What If? 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle Rockingham 454
Welcome to What If, a new feature from imaginative illustrator Abimelec Arellano and Hagerty. We’ll be taking you back in time—and possibly forward into the future—to meet alternative-universe automobiles. Even better, our time machine is working well enough to bring “short take” reviews along with the photographs and advertisements. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!
(Originally published in Spinning Rock magazine, September 6, 1969)
When Chevrolet asked us to try out their latest capitalist pig-mobile, and when they asked me, Chester Bangs, to be the one to drive it, I was little short of dumbfounded. After all, we stand for the complete deconstruction of the oppressive systems represented by General Motors and all the tragic wagons they foist on all the squares of Nowheresville, USA. The production of automobiles represents the contrapuntal antithesis to music’s spiritual power. The car drags your spirit down into that inferno of working to consume the products made by other workers. It just doesn’t get any worse than that. Why would we support a system that turns the precious resources of the Earth into mere boxes made of ticky-tacky?
After meeting the Chevelle Rockingham for the first time, however, I’m no longer as certain about all of that. You could sit in it, as I did, while watching a pagan priestess performing the ritual dance of Ka through the windshield of my local drive-thru. And believe me, the “Rock” made my blood throb to those jungle rhythms even more frenziedly. I was dumbfounded by the concussive power of its “big-block” engine, and astounded by the barbaric yawp of its “aero” front end. Chevrolet says that this helps it in NASCAR, which is some kind of dirt-track hick stuff that the squares of your mother’s America really groove on. They say it’s meant to beat the “Superbird”, which is some other crazy pig-mobile, also made by the wage slaves of Detroit as they sacrifice their bodies to a meat grinder just to have a decent meal on their kids’ dinner tables.
The Rockingham proves once and for all that General Motors does not merely play the audience, it builds cars whose essential crudeness is so highly refined that it becomes a kind of absolute distillation of raunch, that element which seems to be seeping out of modern cars at a disturbing rate. Where most “muscle cars” seem almost embarrassing in their posturings and excesses, and even the Pontiac “G.T.O.” held tinges of the Art Statement, the Chevelle at its best just rocks and socks you right out of your chair.
Much of the Rockingham’s raison d’etre comes from the application of military technology to the capitalist street war of automotive competition. The engine is called an LS6 and it might be the fastest thing you can buy in a store. From “wind tunnel studies” Chevrolet created a nose that slices the air instead of ramming it. There’s a rear “wing” that keeps the back tires from flying off the ground at 200mph. And on the roof there is a whole new device that was probably invented by Werner von Braun; it’s called the “Vortex Generator”.
Let’s be real about all of this. The only time you will see this car on the street is when some pipefitter is trying to pass a caravan of VW Buses on the way to the next hippie jam, and at that moment you’ll perceive it as an absolute menace, a Dionysian manifestation of pure ego on the hoof, louder than the Gotterdammerung and twice as fascist. It shouldn’t exist. But man is it fast. And in that crassly calculating process General Motors manages to be thoroughly appealing.
We don’t sugarcoat things at Spinning Rock, so I gotta tell you that I crashed this car during my test. Here’s how it went down. My newest lady, and the love of my life, Jenny Felson, is pregnant with our child. Well, we were driving to the Fillmore when she told me that the baby was coming early. That’s right: our boy, little Spaniel Felson, wanted to show up to the gig a few weeks early. So I floored the throttle, and that’s when the “454” spun the back wheels so hard I lost control and hit a schoolbus. Thankfully, nobody was hurt and the fourteen little future squares in the bus are all going to grow up to be doctors and lawyers and business executives. As for young Spaniel? He was delivered with no problems afterwards. I know he’s gonna be a great musician. Probably a great driver, too.
The Rockingham will cost you $5495 without any options. For that kind of money, you could buy a VW and tour the country with the Grateful Dead. That would be a better idea. You should do that. Chester Bangs, signing off.