From the moment we handed over $1,500 in 1994 for a nondescript '70 Malibu with a tired 350, Car Craft's Cheap Street Chevelle has developed a following far more devoted than the typical magazine project vehicle. It has evolved into a legendary icon that best represents what car crafting is all about-American-bred street machines.
Cheap Street has matured well over the years, but she wasn't so cherry in the beginning. The sun-rotted vinyl top disintegrated at the touch, and the wheels were rusty enough to scare away any bottle of industrial-strength wheel polish. The interior wasn't much better, with then-staffers John Kiewicz and Miles Cook using a 59-cent box of ladies' hair pins to hold up the headliner and stuffing towels into the seats to prevent the spring-in-the-butt feel. Suffice it to say, whoever proclaimed, "It's what's on the inside that counts" didn't know our Chevelle. The previous owner and the odometer both claimed it was an all-original 140,000-mile car, but there was so much oil and grime under the hood that it looked like it'd been driving behind the Exxon Valdez.
Over the next several years, Cheap Street made regular magazine appearances in low-buck, step-by-step guides to building a basic street machine. The stories varied from simple backyard tech to paint and body how-tos, and along the way Cheap Street served as a test bed for many product tests and upgrades. The most awe-inspiring upgrade was the time we jammed a GM 502 crate motor between the fenders. A 4L80E overdrive automatic transmission was later mated behind the big-block for reliability and comfortable open-road blasts. Additional features included a six-point rollbar for added safety and structural rigidity, a restitched interior, and a trick set of 17-inch Weld Wheels Drag Lite XPs with fresh BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KD rubber.
Some proclaimed that Cheap Street's revitalized styling would eventually turn it into more of a weekend cruiser than a driven test mule. However, Cheap Street proved everyone wrong by dipping into the high 10s in the quarter-mile with the aid of nitrous and by making regular appearances at most local SoCal cruise nights. It even ventured all the way out to our Summer Nat's in St. Paul, Minnesota.
After an arduous five-year tour of duty, Cheap Street retired to our private facilities where it had only sporadic maintenance and endured months of neglect. It wasn't until December 2000 that Cheap Street got to stretch its legs again. Only this time it wasn't staffers behind the wheel, but a group of thieves who ransacked our shop and drove away with the Chevelle. Amazingly, the LAPD actually caught the lowlifes a mere two months later. After giving it a rough once-over, we got the brilliant idea to show off Cheap Street on the final three legs of the '01 Hot Rod Power Tour. Unfortunately, the cumulative effects of that neglected maintenance left Cheap Street incapacitated on the side of the road, and our "icon" had to be ignominiously towed home where it has sat collecting dust ever since.