Part Hot-Rod

Rice University Mathematics Professor Richard Tapia spotted this 1970 Chevelle Malibu years before he was able to buy it. Richard had caught sight of the car and tried to catch up with it to see if the owner would sell, but Elizabeth Atkins punched it and got away from him. Ms. Atkins had purchased her Chevy on July 7, 1970 from the Jimmy Green Chevrolet showroom floor in Houston, Texas.  She drove it until she died in 1993, at the age of 80.  By sheer coincidence, the Tapias’ friend Billy Kelley bought the Malibu from a friend who had purchased the car at the Atkins estate sale. When Kelley heard Richard’s story, he bowed to destiny and sold the car to the Tapias. As you all know, “the little old lady” has owned many cars, but this one too? It didn’t seem likely since the Chevelle had a 300hp 350cid engine, complete SS instrumentation, SS bucket seats, a 12-bolt rear end, and ran quite hard. It was very clean, with only 78,237 miles, and forest green paint with a green vinyl top. It sure looked like it could belong to a little old lady. Additional support for this belief came from the fact that all four corners of the car had serious parking dents, but the car had no other serious dents. The conjecture is that since 1970 was a very active year for menu shopping when ordering a car, somebody configured the car in this manner and it ended up on the showroom floor. Our “little old lady” saw the car, thought that it was “cute”, and purchased it, totally unaware of the fact that it was part “hot rod”.

Phase One:  Before Dallas

Richard drove the car until the timing gear disintegrated.  Richard, Jean, and their children, Richard Jr. and Becky, decided to build a show-driver, a car that could be shown, but also driven on the weekends.

Work began on the car in 1996.  The entire family was involved, making key decisions about concept, color, and design.  The Tapia Chevelle has always been a family project and a source of family fun and pride. 




The family chose a Corvette LT-4 small block (Mouse) engine instead of the more traditional big block (Rat) engine, so it was only natural that the car should be named Mighty Mouse.

At shows, a rare Mighty Mouse doll greeted the spectators from the trunk of the car.

The car was first shown at Houston AutoRama in 1998 and did very well in Texas car shows always taking first place.  However, in January of 1999, at the New Orleans AutoRama, Mighty Mouse took second to a '77 Oldsmobile, a local favorite and arguably a questionable call.  This really upset Jean, who does not like to lose.  She argued that the entire Superdome was enchanted with Mighty Mouse and no one was looking at the Oldsmobile.  In order to put this loss behind them, they quickly decided to show in Dallas the next month.  Mighty Mouse was vindicated, and did extremely well at the Dallas show. That is until the fateful evening of February 15, 1999. 

During move-out for the Dallas AutoRama, the Chevelle, the trailer, and the tow vehicle were stolen from the show parking lot.  The Tapias had to rent a car to get home, and Jean cried all the way back to Houston. The Dallas police said not to expect to see the car again, that most likely it had been staked out and was now on its way to Mexico or Japan.  But luckily, the Dallas police did recover the Chevelle several months later after receiving an anonymous phone tip. 

Mighty Mouse and the Dallas Impound Yard

The car had been driven and was so damaged that it was clear it would have to be totally refinished and repainted.  Perhaps the biggest challenge we had with the stolen Chevelle was reclaiming Mighty Mouse from the Dallas Police Impound Yard.  They did all they could to make it a terrible experience.  It took more than two weeks to get the car out.


Leaving the Dallas Impound Lot

We Finally Got Mighty Mouse Home

The damaged car in the Tapias' driveway.

Home at last.                    

A New Beginning

Although the situation was bad, the Tapias decided they would rebuild the car making it better than ever using the knowledge they had gained showing the Chevelle for a year.  With the participation of top-of-the-line craftsmen and innovative custom work, “Heavy Metal” was born, named in tribute to the exciting muscle car era and its music.  Both the first rebuild and the extravagant second were capably handled by Randy Borcherding of The Painthouse in Houston.  Jean communicated to Randy, in a very firm manner, that Heavy Metal must be built with such quality and perfection that it would never again lose to a '77 Oldsmobile, or for that matter to any other car.

A Strong Hunch

Prior to the theft, the Chevelle’s interior consisted of all stock components and upholstery (see picture in the Interior Section).  For “Heavy Metal,” however, Richard flew to California to interview several of the nation’s top interior craftsmen before he found the man for the job — Ron “The Stitcher” Mangus of Custom Auto Interiors in Rialto, California.  The first thing that Ron said was that an interior highlighted in red was fine for a '57 Chevy or a '32 Ford, but not for a '70 Chevelle.  "If you change the graphics color from red to orange, then I can do great things."  With the exception of Richard Jr., the Tapia family had no problem with that, and Randy was instructed to go ahead with orange graphics.  

Ron Mangus at work on the interior

In April of 2005 as Ron was putting the final touches on the interior he called Richard to say that since the car was already in California, and since he had a strong feeling that the car would show well, the Tapias ought to debut “Heavy Metal” at the highly competitive Pomona Super Chevy show at the end of the month.  It seemed like a long shot, but the Chevelle not only won the prestigious Gold Class Trophy, but won the coveted Best in Show trophy competing against hundreds of California’s finest.  Ron’s hunch was right on.


Go on to the next section, Design Elements,

. . . or back to the Table of Contents.