell the car two different times,” Mike says. The only thing that saved it, Mike laughs, was that “nobody wanted it.”
While all this was happening in Mike’s world, Enzo was continuing the Craiglist hunt for upscale parts for the Chevelle. “I believe that installing used parts on a car ‘borrows’ the soul of other cars to help enhance my car. It’s good ju-ju!” With that gestalt automotive philosophy going for him, Enzo began buying parts like a used LS3 short-block, previously owned LS heads, and a T-56 six-speed he found at the junkyard.
The guys helped each other with the projects, although Mike’s took a lot longer to finish, probably because if nothing else, it just flat covered more area. So Jason at Timeless Kustoms in Camarillo, California, took it “over the top” with the amazing paintjob you see here. Both buddies acknowledge that these projects have helped bring the families closer together. Mike’s wife doubted the wagon would ever amount to anything, but now she fields stoplight questions from strangers and she can now see what Mike saw in the beginning. Enzo relates that the Chevelle buildup connects him with his three sons by mastering the art of Second-gear burnouts, while the boys internalize the smell of burning rubber and a V8 at full song. Enzo says his sons call the Chevelle Darth Vader. Perhaps then, that makes the Pontiac the Millennium Safari.