It was Michelangelo who said, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." The sculpture already existed within the stone, and all he was doing was removing everything that didn't belong. Every chip that flew off Mike's chisel was a decision that precluded a million other choices and possibilities. Eventually, the last chip flew off, and there was only one remaining possibility: the sculpture is what it always will be, brilliant or otherwise.
Cars are a lot like that, don't you think? We buy 'em and start ripping into them, only semi-conscious of the idea that every small choice we make eliminates a million other possibilities that could've been. And we don't care, 'cause like Mike, we only see the final version in our mind's eye. My point is all those choices actually begin with the very car you choose, long before you start gutting and building.
The first choice for my next project was made last month, when I bought a mint '68 Chevelle over a car that was actually my sentimental favorite: a '75 Laguna S-3 slant nose (photos). The deal breaker on the black 'guna was a simple, minor paperwork item: the name and address on the car's title didn't belong to the guy who was selling it. Not wanting to get snagged in a legal morass, I reluctantly passed on it, but not until I gave it one last, longing stare.
I was 12 when this one was built, and I remember those Lagunas like it was yesterday. The Colonnade-style A-body has a muscular form with voluptuous fender flares; the slant-nose S-3 model finishes the sinister look, especially when there's no vinyl top. Chevy homologated the nose for NASCAR so it could split air molecules with ease on Daytona's high banks. Everything about it shouts power, speed, and luxury-supremacy on the open road. This was a time when high gas prices and double-digit inflation crushed the average guy; as a result, the country didn't have its heart in the musclecar game anymore. After '72, Detroit only offered token, emasculated performers, and the Laguna was one of them.
There are some people who presume that if a car didn't have a true musclecar heritage to begin with (i.e. '64-72), there is no point in building it. I am not one of those people. I see the Laguna as a beautiful, empty vessel, into which I can pour a tasty concoction. The best part of it is that there's no downside. You'd never be accused of ruining a classic. I see the Laguna, and imagine it as it should've been-and still can be. A huge, hammering big-block with locomotive torque, an overdrive trans for swallowing vast highway miles, modern disc brakes with ultra-grippy R-compound rubber to slow two tons of fun, and an 8-track tape player blasting "Foghat Live."
The new '68 Chevelle now sits in the garage where the Laguna could've been. I stare admiringly at the '68 and imagine it in a million different final states. There are so many possibilities, it's incapacitating; I want to go a hundred different ways with it, but I can only pick one. The Laguna's treatment would've been cool. I wanted big 15-inch tires-NASCAR style. Black steelies with yellow-letter 275/50R15 Nitto NT555R drag radials on all corners. Aluminum decklid spoiler. Side-exit exhaust. It would've had black primer paint with a semi-gloss clearcoat-in concept it would most closely resemble what current NASCAR racers look like in pre-season aero testing. As for the '68, part of me says follow through with the same NASCAR highway hauler theme I wanted for the Laguna, but another voice says, "Save it for the Laguna, you'll be coming back to it some day."
I think I'll be listening to that second voice.