This family’s ’69 Chevelle made memories, a quarter-mile at a time

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Courtesy George Carroll

When my father, George Carroll, was 18, he purchased a 1969 Chevelle from Zele Chevrolet in Torrington, Connecticut. He was too young to get the $3800 loan himself, so his father cosigned. Around this time, Dad and a few other gearheads founded the Speed Syndicate Car Club. They rented a garage to hold weekly meetings and tune their cars. There was a strong rivalry between the members’ Chevys and Fords, so part of the weekend was spent settling bets racing on nearby Norfolk Road. My father formed many lifelong friendships during those years, and many of those folks are some of his closest friends to this day.

George Carroll, his wife Diana, and good friend Leon Saporite, forged a special bond with his Chevelle SS 396 over the past 52 years—a quarter-mile at a time. Courtesy Thom Carroll

Throughout my childhood, I heard countless Chevelle stories. Like the time my mother took the pickles off her hamburger and threw them out the window. A friend found them stuck to the side of the car hours later and said, “Hey, you guys saving these pickles for anything?!” Or about the time they drove to Misquamicut, Rhode Island, where the car overheated in the long lines of beach traffic. Perhaps most common were the stories of how every Sunday from 1969 to 1980, he and my mother drove 140 miles round trip to Lebanon Valley Dragway in New York with racing slicks in the trunk. The more time he put in on the track, the bigger his collection of NHRA Class Winner stickers became. He started displaying them on the rear windows, which now offer a look back in time at what he and his Chevelle were capable of.

George Carroll’s 1969 Chevelle before a race at Lebanon Valley Dragway in West Lebanon, NY, 1972. Courtesy George Carroll

My parents have always said those days on the dusty track were long and hot but definitely worth every minute; good thing Mom always packed chicken salad sandwiches! And, of course, I’ll never forget Dad teaching me to drive stick, how to pull a holeshot, or go through the gears on his car. Talk about sweaty palms …

Over the years, a lot has changed. As Dad got married, bought a house, and had two children, he contemplated selling the car to help with finances many times. Luckily, as time went by, he realized the car was an irreplaceable member of the family. But there is also plenty that hasn’t changed. The Chevelle is still almost completely original, including the 31,000-mile SS 396/375 high-performance L78 engine with solid lifters, the four-speed M21 transmission, and the original 4.10 Posi rear end. It has not been gutted, restored, repainted, or had anything major replaced since it came from the factory. The Le Mans Blue still shines in contrast with the black bucket seats and original vinyl top.

My father’s story is of a hardworking, blue-collar gearhead who saved his money for years to purchase a car and pursue his passion for racing. Even after 52 years, it brings him great joy, and you’ll still find him under the hood, tinkering whenever he can.

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