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.
1964 Pontiac Catalina Safari wagon
“My wife said to get a wagon. What started off as a modest plan to get a wagon done as a surf driver in a year, turned in to a no-holds-barred resto.” —Mike Artman
Who: Mike Artman
What: 1964 Pontiac Catalina Safari wagon
Where: Carlsbad, CA
Engine: Mike’s friend, Tom Nelson, shaped up this 454 into a 10.5:1 compression 468 with a bunch of porting accomplished by Richard Reyman at West Coast Racing Cylinder Heads. Nelson spec’d a Nelson Racing camshaft and then topped it off with a Weiand intake and an 850-cfm Holley mechanical secondary carburetor and an MSD distributor. Those are Hedman headers backed with a mandrel-bent 31⁄2-inch exhaust leading to a pair of Flowmaster mufflers. Mike says the motor makes 590 hp.
Transmission: While overdrives are cool, Mike chose a classic TH400 for gears, along with a B&M converter and shifter.
Rearend: It doesn’t make much sense to have a strong motor and trans and back it up with a stock 10-bolt rear, so Mike invested in a Currie 9-inch fitted with a set of 3.70:1 gears, Currie axles, and a limited-slip.
Suspension/Brakes: Wagons are cruisers, so Mike helped the budget by reusing most of the stock suspension components and upgrading where necessary. He did add discs all the way around because iron, big-block wagons can be challenging to do the whoa-down with stock ’64 drum brakes.
Wheels/Tires: Mike chose Rocket Racing Booster gray-spoke 18x8-inch wheels to make a classic statement and wrapped them with 235/45R18 front and 275/40R18 rear Hankook tires.
Exterior: Hot Rods and Custom Stuff in Escondido, CA, began the bodywork project, with the final work and paint completed by Jason Pecikonis at Timeless Kustoms in Camarillo, California. The color is Pontiac Lime Light Green.
Interior: Custom interiors are expensive, so Mike went with a relatively mild upgrade, using Eric Thorson Custom Upholstery (Agoura Hills, CA) to stitch up matching vinyl upholstery and green carpet. A Grant wheel gives it a subtle touch, along with a nostalgia Auto Meter tach.
Performance: This wagon is no slouch. Mike says its best is a 12.09 at 119 mph, which backs up the horsepower numbers. That’s a lot quicker and faster than any Volvo, so Mike has both room for groceries and the ability to embarrass the local brat kid in his Fox Mustang.
Credit: Above all, Mike says he has to give it to his wife, Shauna—“the world’s most understanding wife.”
1966 Chevy Chevelle
“When I was a freshman in high school, there was a senior who drove a stout ’66 Chevelle. It was fast! I always liked the lines on the car, so I set my sights on this model.” —Enzo Morales
Who: Enzo Morales
What: 1966 Chevy Chevelle
Where: Carlsbad, CA
Engine: The project began with a used aluminum LS3 that Loe Pit Stop helped machine and assemble with 10.5:1 compression pistons, a Nelson Racing cam with 231/247 degrees of duration and 0.617/0.624 inches of lift. The heads were also ported by Richard Reyman at West Coast Racing Cylinder Heads in Reseda, CA, with a FAST intake and a 102mm throttle body. The EFI is controlled by a Holley HP computer and fed by an Aeromotive Phantom fuel delivery system. The exhaust consists of headers and a complete DynoMax 3-inch system built by Warner’s in Oceanside, CA.
Transmission: Starting with an ACT aluminum flywheel (with a steel insert), clutch, and pressure plate, and a GM bellhousing, Enzo bolted on the T-56 trans, which also required some significant floorpan surgery to fit inside the Chevelle’s narrow trans tunnel.
Rearend: A Moser 9-inch completes the drivetrain with a set of Richmond 3.73:1 gears, a limited-slip, and a pair of Moser axles.
Suspension/Brakes: RideTech supplied a complete front and rear coilover shock system for the Chevelle, commanded by a Lee Manufacturing 12:1 fast-ratio steering box. RideTech also supplied the front and rear sway bars. As for brakes, Enzo fitted 14-inch rotors and calipers from Kore3 at all four corners.
Wheels/Tires: With monster rotors, this demanded a minimum of an 18-inch-diameter wheel, which Budnik supplied with GTX wheels 9 inches wide in the front and 10 inches wide in the rear. Tires are 275/35ZR18 front and 285/35ZR18 rear Falkens.
Exterior: When it came time for paint, Enzo took it to Best of Show Coachworks in Escondido, CA, for a shot of classic Deep Tuxedo Black.
Interior: Elegance Auto Interiors in Upland, CA, laid down the black leather for the interior, while the instrument panel contains a factory-style gauge package, including the knee-knocker tach, modified and restored by Redline Gauge Works in Santa Clarita, CA, that includes VDO internals and a functional LED shift light. American Autowire supplied the new wiring harness.
Performance: Enzo says his Chevelle runs very similar times to Mike’s in the low-12s, and the Chevelle can knock down 21 mpg on the highway. Those Second gear burnouts tend to hurt the in-town mileage.