Our Chevelle and the Family Trip
to the San Antonio Car Show

by Richard Tapia

Originally published in The Valve Clad-d-der, San Jacinto Region, Vintage Chevrolet Club of America
Volume 12, Issue 5, April 1998.

Over the years we have promoted our car activity as a family undertaking.  It is so much more fun when the entire family buys in and takes part.

Five years ago, at the 1993 Houston AutoRama, our friend and fellow club member, Billy Kelley, was driving a 1970 Chevelle two-door hardtop that he had recently acquired from an acquaintance who in turn had just purchased it in a River Oak's estate sale.  The claim was that it had been driven by the proverbial “little old lady”, only this time she lived in River Oaks. 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 rearend and ran quite hard. On the other hand, from the outside, it was a very innocent looking car. It was very clean with only 100K miles, forest green paint with a green vinyl top, and no SS trim. 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 and the car had no other serious dents.

When I first saw the Chevelle, I told Billy that I knew this car.  About ten years before, I happened to be in the Sears parking lot on Main street and saw this little old lady fire up a clean green 1970 Chevelle. I was very interested in trying to see if she wanted to sell the car; so I decided to follow her. However, she punched the car and was gone; she quickly lost me. Now the car has returned in the hands of Billy Kelley. I told Billy that this was a sign, and I didn't want it to get away again. Billy of course sold it to us; he understands destiny. My 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 show room 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”. For one year we had fun driving it, even though it seriously fouled plugs due to leaky valve guides. Then one day in November of 1994 (ironically, it was the Saturday that the car club was building the club display for our first showing in the Houston AutoRama) the timing chain let go. The car stayed parked in our garage for the next two years. In December of 1996, my family and I made the serious decision that we would restore the car. Randy Borcherding (another one of Billy Kelley's friends) of Color Etc. here in Houston was selected to do the complete frame-off restoration.

The restoration took a year and included much fun, stress, and frustration. Each night at the dinner table the family would engage in discussions and disagreements about all the various decisions of the restoration process. I wanted the car to turn heads and favored red with some kind of stripes. Our son Richard wanted it  to be a sleeper and wanted to restore it back to the way it came, green with  no SS stripes. Our daughter Becky wanted the car silver with black SS stripes. Jean wasn't sure what color she wanted, except that she wanted stripes and she wanted the car to turn heads. She leaned toward Becky's choice of silver with black stripes. After nights of discussing (arguing) and looking at hundreds of pictures, we decided that the car would be black with candy apple stripes. Randy is a true artist and one of the top painters in Houston. He liked the family choice of black, but did not show much enthusiasm for the family choice of candy apple stripes. Later when the painting was finished and everyone loved the paint combination, especially the candy stripes, Randy said that his initial reservation concerning the candy apple strips was that he felt that they  might look too “ethnic”. Of course we all laughed and continue to tease him concerning the great value of ethnic spice.

The car was to be a show driver and not a show car. However, many of the choices that we made along the way leaned towards show - all stainless steel bolts, all frame parts powder coated instead of painted, all stainless steel lines, and chrome engine and accessory parts to really show off the 1996 Corvette Grand Sport LT4 engine by Street and Performance, of Mena Arkansas. Once we got into it, the momentum just carried us along. The LT4 was chosen for dependability, reliability, and efficiency. We estimate that the car will run around 105mph in the quarter mile with an elapsed time in the low 13 seconds. And yet it will get 28  miles per gallon on the road. Rear wheel horsepower is 350, giving us a horse per inch. We set as a goal to finish the car for Houston AutoRama 1997. In order to reach our deadline, Randy pulled several all-nighters. We fired up the engine for the first time the weekend before the show. The wheels arrived from California the day before move-in; while the exhaust system was finished the day of move-in. Hundreds of details had to be taken care of the final week or so. Since I was occupied with setting up and organizing our six-car car club display, friend and car club member, John Boyer graciously volunteered to help me out by trailering the Chevelle to and from the show. However, when he arrived at Randy's, several things still had to be done, and other things had gone wrong. John took everything in stride and went far beyond the call of duty. We made it to the show and detailed the car for the first time the night of show move-in. After dealing with stress and frustration, we made it. We knew that our class was extremely competitive. There were 12 cars in our class. After Jean, Richard, and I walked the class, we were convinced that we would place in the top three; but we all disagreed as to where. We were not expecting to win first place; so when we did, it was very satisfying. Equally satisfying were the positive comments, and statements made by the continuous flow of spectators. We entered into many questions and answer periods. All of these things together made the effort and expense worthwhile. At the Houston AutoRama we received an invitation to take part in the San Antonio show on January 2-5, 1998, with move-in on Thursday, January 1-st. New Years is not one of our favorite holidays. Somehow everyone expects too much and the events usually fall short of these high expectations. The chance of showing in San Antonio gave us an opportunity to turn New Years into a family activity. Jean would have to depend on Becky to help her with her wheelchair, and I would have to depend on Richard to help me with the car. We all liked the idea. So we decided to go for it, in spite of the fact that we were all sick. We borrowed Billy Kelley's car hauler and spent considerable time preparing our van for the road trip ahead.

