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The term "brass hat" has been used over the years to describe a car that was built as either a demo, a courtesy vehicle lent out to customers while their vehicle was being serviced, or a specialty dealership car destined for use by the corporate executives. These special order vehicles were usually top-tier models packed to the gills with option packages and served as a rolling showcase for what specialty items were available on that specific make and model year vehicle.
After their allotted time in service (usually a few months to a few years) they were typically cleaned up and sold off at an auction. These unique vehicles would then make their way into the hands of the general public, and especially keen automotive aficionados looking for a unique ride. Stocked with an abundance of rare or often overlooked features, these cars are no doubt cherished by the collector community.
Joe Prestia's 1970 Chevelle SS396 has the potential to be a "brass hat" car. Loaded with a 396 L34 and an M21 four speed, this Chevy also boasts a copious amount of rare and unique options, making this A-body one collectible muscle ride.
However, it’s not that easy to verify that you are in possession of one of these particular rides. "Brass hat" was a dealership term, and there is sometimes no designation in paperwork to show the vehicle’s prominence. However, some lucky owners have been able to trace their car’s history, pointing out past owners and their connection to the brand. Others don’t really care, as just the fact that their car came loaded with everything the company could manage to pack into a fuselage is good enough for them.
Joe Prestia of Toms River, New Jersey is a muscle car aficionado that has spent the better part of 30 years feeding his addiction, combing his New Jersey locale in search of interesting cars and parts to call his own. Though he has owned an array of brands and models in his garage over the years, it’s no secret to his friends and acquaintances that Joe has an ever-growing soft spot for the Chevrolet Chevelle. “They just flow from their body lines to the interior. Add in great performance, and that they just look mean standing still,” states Joe.
At first glance, a bench seat and a four-speed makes you think of an under the radar, stripped-down, traffic light brawler. However, this interior is packed with top-of-the-line comfort options of the time, including tilt wheel, power top, AM/FM stereo, power windows, and an extensive lighting package. And that’s just scratching the surface.
High-power Chevelles are always tops on the list when searching the for unwanted and undiscovered muscle rides. However, oddly enough, it was a couple of friends that gave him his opportunity to buy a once-in-a-lifetime ride. “Some good buddies of mine, John Fardone and Rob Feasel, bought this 1970 Chevelle SS a couple of years ago. John ended up keeping the car, and added the 396, four-speed Chevelle to his ever-growing collection. Then when John found the LS6 [Chevelle] of his dreams, this one became available. He then offered the Chevelle to me, “states Joe.
Joe wanted the Chevelle in the worst way. “I had a few clones over the years, but never had a real SS. And this was a convertible to boot. I fawned over the matching numbers and the originality. We agreed on a price. I was a little short, so I sold everything that wasn’t nailed down to purchase the car,” laughs Joe.
Ever see a rear window de-fogger on a convertible? Well this Chevelle has one!
This Chevelle was stuffed with basically everything you could get in a performance Chevelle from General Motors. All of the key options, like power brakes, power steering, the sport suspension, front disc brakes, and all of the Super Sport options are present. Add in that it was a true low mileage survivor, built with the L34 396 cubic inch big-block and the M21 four-speed with a bench seat, and you’ve got one interstellar hot rod. To top it off, all of that is wrapped up in a convertible body. Can you get any better than that? It’s a tough ride to beat, for certain.
In 1970, the Chevelle could be ordered with a myriad of options from the factory, though many customers simply outfitted their A-bodies with only speed and performance items. However, even though the Chevelle was not considered a luxury car by any means, there were plenty of selections on the order form that could add a bit of comfort and a modern feel when building your Chevelle from the ground up.
Joe received the car with this 1965-vintage 396 installed in the engine bay. “I have the original L34 engine back in the garage. When I restore the Chevelle, I will put the born-with L34 back in it. For now, I’m happy with this set-up,” states Joe.
Unlike most Chevelles, however this one has multiple build sheets. “When I purchased the Chevelle, the past owner had located two build sheets with the car, laying out the many option codes that came with this drop top. However, one day while driving, the air flow through the car pushed out some crumbled paper onto the floor. I stopped and picked it up, only to find another partial build sheet had freed itself from under the seats. I was floored,” states Joe.
Another potential tip-off of this Chevelle's possible "brass hat" history is the fact that this code 48 Forest Green car came with a Saddle interior and a White convertible top, an interesting color combination for a Super Sport. The interior boasts a full kit of interesting and rare add-ons, which include power windows, a rear defroster, the remote mirror, the RPO U14 gauge package, a washer fluid indicator, a rear view mirror with lamp, the map light, the ash tray lamp, a glove box light, RPO U76 windshield antennae, rear speakers, the AM/FM radio, a tilt wheel, and power convertible top. How about a rear defroster in a convertible? This Chevy’s got it! Somebody really wanted to show off all the options a new-for-’70 Chevelle could be packaged with.
This tasty Chevelle also boasts a hefty 12-bolt rear out back. It’s fed by a M-21 four-speed transmission. Power is sent to the pavement through its restored original 14x7 SS wheels.
“I’ve never seen a Chevelle built up like this. That was what led us to believe it was a brass hat car,” states Joe. It’s rare to see a performance Chevelle outfitted with a complete array of options like this particular car has. “There is always the chance it’s a brass hat ride, and since it would not [be obvious] because the car would not receive any special paperwork or special build code, it could possibly be one,” states Joe.
Any future plans for the Chevelle? “It’s a survivor with just 75K miles. It runs great and attracts a lot of attention wherever I go. I will eventually do the metal work and paint and I already have an all-new interior, top and fenders for it. However, I have no immediate plans to do anything with it except drive it. I just can’t get enough of this ride. It’s truly a dream car."
The Chevelle’s body has seen better days, with some noticeable rot and heavy patina. But that doesn’t bother Joe one bit. “I pull into any cruise night, and it just draws so much attention. People just appreciate an original car”.