“It’s strange to think we used to drink beers in the back of that thing and now my kids play in there,” says Anthony Daye as he pulls a ride-on Jeep—complete with two small passengers—out of the bush they’d careened into while we’d been talking. With one eye on the boys, he glances back to the ’71 El Camino parked at the end of a suburban cul-de-sac in Orange County, California. Beside it sit a candy corn yellow Nova with a toothless grin and a glossy black Chevelle with a Mooneyes license plate. The kids’ Jeep is the most modern vehicle in sight. “I had a ‘lawyer’s car’ for a while, an Audi A8,” he says. “It was nice for taking executives out to lunch and things like that, but I had to ditch it.” Now he alternates between three muscle machines as daily driver.
That Elco in the driveway was Anthony’s first car in high school. He nabbed it for $1,500, sporting grey primer and chrome Cragars (coolest kid in class, right?). It received a fresh black paint job for his 18th birthday, and after a cool six-digit mileage count, it’s still in his driveway. He even took his wife, Liane, in it on their first date.
It’s starting to show some signs of aging, but it’s stronger than ever, thanks to a blueprinted 383-cube stroker. Kitted out over the years with go-fast bits such as a rumpy cam, Vortec heads, Edelbrock 600 carb, and Hooker headers, it’s definitely earned its faux-SS stripes. QA1 coilovers, Wilwood four-pot discs, and a Tremec five-speed mated to a 3.73 posi rear end make it a delight to drive (as this author can attest), and it oozes teenage car nostalgia with surviving touches such the ‘Heartbeat of America’ seat covers and the skate stickers of half-naked ladies on the dash. The Elco might be old and beat-up, but it runs like a top, so why not drive it every chance you can?
“I hate new cars, they’re boring,” Anthony says. His trio of Bowtie-badged muscle cars stand out in traffic and in his neighborhood against a wash of boring SUVs and hybrids in varying shades of silver. Anthony has built himself an arsenal of muscle for driving to work, to the grocery store, or for grabbing some donuts.
“Donuts!” The magical ‘D’ word sends his two boys, Tyson and Dominic, into a jumping, salivating dance with the only remedy being putting the kid seats in the back of the ’67 SS Chevelle, gathering up Liane, and rumbling down the road to one of SoCal’s holiest holed pastry dispensaries, Adams Ave Donuts—the home of Donut Derelicts car show. There’s no official show going on as we pull into the parking lot, but that’s the thing about having a classic as a daily driver—you make your own one, two, or three car show wherever you go.
The Chevelle the car seats were in was pulled from its home in Georgia after Anthony bought it from his father. “I have a love/hate relationship with this thing,” he says. “It’s a really nice car and great to drive, but my El Camino is so messed up because when I was a kid at home, it had to spend two Georgia winters under a tree just to make room for this in dad’s garage!”
Thanks to the Elco’s sacrifice, the Chevelle was in great condition when Anthony brought it to California, but he couldn’t help but mess with it a little once the numbers-matching 396 mill spun a bearing. It’s now fitted with a mild 454 topped by an Edelbrock dual-plane intake and 800 cfm carb. Never fear, all you purists and nerds, the 396 is still in the garage, and the Muncie behind the 454 is still numbers-matching—freshly rebuilt, too. It’s currently wearing the Cragars from high school El Camino, still shining brightly, and seat belts installed for all passengers have solidified the Chevelle as the family transportation.
Once we’re parked and pastried, Anthony continues giving me the car stories, in between wiping blue icing from kids’ faces. “My dad never bought cars with more than two seats, so I grew up sitting on blankets in the back of old Corvettes and things like that,” he says. “I used to always bang my head and have to duck down around police, but it was a different time. Liane’s dad also had some rad cars, like a ’68 z28 and a ’71 Porsche. I think it’s nice to raise [my kids] in old cars, and I think they appreciate it. I bring along a speaker for them so they can sit in the back and listen to Disney soundtracks, and they love cruising around the cul-de-sacs. Sometimes we’ll do a neighborhood run swapping all three cars back to back now that the Nova is home.”
Fresh from the paint booth, the Ferrari Fly yellow ’73 Nova is nearing completion after being saved from imminent death. “My friend was dealing with his uncle’s estate and called me up, saying that he found a Nova in the back shed, no keys, no papers, all in pieces,” Anthony says. “I could have it for free if I could pull it out in the next 11 days before the sale closed on the house. I thought it would be a great car for my wife to drive, so I told her about it, but I think she was too pregnant with Dominic at that point to care what I did, so I went and picked it up.”
It was an old man’s car and had never been hot rodded. It sat dormant for a long time, becoming a home for rats in the back of the estate. The standard 350/350 combo only needed some fluids and a bit of elbow grease to fire right up. The air cleaner, valve covers, and shorty Hedman headers are all new additions, right now covered in a tasty layer of primer and overspray, thanks to its recent trip to the paint shop.
“Originally I wanted silver with a red interior, but I ran out of money and permission,” Anthony says. “So I just put seats in, had a respray done in a Ferrari color of all things, and put the Rally wheels on it from the SS.” It’s bright enough to melt your eyeballs. Anthony jokes that it’s the wrong year Nova to bring attention to, being a less-fashionable ’73, but he finds the body shape to suit cruising with kids in the back because of the squared-out quarter windows they can actually see out of. He’s also backdating it with nicer bumpers from a ’72, and a few touches will make it ready for his wife. Well, maybe. Liane hasn’t quite come around to the old car daily thing. “I’m trying to get her into it,” he says. “It’s reliable, an automatic, and easy to drive.”
“I don’t want to spend money on a car I don’t love, but when you have a family, you need to be reliable and at places on time.” Anthony says. But with three old cars pretty much ready to go at the turn of a key, he’s not really an argument against dailying a vintage machine.
On the contrary, the smell and sound of old muscle cars, the rumble, the looks, being a part of the community on the roads and online—doesn’t that seem like something you’d want to do? Clearly if you have any concerns, go the Anthony route, and give yourself three chances to get to work.
1973 Chevrolet Nova
MILL: 350ci SBC
SUCK: 4bbl Edelbrock 650
BLOW: 2.5” Hedman shorties, glasspacks
SHIFT: Turbo 350
ROLL: 15” Rally, 225/70/15 Mickey Thompsons
STOP: Stock discs
BOUNCE: 3” Hotchkiss TVS kit
INSIDE: ProCar Scat seats, Grant steering wheel (coming soon)
PAINT: Ferrari Fly yellow
1967 Chevrolet Chevelle SS
MILL: 454ci BBC
GUTS: Mild, iron heads
SUCK: Edelbrock 800
BLOW: 3” long-tube headers, Flowmasters
REAR: Stock, 4.10
ROLL: Cragars from high school, white-letter BFGs
STOP: Stock drums
INSIDE: Mostly original
1971 Chevrolet El Camino
MILL: Blueprint 383ci stroker
GUTS: 3/4 lift hydraulic cam, Vortec iron heads
SUCK: Edelbrock 600
BLOW: 2.5” Hooker headers, Black Widow mufflers
SHIFT: Tremec TK600
REAR: 3.73 Posi
ROLL: 17” Cragar Super 8s, 285/40/17s
STOP: Wilwood four-pot discs
BOUNCE: QA1 Coilovers, oversized swaybars
INSIDE: Chevy seat covers, skate stickers, Sparco wheel
PAINT: Black, white SS stripes