The first thing that caught my eye about Dalton Dreihaus’ beautiful 1969 Chevelle was that it looked like he just drove it off the showroom floor. The second thing that caught my eye was that it had Hawaii license plates. And since we were at the Hot Rod Power Tour event at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia, I thought, “Wow… That’s a long drive.”
It turns out Dalton serves in the U.S. Navy, and was just recently transferred from Pearl Harbor in Hawaii to Pensacola, Florida. Pensacola was the next to last stop on this year’s Power Tour, but Dalton and the Chevelle left there the previous weekend and had attended all five stops on this year’s Tour.
From what I learned from Dalton about his Chevy, I have no doubts it COULD make the drive from Pearl Harbor to Hampton, but as you probably know the roads between there and the mainland are sketchy.
“I paid to have it sent to Hawaii,” Dalton told me, “then the Navy paid to have it sent back. They will pay for one vehicle shipment when you get a PCS – permanent change of station – overseas or to Hawaii.”
* Those of you who are regular GHR readers know that I like to keep track of where the hot rodders I talk to live. Needless to say, Dalton is the first from Hawaii. Some people might say that Dalton’s now from Florida, but when I met him the Chevelle still had Hawaii plates on it. “I had to pay $800 to get Hawaii plates,” Dalton said, “and they haven’t expired so I’ll be dammed if I’m going to take those off before I have to.” Like Dalton, I’m sticking with Hawaii.
So the Chevelle didn’t actually have to make that drive, but rest assured it makes a lot of drives. “It’s been in my daily driver rotation for 12 years now,” Dalton said. “I drove it to work all last week.”
Dalton’s dad got the car in 2006 when Dalton was about 8 years old. He traded a 1978 Trans Am for it – it was a silver T-top car with the shaker hood and the huge Firebird graphic on the hood. (Interesting side note: Dalton’s dad bought the Trans Am from a high school buddy of his who needed bail money.)
The original owner was a man who had bought the Chevelle new in 1968. He drove it every day for four years, until he had a heart attack. His wife hated the car’s yellow color so she stashed it in their barn in Valdosta, Georgia. When her Buick quit working, she pulled the Chevelle out of the barn and drove it until 2004. At that point it went to a classic car dealer and that dealer traded it to Dalton’s dad for the Trans Am.
Sadly Dalton’s dad passed away when Dalton was 16 years old. The Chevelle became Dalton’s at that time.
“I’ve been driving it and taking it to car shows ever since,” Dalton told me. “It was in the condition that it still sits in today. Original paint, original black vinyl roof. It’s a numbers matching 350 Malibu. I’ve been pretty dedicated to keeping it as original as I can.”
The original 350 cubic inch small block is still under the hood. It was running fine with the original Quadrajet carburetor for years, and then the week before the car had to be put on a container ship to come back from Hawaii, the Quadrajet’s banjo bolt fitting blew out. Dalton didn’t want to mess with finding a new bolt and rebuild kit, so he bought an Edelbrock 650 with electric choke at the nearby O’Reilly’s.
“I pulled it out of the box, slapped it on the intake, and then got the car shipped,” he said. “That’s what’s on it now. I didn’t even mess with the screws. It hasn’t given me any issues.”
The rest of the engine is essentially stock. The water pump had to be replaced in Hawaii and to keep the factory look Dalton painted it Chevy orange. Since it gets pretty warm in Hawaii, he also took the preventative actions of putting on a new thermostat and hoses, and adding a four core aluminum radiator. (“Best $700 dollar investment I’ve ever made,” he said.) The new radiator fits in the same spot as the factory piece and Dalton is still running the factory shroud, fan clutch, and 6 blade fan that came with the car.
I asked Dalton if he was still running a points and condenser ignition. “Yep,” he replied. “In the 12 years and 20,000 miles I’ve put on the car, I haven’t touched the ignition system at all. They haven’t given me any issues.”
The SBC still has the stock intake and exhaust manifolds. The factory air cleaner doesn’t fit on the Edelbrock, but Dalton still has it and the Quadrajet. He plans to reinstall them both when he has the time. The front half of the exhaust system is stock, but the back half is a true dual exhaust with Magnaflow mufflers.
One example of just how stock the engine is came when Dalton went to repaint the valve covers. He thought they were getting “a little crusty”. When he pulled them off to paint them, the factory over-spray and original cork gaskets were still on the heads.
About the only significant change to the car from the way Chevrolet built it is the 700R4 overdrive transmission. That was installed by a previous owner – Dalton thinks it was the classic car dealer. The R4’s overdrive, combined with the Malibu’s stock rear end, had the Chevelle getting over 20 mpg while cruising the entire Power Tour route.
The front coil / rear leaf spring suspension is also completely stock, including all the original springs. Dalton said that will probably be his next project. “That’s the next spot I’m looking to put money into,” he said. “The rear sits pretty low. The leafs are just old and tired. But I’m not going to put some fancy tubular system in it, I’m just going to get new springs.”
He’s already rebuilt some parts of the suspension – new upper control arm bushings, and a new idler arm and front end links – just because they were worn out. But Dalton pointed out that “almost every part that I’ve had to put on that car, I’ve just gone to O’Reilly’s and bought.“
He’s converted the front wheels to disc brakes using a Wilwood front disc conversion from Summit. The stock drum brakes are still on the rear. The power steering and power brake systems are… you guessed it… factory stock.
The interior has the original bench seat, although Dalton says it’s starting to show some wear. The factory column shifter sits in front of the original dashboard that still has all the original gauges. Dalton has installed a panel under the dash with three additional gauges.
The Malibu is a factory A/C car. Dalton told me “The air conditioner does work, but not exceptionally well. I have had it compression tested, it doesn’t leak, but I can’t find anybody who can put R4 in it for a reasonable price. I keep eyeing a Vintage Air system. That’s probably what I’m doing after the suspension replacements.”
The Power Tour would end up being a 2900 mile round trip for Dalton and the Chevelle. “The car never gave me any issues at all,” Dalton said. “It ran like a top the whole way. I didn’t even overheat coming into Nashville like most people did. We sat in 105+ degree heat for like an hour just idling in line trying to get into Nashville. There were tons of people on the side of the road with their hoods up. I just idled on through.”
The Chevelle’s future includes the suspension work and A/C upgrade Dalton’s planning, but other than that he told me, “My plan is to keep it as stock as possible for as long as possible – as a survivor and a time capsule. When these things were built, people drove them every day. They were made to be driven and to operate in all conditions. They were designed so an owner can work on them.”
Dalton loves the fact that if something breaks he can look at the car, see what’s busted, and run down to O’Reilly’s and get the part he needs so he can get to work the next morning.
And there’s one other thing in the Chevelle’s future. Dalton’s going to continue to drive it.
“I don’t understand people who have cool classic cars or hot rods and they never drive them,” he said. “I love classic cars, but I can’t justify owning them and not using them. I don’t own a modern vehicle. I have the Chevelle and my other daily is a ‘70 C-10. And that’s it. That’s all I own and drive. I just love keeping them original and keeping them operational.
“It’s my baby,” he said about the Chevelle. “It’s just a plain Jane Malibu. I don’t have any intentions of cloning an SS out of it or putting a big block in it. This is the real deal 1960s. It’s a really beautiful survivor car and you don’t see cars like it any more.”
Thanks to hot rodders like Dalton, we still can.
Photos courtesy of Dalton Dreihaus
Click here to see more photos of his Chevelle
You can follow Dalton on Instagram at @sailorjerry11812