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Unearthed: Big-Block, 4-Speed Chevelle Wagon Is The Ultimate Family Muscle Car

Author: Scott Lachenauer | 01/11/2022 < Back to Motor Life Home
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The need for speed is real. There’s no denying it. It’s a passion that needs to be fed, whether you’re a teenaged muscle car fanatic looking for some thrills, or a parent who has settled down to raise a family. It’s a feeling that cannot be smothered, bargained with, or ignored. Once you have the speed bug, the only thing you can do is feed that desire by any means possible.


Let’s say that it’s 1970 and you are a parental hot-rodder with a posse of youngin's that require an appropriate method of transportation. Your basic budget tells you that only one car can occupy the garage at this time, so you have to make do with an all-around family-friendly driver. But you have the speed bug, and you know you’ve got to get something that will not only get you and your family through the week, but also give you a dose of hijinks when you drop the hammer on the weekends. What are you going to do about it?


Well, if you were raising your family in 1970, well you had a few options. Vans were cool but could be limiting. The pre-cursors to today’s sport-utility vehicles, the Wagoneers, Suburbans, Broncos and the ilk were interesting, especially for those that liked to play int he dirt, but could be a bit burly for everyday driving.


However, though not the sexiest of street rides, station wagons could be built not only for transporting your loved ones safely, but also optioned out to give the driver a dose of performance when called upon in the heat of the moment. Case in point this killer 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle wagon.


Manfra Chevelle rear quarter

With room for nine and a healthy L35 396ci big-block Chevy under the hood, this 1970 Chevelle was the perfect ride for a parent looking for the perfect combination of power and utility. This Chevelle is a "Concours Estate" trim level wagon, which was the top of the line model. It would have originally come with woodgrain vinyl on it's flanks.


This is not another barn-find story. In fact, this burly Chevy was registered and drivable when CJ Manfra of Manahawkin, New Jersey found it. CJ is a voracious car hunter and is constantly on the prowl for rides of any sort. He often will go to a sale with a car on his hit list, and then make a 180 and buy something totally different, or just buy everything he can get on his multi car trailer.


“A friend of mine gave me a lead on a ’70 Chevelle. When I got there the owner Kelvin had a few nice Chevrolets laying around. There was also a needy C10 and this amazing Chevelle big block four-speed wagon. I knew I wasn’t going home without the wagon so I made a deal on all three. And I’m happy I did that”.


What CJ bought was certainly no ordinary wagon. Built up from the factory with a L35 396 big block and a Muncie M20 to row the gears, this was every hot rod parent's dream machine; with enough cargo space to pack in the whole clan, but with added performance options that would make any muscle car lover drool over the build sheet.


Manfra Chevelle interior

A bench seat and four-speed make the perfect combination for the hot-rodder who loves the no-frills look with added performance bite. Note the period-perfect Sun tach on the column.


Chevrolet built 40,612 Chevelle wagons in 1970, out of a total over 160,000 total wagons for the model year. Of those, only 2200 were 8-cylinder Concours Estate wagons like the one pictured here. Add in that it’s a 350hp 396 under the hood and a four-speed bench seat ride, and well, you’ve got yourself one rare ride right there.


CJ’s new ride was an interesting one at that. Not only was it in running condition when he bought it, it was actually on the road at the time, being used as the man’s daily driver. Yeah, the owner was smart enough to use the big Chevy on the street where it belongs. The big wagon also came with a few cool options, includin rear facing third row seating; something that many of us experienced growing up in large families during the '70s. Power front disc brakes help bring this mammoth muscle wagon to a stop.


Manfra Chevelle engine bay

Though the outside of the wagon has been changed over the years, the 396 looks relatively stock sitting in the engine bay. Rated at 350 horsepower from the factory, this incarnation of the 396 had plenty of horsepower and torque to motivate the big, two-ton wagon.


The wagon has had an interesting past. As per the build sheet, this Chevy was built at the Baltimore facility for PJ Grady Chevrolet in West Sayville, New York. This Long Island dealership had a long relationship with Chevy, opening its doors to all Bowtie lovers back in 1914; only 3 years after Chevrolet was founded. It’s now the home PJ Grady Inc, a DeLorean restoration and repair shop.


Chevelle wagons came in many different styles and trim levels from the factory in 1970. They could be had in either Nomad, Greenbrier, Concours, or Concours Estate trim levels, which varied slightly in appearance. The Nomad name took over for the base model 300 series, while medium trim levels were given the re-hashed Greenbrier moniker. Lastly, the Concours was the top-of-the-line trim level, while the Concours Estate’s were built with added exterior woodgrain paneling on their flanks. All wagons could be had with six or nine seats; this original owner opted for the latter.

CJ wasted no time getting this machine running right. Though the exterior had been altered over the years by removing the wood paneling and adding SS trim, cowl hood treatment and paint, the engine seemed relatively untouched. “The wagon still needs a little tlc, it can use a little love to get back into daily use. There is some rust, but nothing that can’t be fixed relatively easily and is mainly on the lower flanks. The engine runs well but will need some work to make it a safe, every day runner,” states CJ.


What is CJ’s plan for this massive, “married-with-children” friendly, muscle machine? “I’m not really sure if I’m going to restore it, sell it, or just drive it the way it is. I’ll going to see what the future brings”.

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