Since we were not showing with the car club we had to put together our own display. Becky, Richard, and I spent time at various Home Depots and Builders Squares in our part of town. Adding to the excitement was the fact that our friends and fellow car club members, Jim and Lori Peterson decided that they would meet us in San Antonio.

Bright and early New Years day we loaded up and headed off for San Antonio. We took a very leisurely pace stopping at a Dairy Queen or two along the way. The official acceptance letter said that the doors would open at noon; so we figured as long as we arrived by two or three in the afternoon, we would be fine. This was a mistake. I later learned that the lines in the street were so long that they opened the doors at eight in the morning. Moreover, unlike the Houston Show, they assigned a spot on a first-come-first-serve basis. When we arrived at three, everyone had the good spots and they put us in a wing adjacent to the main wing, off in a corner. We ended up with a groups of locals who were all showing their daily drivers (lots of  '55, '56', and '57 Chevys). Most of  their displays consisted of home furnishings There were many bedposts used as stanchions connected with some form of colorful clothesline rope. The contrast between the Houston and the San Antonio shows was incredible. Unlike the Houston show, the San Antonio show is very informal and carries little structure. Initially, I was quite turned off by these aspects of the San Antonio show. Also, it didn't help that we were assigned a slot in the South 40, among all the barrio cruisers.

The people at the car show were so friendly and San Antonio is such a great tourist city that we could not stay turned-off for long. The out-of-town people all stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, two or three blocks from the convention center where the car show was located. The organizers had negotiated rates of $50 a night for a suite. The suite easily accommodated the four of us. All the big show-car people were staying there; the parking lots were full of trailers. “Big Daddy” Don Gartlis, a featured guest, was just down the hall from us. The excitement was at a high level; we were a central part of the happening. Everything was downtown and centrally located. We walked everywhere and didn't need the van until we were ready to return to Houston. Down the street from the Holiday Inn Express was an all night Taqueria named “Lupitas”. We had breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snacks at Lupitas. Lupita was a one-person show: she served as hostess, waitress, cook and cashier. These tasks she carried out with great skill and expertise. A standard family joke became, if you want it done ask Lupita, or “I can't do all that, I am not Lupita”. On Saturday night we all went out in a big group, including Jim and Lori, and walked around the downtown riverwalk area and to one of the more famous Mexican restaurants. Becky asked if Lupita had helped build the riverwalk. It was typical San Antonio fun.

We befriended many of our car show neighbors. Some of the exhibitors were from Houston; and in this friendly informal atmosphere we were able to get to know them. This does not happen as much at the Houston AutoRama. At the awards ceremony, when it was announced that our Chevelle had taken first place in its class, our newfound friends all applauded. We had an extended family. The spectators were friendly and seemed to attend more as families.

We had to move out Sunday evening and started to head back to Houston after the show at about 11:00pm. We knew it would be a long trip back, arriving at about 4:00am, and we had prepared ourselves for this. However, the trip turned out to be much more fun than we had expected. We found ourselves in a caravan of cars and trailers all returning from the car show to Houston. We all had something in common; we had gone to San Antonio for the same reason, and we were all having a great time. At one time we pulled in to get gas at a a station with a large convenience store. Becky wanted to buy some snacks, so I gave her money. She returned with a bag full of snacks and gave me back the money. I asked what happened? She replied, “Dad, you know that guy with the candy '38 Pontiac, well he bought all this for me”. We were again part of another extended family.

I could not have shown the car without my son Richard's constant help. Jean could not have taken part in all our activities without Becky's help. On the way home we were all excited because our car took another first. However, my greatest satisfaction came when Becky and Richard both said that this was the best family trip that we have ever had . We functioned as a family, and we had to depend on each other. This was our best New Years and we will be back next year. We will also show in Houston; the mix is good and helps one to gain an appreciation for each. We would like to encourage other club members to join us and show next year in San Antonio. We can make it a club activity. I guarantee you that we will all have an outstanding time. Oh, by the way, I forgot to say that we also received $24 tow money!

Our sincere thanks go to Randy Borcherding of Color Etc., Mark Campbell of Street and Performance, Billy Kelley, and John Boyer. They all played a role in making this possible.


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Personal Data VitaeMain 2004 Richard Tapia - updated 02/23/2004 • maintained by Hilena Vargas (hvargas@rice.edu)