Throttle Pumpin’: A Spur of the Moment eBay Motors Purchase Might Just Become the Latest Project

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An Unintended eBay Purchase Becomes the Latest Timeless Musclecar Project — Maybe.

For the last several years, I’ve dabbled with a few classics that many would consider a desirable muscle car; a ’70 Chevelle SS396, a ’68 Firebird 400 convertible and a ’79 Trans Am 10th-Anniversary. All of them at currently at different stages of the restoration phase, but that never stops me from casually browsing the interwebs of what’s currently on the market. Hey, if a deal presents itself why not?

So last winter, shortly after I had sold my supercharged and LS-swapped third-gen Trans Am, I was browsing Facebook when I stumbled upon an ad from Bring A Trailer. The ad was actually an article about a ’74 Chevelle Laguna Type S-3 that was listed on eBay. Being mildly interested, and ultimately planning on building one eventually anyway, I clicked on the article and read about the car. As it turns out, it was a one-owner barn find located at a classic car dealer at a no-reserve price. I honestly can’t recall how low the current bidding was at the time, but it was basically pocket change.

Figuring that because it was a no-reserve deal and I’d probably get outbid anyway, I started bidding. Unfortunately, I had a few cocktails that evening and was feeling particularly generous. I quickly got into a bidding war on the thing, and before I knew it, I had purchased a one-owner ’74 Laguna S3 and paid for it all within an hour of seeing the BaT article.

After some back and forth with the seller, and a few months of logistics, the car was finally in my home shop. So, what did I actually buy? To answer that, let’s first cover the basics.

1974 Chevelle Laguna Type S-3

For 1973, the A-body Chevy Chevelle had a complete update from top to bottom. It featured an all new body, suspension, engine options, interior, etc. Originally intended for a 1972 model year release, the car was delayed a full model year due to the UAW strike. Unfortunately, the remodeled A-body was released at the exact same time as the first fuel crisis, rising insurance costs, a recession, tightening EPA standards, stricter crash safety standards and a declining level of interest from the buying public. While the ’60s youth car buyers were interested in high horsepower and low quarter-mile times, the ’70s saw the same people growing up, getting careers and starting families. As a result, fuel economy, increased safety and general comfort and convenience took the forefront over sheer performance.

That’s not to say that there ws no interest in performance at all, or that performance car production completely screeched to a halt immediately. No. The first few years, 1970 in particular, were considered the peak of the first generation of muscle cars. But by 1974, it was all but over. The only real American performance car that was worthy of the title by that year was the extremely limited production Super Duty 455-powered Firebird Formula and Trans Am. With a horsepower rating of just shy of 300 (net), these large-displacement ‘Birds were good for quarter-mile times in the low to mid 13-second range, and would go on to be among the fastest factory Firebirds ever produced.

The rest of the GM lineup (and Ford, and Chrysler, and AMC) wasn’t as nearly as impressive. Even the Corvette’s hottest engine that year, the LS-4 454 big-block, could only crank out 270hp. The mid-size Chevelle was even worse. For 1974, the top level Super Sport (SS) Chevelle was replaced by the Laguna S-3. It was essentially a Chevelle SS with an Endura (rubber) front fascia that improved aerodynamics, particularly on the NASCAR circuit. It was first seen on the front of the 1973 Laguna, which at the time, was basically a mid-level trim option on the standard Chevelle. For 1974, it became a part of the S-3 performance package.

Photo: Hemmings

Just a few years earlier, the Chevelle SS was relegated to big-block power exclusively, but by 1973 all of the aforementioned issues like the fuel crisis, EPA issues, the economy, insurance companies and so forth had already sunken its teeth into the automotive industry prominently. By 1973, the Chevelle SS and ’74-76 Laguna S3 could be had with a low-performance (145hp) 2bbl-equipped 350 V8, all the way up to a 235hp 4-bbl. 454, with a few option choices in between. My Laguna was dealt the 145hp 350 fate, with a TH350 automatic bolted behind it.

With, roughly, a 3500-lb curb weight and less horsepower than just about anything offered today in the States, quarter-mile performance could be measured with a sun dial. I’m willing to bet somewhere in the high 17-second range.

