1966 Chevrolet Biscayne, with the L72 V-8. Photos courtesy Mecum Auctions.
As service and parts manager for LeRoy Chevrolet in LeRoy, New York, Karl Bill had a pretty good idea how to configure a 1966 Chevrolet Biscayne to go fast in the quarter mile. By checking the box for every conceivable performance option and deleting unnecessary things, like the heater, Bill wound up with the basis of a car that would dominate regional A/Stock drag racing for years. Now restored to as-raced condition, the 1966 Chevrolet Biscayne known as Bonanza will cross the block in Indianapolis on Friday, May 20, as part of the Jeffrey Cohen Collection.
Starting with a base Ermine White Biscayne two-door sedan, Bill added the L72 427-cu.in., 425 horsepower V-8; the M21 four-speed manual transmission; a Positraction rear end with 4.56:1 gearing; the F41 suspension (.9375 front anti-roll bar, specific springs and shocks, rear anti-roll bar, Panhard style lateral link, 14×6 wheels); metallic brake linings; a transistorized ignition; and Soft Ray tinted glass. These options totaled $893.99, but the heater delete shaved $70.01 for a net total of $823.98 in accessories, still more than a third of the car’s $2,467 base price.
Once delivered, Bill went to work in preparing the car, a process outlined by Matt Litwin in the May 2011 issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines. To shed pounds, Bill scraped off the undercoating, deleted the rear window regulators (after fixing the rear windows in a permanently raised position), pulled off the fender bracing and even removed a quantity of nuts and bolts attaching the body to the frame. To further enhance performance, Bill added a Hurst line-lock, swapped the stock rear gears for a 4.88:1 setup, and narrowed the front wheels by two inches, running as much as 80 psi in the front tires to minimize the contact patch and reduce rolling resistance.
Bonanza was not the initial name of the car; instead, Bill had it lettered as the White Lightning and labeled as a B/Stock machine. His first outing, to Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pennsylvania, taught him two lessons: His car actually met the rules for the A/Stock class, and White Lightning was a very popular name for cars campaigned in this color.
It also taught him that his car was quick, as Bill managed to beat the track champion on his first outing. He raced the car as the White Lightning in two more events, then opted to change the car’s name to Bonanza, after the popular television series conveniently sponsored by Chevrolet.
Bill’s home track was Niagara Dragway, which went by a variety of names over the years. The Bonanza quickly gained a reputation as the car that couldn’t be beat, a legend further cast in stone in 1967, when Bill beat the national record holder at the track. In 1968, he took on Ed Miller and his World Finals-winning Hemi Belvedere at Niagara, and beat this car, too. According to Bill’s records, the Bonanza’s best pass was an 11.73 second run, at a trap speed of 120 MPH.
Around 1970, Bill sold the car (with a reported 804 miles on the odometer) to John Chaddock, who wasted no time in removing the all-too-familiar Bonanza livery with a rattle can paint job. Chaddock campaigned the car before selling it along to the next owner, and that’s where the trail goes cold. Sometime over the years, the original 427 was pulled, replaced by a small block V-8. Legend says the car was street raced, and at one point was repainted blue. Eventually, as with many retired race cars, it was placed into storage and largely forgotten.
Enter John DeRue, a drag racer and construction company owner who discovered the car, completely by accident, in 2008. Reminiscing about his 1962 Impala drag car with an employee, John learned his worker had a 1966 Biscayne drag car, and with a bit of encouragement, convinced him to sell it. The paperwork included a copy of the original sales receipt, listing both options and VIN, and John immediately realized he had a special car on his hands.
Remarkably, Karl Bill was still in the car business, so John paid him a visit to discuss the car. Karl’s office was decorated with images of the Bonanza during its heyday, and John suddenly understood the significance of his purchase. A decision was made to return the car to its as-raced state, and John tore the car down to begin a no-expense-spared restoration. Though the original 427 block had been lost to history, John rebuilt a date-correct 427 that came with the car, using the original heads, intake manifold and Holley four-barrel carburetor. To make the car more driveable on the street, the 4.88:1 gears were replaced with 3.70:1 gears, which is the car’s primary deviation from authenticity. Even its livery was done in an old-school manner; instead of the now omnipresent vinyl lettering, the sponsor logos and names were painted by hand.
Since restoration, the car has been shown at several AACA gatherings, earning First Junior status at the 2010 AACA Eastern Fall Meet in Hershey, Pennsylvania. According to the consignor, the car was one of 200 Biscaynes built in 1966 with the L72 V-8, and of these, 11 are known to remain today. The car is offered with extensive documentation and in-period racing photos; Mecum expects it to command between $90,000 and $110,000 when it crosses the stage in Indiana.
For more information on the Indianapolis sale, visit Mecum.com.