February 6, 2016, was going to be an unremarkable day for Ken Nunemaker of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Sure, it might have been his 60th birthday, but he wasn’t expecting the surprise his brothers, Dan and Ron, concocted for him. Like many car enthusiasts, Ken suffered from regret over selling a beloved car from his youth—a 1966 Chevelle SS—his favorite muscle car of all time. Marriage, house, kids, career; Ken decided those were more important than his 11-second, street-driven Chevelle at the time.
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Nearing retirement from a career as an industrial engineer for the Quaker Oats Company in 2016, Ken figured it was time to start looking for a toy—but his brothers took care of that for him. Elder brother, Ron—a retired millwright and part-owner of Icon Industrial Services—asked Ken for some assistance in moving his 540-powered Super Gas 1937 FIAT Topolino (runs 8s) into Ron’s personal workshop. Ron owns a number of cool cars, including what has to be a Nickey Chevrolet 1968 Camaro L88 he bought new, based on Ken’s description, so the car shuffle is not an uncommon game with the Nunemaker brothers.
Winter Car Spotting Bingo: 1966 Chevelle SS—Check!
Of course Ken obliged, and along the way Ron suggested a stop at a local gastropub. As the two brothers pulled into the parking lot, Ken spotted a 1966 Chevelle SS just like the one he regrettably sold oh-so-long-ago. There was no snow on the ground at that time, but a nice-looking classic muscle car is not a common sight on wintery Iowa roads. As Ken and Ron entered the restaurant, they saw their younger brother, Dan, already enjoying a burger. What’s Dan doing here?, Ken thought to himself.
Dan explained the occasion away by telling his brothers he stopped in for some lunch because some of his electricians were working in the area. Perfectly plausible story, as Dan Nunemaker, owner of Premier Electrical Services Co., is a successful electrical contractor. When his brothers suggested they take a look at the blue Chevy A-body on their way out, Ken couldn’t resist.
As the trio walked up to the Chevelle, Ron brazenly opened the driver’s door and told Ken to get in. “Holy crap, someone’s going to come out and they’re going to be … mad! You don’t open someone’s car door, especially a classic like that!” Ken told us, as he recounted the story over a phone call. Before Ken could recover from that shock, Dan did the same on the passenger side and dropped the title and registration in the seat. Ken was blown away.
While trying to grasp what was happening, Ron and Dan started to walk away, and told Ken to meet them back at his (Ken’s) house. As Ken arrived home, he was greeted by his brothers with a hearty, “happy birthday!” and his brothers then filled Ken in with all the details of their birthday surprise.
Fixing-Up an Already Restored Big-Block Chevelle
The 1966 Chevelle SS was found in Florida; coincidentally, the Chevelle Ken sold in the 1970s ended up in Florida, but this 1966 Chevelle is not Ken’s former Chevy muscle car rediscovered. Ron and Dan had the Chevelle shipped to a friend’s shop where they proceeded to make sure it was roadworthy for Ken on his 60th birthday. Despite arriving covered in grime off the open transport, the Nunemaker brothers found the restored paint and interior of the Chevelle to be in excellent condition, and proceeded to give it a show-level detailing.
While not a real-deal SS Chevelle—136 in the VIN reveals it to be a Malibu from the factory—the blue ’66 Chevy is a well-built tribute to an icon of the era. Dan and Ron replaced all the fluids, double-checked the wiring and mechanicals, made a to-do list of future projects for Ken, and found a surprise on the flywheel weights—the 1966 Chevelle SS tribute car Dan and Ron bought was hiding a slightly built-up 454 disguised as a 396, just like in Ken’s old Chevelle.
To-do list in hand, Ken set about checking off items for his new Chevy muscle car. The main seals needed replacing on the 454, and the four-corner drum brakes were completely rebuilt with stock-style parts. While the 454 may look like a stock 396, Ken tells us there’s a 0.570-lift cam, Holley 780-cfm carburetor, and an Edelbrock Performer intake manifold. With the big aluminum radiator in front, this big-block Chevelle is a perfectly reliable runner.
Ken specifically chose an H-pipe to connect the 3-inch Hooker Competition headers to the Flowmaster mufflers, citing an article he read in HOT ROD (thanks for reading, Ken!) that stated the H-pipe provides a deeper bass rumble than a raspier X-pipe would have. The driveshaft connecting the Muncie M21 four-speed transmission and GM 12-bolt Posi rearend with 3.55 gears needed to be shortened half an inch to optimize the cruising capability of the Chevelle, and once Ken finishes the Vintage Air installation, it will be the perfect driver.
Classic Muscle Cars are Meant to Be Driven
And drive his Chevelle, Ken does—every Tuesday and Saturday, he and a group of locals hit up the classic cruise spots in their area. The three Nunemaker brothers all use their cars regularly. Among his two street-driven Corvettes, ’67 Olds Cutlass Convertible, and Pontiac Firebird, Ron Nunemaker just renewed his racing license and is trying to get his real-deal 1963 split-window Corvette into the 7s. Dan, the Camaro man out of the three, races his “Dino Dan” 9-second ’68 Camaro, but his real love is long-hauling HOT ROD Power Tour. Ken tells us it’s far easier to count the years he’s missed than the years Dan has driven the Tour in its entirety. You can even see Dan’s red Power Tour 1968 Camaro in the February 2022 issue of HOT ROD.
We asked Ken what his summer plans were, really only wanting to know if he was going to show off his birthday present on HOT ROD Power Tour 2022. He was noncommittal, but with good reason; Ken is also prepping his Chevelle for a supercharged 496 swap. Not just any supercharged 496, the block was donated by Ron, and it came from the Nickey 1968 Camaro SS. We balked a little at hearing Ron had separated the legendary 427 from his Camaro, but Ken says Ron isn’t precious about things like that—he’s never going to sell the Camaro and he was perfectly fine modifying the original hood to create a subtle-yet-tasteful powerdome, too.
Sperry Engines of Cedar Rapids is building the 496 for Ken, topping the supercharger with a pair of 750-cfm Quick Fuel carburetors. Ken assures us he’s going to bubble-wrap the legitimate SS hood currently on his Chevelle and cut up a repop to make room for his new mill. While Ken prefers shorter drives than what Long Haulers sign up for on Power Tour, he might finish the 496 swap in time to come out this year—assuming he can get the big disc brakes he wants to tame that supercharged 496 installed in time as well.
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Ken could not stop expressing the gratitude he feels to his brothers for giving him his dream 1966 Chevelle SS, and says he could never thank them enough for such an amazing gift. He wanted us to tell Dan and Ron’s stories more than his own, but those will have to wait for another day. We’ll try to catch up with Dan and any other Nunemaker family member on HOT ROD Power Tour 2022, but until then, if you want your ride featured on HOTROD.com, email us at [email protected]
Ken Nunemaker’s 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle SS
- 454 big-block Chevy V-8
- Holley 780-cfm four-barrel carburetor
- Edelbrock Performer intake manifold
- Hooker 3-inch headers
- Flowmaster mufflers
- Muncie M21 four-speed manual transmission
- GM 12-bolt Positraction rear axle with 3.55 gears
Photos Submitted by Reader Ken Nunemaker
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