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Heavy Metal Affliction Chevy Big Blocks

John Schommer
Thursday, August 16, 2012


Many traits passed on to us are hereditary: our looks, our size, even, in some cases, our strengths and weaknesses. If you look at your parents you will see many similarities; these are beyond our control and, for the most part, a gift. Then there are our tastes, these can be passed on as well. Sometimes we accept and appreciate the influences of our parents; some refuse them and strive to be different.


In the case of Robert Thurber of St. Cloud Minnesota-- Gamertag beyondallrealms -- a passion for cars or, in this case, big block Chevy’s is a treasured trait that was passed on. He was born and raised under the shadow of the bowtie and gifted with a love of the big block. Straight-line, power-to-the-pavement muscle is what Thurber is into. That, and death metal and tattoos and Pokemon and, of course, Forza. His cars are all Chevy muscle from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. He has the classic garage full of works in progress with dreams of future restorations and endless upgrades. He’s a collector if you will, well-intentioned to express that which was passed on to him and with a taste for the somewhat eclectic. Go figure: death metal and Pokemon? Makes sense to me.


Thurber’s main car is a 1961 Chevy Biscayne that he has been working on and drives on a regular basis. However when he mentioned that the car had seen 172 mph on a public road I would scarcely refer to that as “regular” driving.That is outrageously fast and hard to believe until you hear what is under the hood.


The Biscayne is the entry level full-size offering from Chevy and was offered with a variety in-line sixes and larger V-8s all the way up to the legendary 409. Thurber’s Biscayne is powered by a 1971 LS 6 454 big block originally rated at 425 hp. This 454 is bored out to a 468 and has an aggressive camshaft and lifters combined with a 750 CFM Holley carburetor. Thurber’s Biscayne came with this monster motor in it when he bought it. The 468 came out of a Chevy ¾ pickup that was built for the drag strip and ran in the 10’s in testing. To the Biscayne’s benefit, the truck rolled on its second run at the strip. The race motor was salvaged and dropped in the Biscayne along with a full rebuild of its TH-350 transmission. It came with a B&M locking shifter that Thurber later changed out to a Lokar shifter.


The work shown in the pictures is the changing of this shifter, a family affair in which his brother helped him. The interior is out of a 1961 Impala. So the car is a prototypical HMA project: a strange combination of elements that keep people guessing no matter what their level of knowledge is. The car is not cobbled together, it is a built machine that is scary fast and harkens to its original era, as it has not been significantly modified otherwise. You could call it a sleeper, but the rumble of that big block would be a dead giveaway.


The second car in Thurber’s garage is even more special; a 1959 Chevy Impala bubble top retired drag racer. This car was purchased by his father when it was eight months old in 1959. The 348 tri-power big block was bored out to a 409. It has a custom radiator built by Thurber’s father and puts the power to the rear wheels via a Borg-Warner T-10 transmission and Oldsmobile nine-inch rear end. The car was put together by Thurber’s dad and local Minnesotan Bill Shiftsky who was well known from the 1950s through the early 1970s for his speed at the strip. Thurber’s father (shown in the picture below) drag raced this car until they had their first child, from then on it was a show car. In its day it ran in the high 13’s.


Before there were muscle cars, a purpose-built drag racer like this smoked the competition and held its own against the Mopars until the 440 Hemi’s became available. This car is very special for many reasons, but especially to Thurber. The drag races and car shows it has been to are the kinds of events Thurber grew up hearing about; his father gave the Impala to him as a present for his 23rd birthday. Sadly his father passed away in 2008, further endearing the car to Thurber as a reminder of his father and his influence on his love of cars.


During the next couple years Thurber plans to fully restore the interior of the Impala to track-ready condition and overhaul the motor. The 348 big block with tri-power is the matching numbers motor for the car. Since it was given to him nothing has been done to change it.


Also waiting for him in his garage is a 1968 Chevy Impala four-door with a factory-mistake 300 hp Corvette 327 in it. It’s an odd car that is currently worn out and just waiting for some of Thurber’s Chevy love to bring it back to driver status. While the four-door Impalas may not have much of a following, imagine a plain Jane four-door Impala coming up to you at the stop light and laying your car to waste with that Corvette motor thundering away. That is a pretty cool picture and possibly why such a car would be worthy of a restoration.



These cars are all survivors, having made it through as many as 53 Minnesota winters thus far. That alone is a feat worth writing about. Thurber’s passion for these rides and their history passed on to him by his dad is the real story though, and that is really what Heavy Metal Affliction is all about.


Here are some additional photos of Thurber’s cars:




If you have a car you would like to see featured in Heavy Metal Affliction post about it in our request for community rides thread. If you have submitted your car check your PM’s in the forum, you could be on deck to be featured.


Do you have a comment of want to discuss this week’s featured ride? Do so in the HMA thread.