Cosmetically, the Laguna S-3 added a two-tone paint scheme, front swivel seats and the iconic 15-inch Chevy wheels with trim rings and center caps. The front Endurance nose helped blend the front styling of the car, and help the front of the car “flow better” than the traditional massive chrome bumpers that were becoming common by 1974.

So, What Did I Get Myself Into?

During my initial phone conversation with the seller, I was told that the car wasn’t running at all. He claimed he didn’t know for sure if the engine was seized or not — great. The visible rust on the quarters made me nervous as well, and I immediately started to believe that I’ve been had. Upon arriving to the seller’s place, the battery was dead and ancient. Trying to be optimistic, I brought a helper, a spare battery, tools, WD-40, a can of gas, starting fluid, and just about anything you would need to make a car at least crank over in a normal situation… and nothing woke up the car. We stuck a fork in the situation, loaded up the car onto he rented Uhaul trailer that was latched to The Mule, and hit the road.

Since we were about seven hours from home, and on a tight schedule, I stuck to the highway and drove through the night only stopping for fuel. Half-expecting to get odd looks and snickers, I was surprised to get interested stares, thumbs up, and on-lookers walking up and asking about the car while at the gas pumps.

These mid-seventies “muscle cars” always got the short end of the stick, especially when it came to restoration parts, model-specific speed parts and general street cred. While some took to them with genuine interest and passion, the majority of automotive enthusiasts shied away from them in droves. As a result, the buying market never really reflected in the value. Whenever most think of the word, “Chevelle” it’s usually a ’64-72 that comes to mind.

However, with this kind of response from my road trip, I was having second thoughts about immediately dumping the car as soon as I got home. The reason being, that I had several projects already, and this thing would essentially just be in my way. Although I had planned on building one of these cars at some point, it didn’t make much sense just to have it sit around for at least a year or so before I could really give it the attention it needed. That was my thoughts initially, but I was digging the reaction that this car was getting before I barely turned a wrench on it.

After I unloaded the car and dropped off the trailer early the next morning, the first thing that I did was clean the car, inside and out. It was totally filled and covered with dust, dirt, bird crap and yes, mouse turds. Many of them. When I opened the door to the car for the first time to load it onto the trailer, it almost knocked me on my ass. The odor was really that pungent.

Once I had the trunk cracked open and cleaned out, I realized that I had all of the center caps and trim rings, original jack and spare with the original Uniroyal 70 tire mounted on the wheel. Willy, who helps me out in the shop, came over and hot the shell a second time, pressure washed the engine bay, and sprayed the wheels, wheel wells, and under the chassis. We fired up the Honda-powered pressure washer, filled it with Sweet Patina car wash and blasted the funk off of it.

Despite the initial cruddy aesthetic, the Laguna started shining up in quick order. All of the dust, the smell, the mouse crap and everything else that was caked to the paint washed right off. The only exception were the stains in the paint from the animals over the years. From what we were told, and what seemed to be the case based on what we experienced, the car has sat in a barn on a farm since around the year 2000. So the odds that the engine was legitimately seized up, was looking more possible. Before I rolled up my sleeves under the hood to be sure, I still wanted to get this thing relatively sanitary before I started crawling underneath it.

I popped open the interior cabin, threw on some gloves and a mask, grabbed all of the remnants from the mice and fired up the shop vac. This was one of the first cars I’ve ever been grossed out by, during initial cleanup.

On the positive side, it gave me an opportunity to thoroughly go through the whole car.

The immediate cause for concern was the rot in the rear quarters. In most cases, if the rear quarter panels of a car are as rotted as those are on this Laguna, you’re automatically going to assume the trunk pan is gone, rear wheel wells are gone, and there’s serious rot in other places. That isn’t the case with this Chevelle, at all. I’m not kidding, either. The rear wheel wells (aka, inner fenders) are nearly as solid as they were when they left the factory, despite some light surface rust that can be sandblasted off. The trunk pan is completely solid; no soft spots, no weak spots, no holes, nothing. The floor pan is solid, the rockers are solid, firewall and frame are A-1, and the rest of the body is either totally solid, or has a few light surface spots that are repairable.

On the inside of the car, the headliner and sun visors are trashed, thanks to a family of mice who once occupied it, the swivel seats still work and there’s a small hole in the passenger side seat. Again, probably from a mouse. The back seat is nearly perfect, and all of the interior panels (dash, door, console, kick panels, et al.) are all solid with no cracks. Even the rear package tray, which were notorious for cracking when the cars were relatively new, is still solid and in one piece.

The glass shows no cracking, and the doors, which are notorious for sagging due to their weight, aren’t. This is definitely a solid project foundation to build from, and is way too complete to part out.

OK, So What Is the Status of That Small-Block?

With the car now decent enough to work on without wanting to vomit, we pulled out the socket set and got to it. I really, really wanted to get this thing to turn over. I was persistent, optimistic, and hopeful. So I took it from the top; pulled the plugs, and dumped in a 50/50 solution of Marvel Mystery Oil and Acetone. I then checked all of the accessories; crank pulley, alternator and starter. The smog pump pulley was seized, and the starter was locked up as well. I pulled it off and tested it by jumping it with a jump box — dead as a door knob.

I pulled all of the drive belts to relieve any further tension, and let the car sit for 24 hours. I came back the next afternoon, and the crank was still not turning. I dumped more MMO and acetone solution into the spark plug holes, and I went back and forth a little on the crank pulley just to try to help it along. I gave it another 24 hours, and still no dice.

Someone on my Instagram account suggested Kroil, and told me that if THAT didn’t do it, then the engine was locked up for good unless I felt inclined to rebuild it. I ordered up a small bottle of Kroil (8oz. for $25), and dumped it into the spark plug holes. At this point, I wanted to take a gander at what was going on with the valvetrain and pulled the valve covers. The passenger side looked normal and all was accounted for. I pulled the driver’s side valve cover, and boy, what a treat. Almost all of the valves and rockers were rusted tight. Somehow, moisture entered into the driver’s side of the block and rusted the pushrods and a few of the rocker arms in place. Believing, or hoping, that I found the culprit, I completely lubed it all up with the remaining MMO I had on the shelf from earlier, and let it sit for another 24 hours.

….and notta. Nope. No-thang.

Assuming that it was simply rusted tight, and may even been locked up from losing oil pressure back in the day, I deemed the engine a lot cause in its general state. Sure, I could have pulled it out, tore it down and got to the real root of the problem, or sourced a replacement off of Marketplace or a local yard. However, I has elbows deep in four other projects around the shop and I didn’t want to have another car exploded all over the floor. I let the situation marinate in my mind, tucked the car in the corner and evaluated my options.

I Almost Sold It

After it become abundant that the car wasn’t going to be able to move under its own power for quite some time, I took some photos of it and listed it on Facebook Marketplace for less than what I had in it (I won’t mention the price, but I figured that there was no way a normal, sane and sober person would pay for this car what I had). I listed it largely to gauge interest and hoping for a potential quick sale. If I was going to get a bunch of super low ball offers, I would just keep it. If I could get out what I had in it, or more, I would probably cut it loose.

Frankly, I was blown away by the amount of messages I received for the car. They ranged from the default, low-ball-at-half-price-sight-unseen tire kicker from 100 miles away, to a local guy pining away for it like it was the actual car he had in high school.

The local guy who was the only one who turned up, and was crawling over this thing; inside and out, top to bottom and initially was acting like a stickler. After shooting the breeze with him for almost and hour and him starting to open up, I learned that he had owned one when he was younger, although, a white example with red trim — essentially the color opposite of this car.

Thinking that I had found my buyer, the conversation quickly turned into him praising every positive aspect of the car; the solid shell, the largely solid and accounted for interior, and so on. He basically spent another half-hour talking me into keeping the car I was trying to sell to him, and then offered me a little less than what I was asking. I couldn’t do it. It probably didn’t help that he showed up driving a Mustang, without a truck and trailer, and without the cash. I told him that I had to think about it, but after some deeper research and serious consideration, I couldn’t cut the car loose. I later got back to him and told him as such, and he was pretty understanding.

Moving Forward

Since I didn’t sell the car as of this writing, I am weighing my options on what to do with it. Should I restore it? Or maybe simply rebuild the original 350, clean up the body some and enjoy it as-is? Or maybe an LS-swapped pro-touring build? Should I build a wild NASCAR tribute car? There are so many ways that I could go with this thing, so I’m turning to you, our readers, to see what they have to say. Leave a comment below and let me know what you think!


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