Jan 24

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Corvette-powered Biscayne!

by Bob Stevens
This article was originally published in the May 1987 issue of Cars & Parts


One couldn’t envision more of a plain jane than this little non-descript number, but with 425 horses galloping out front under that hood, it’s anything but tame!

Muscle cars don’t always look the part. Under the guise of a family sedan, a pure muscle machine can catch a number of hot-shots sleeping, hence the name “sleeper” applied to those machines which are much more muscular than their appearances convey.

The most notable, or at least the most memorable, sleepers were small, no-frills compact cars with monstrous V-8 engines Novas, Valiants, Dodge Darts, etc., would normally be perceived as tame little economy cars, the kind for the Geritol set. But drop in a 327-cube V-8 or a hemi V-8 and look out! Hidden beneath that deceiving exterior of modestly styled sheet metal and minimal trim is a real beast. Being dusted off by a car that appeared to be barely capable of keeping up with traffic is hazardous to one’s health, and self esteem.

But the “sleeper” is as much an integral part of the muscle car story as the wild colored, heavily decaled machines that sported scoops up front and spoilers in the rear. They certainly provide the more exciting memories and interesting tales of who beat who, and with what!

The “sleeper” has succumbed to history apparently the victim of its own unique character. Its unglamorous appearance makes it generally unappealing as a collector car; few souls can fulfill their hobby aspirations restoring plain jane four-door sedans. The rebirth of the sleeper has been a well-kept secret, as the muscle car crowd has a more or less forsaken them for the flashier survivors or the breed. The Shelby Mustangs, the Hemi Cudas, the AMX 390s, the Daytonas, the Z-28 Camaros and all those other cars that made a powerful statement by their mere presence.

But then true “sleepers” were really rare creatures back in their heyday. After all, who wanted a high-performance car that looked like anything but a muscle machine? Who wanted to shock his fellow motorists with sizzling bursts of speed in a non-descript family sedan? Who, indeed.


The huge big block V-8 is truly an amazing engine. Displacing 396ci it has a bore & stroke of 4.09×3.75 inches & a compression ratio of 11:1. It diets on premium leaded fuel & receives its nourishment through a single Holley 4-barrel carb.

The few who had the money to buy an expensive but cheap looking car for the mere thrill of shock therapy, and dispensing a little street justice to the local hot-doggers, normally succeeded in justifying their investment. One unlikely thrill-seeker who might qualify for this analysis was the late Fred Ray, who was already along in years when he “special” ordered his 1965 Chevrolet Biscayne four-door sedan with a thundering 425 horses under the hood. He had outfitted his plain jane Chevy with a 425-hp 396 big block V-8, four-speed manual transmission and Positraction rear end, and very little else. And, in the process, he created what has to be one of the world’s most successful “sleepers”.

The car, still in its thoroughly original condition, looks something that even an elderly, unmarried librarian would refuse to drive. It has four big doors, plain black paint job and is saved from total cosmetic oblivion only by whitewall tires and a bright red interior. Its appearance is truly deceiving. No one would guess that anything but a mild little six banger resides under the hood of this transportation special. The only external hints that things may not be as they seem are the dual exhaust pipes running


The twin flags emblem flashes the 396 Turbo-Jet sign at would-be contenders. It’s likely that most people would assume that a ’65 Biscayne owner merely mounted flags off another car “to look tough.” Not so!

out the rear, and the 396 Turbo-Jet crossed flags emblems on the front fenders. The emblems, though, could have been borrowed from a friskier car, such as the 1965 Corvette, and even the pipes could be bogus. But in this case, they’re legitimate.

Another tip-off is found on the dash, in the form of a built-in tachometer. There’s also the four-speed shifter sticking unceremoniously up from the uncarpeted floor. Unfortunately, that one feature is presently missing, but will soon be reinstated as original by the car’s current owner, Trevis Shepard, Akron, Ohio. Shepard, who bought the Boss Biscayne from the heirs of Fred Ray, said that an automatic transmission and sport console were installed when Ray decided he’d had enough shifting. Even with the slush- box in place, the old Chevy is a real handful. Soon after acquiring the car, Shepard nicknamed it “Old Buckshot”. It is, to be sure, a real blast!

It’s certainly unusual for an elderly gentleman to develop a sincere interest in hot iron of the type presented here. Not knowing Fred Ray, one can only speculate about his motivations in ordering such a unique critter. Judging by his car collection, which included a Torino Cobra Jet 429, and a Studebaker Golden Hawk, among others, one can assume he simply had a simple love of high-performance machinery, or maybe a love of driving fast. But whatever motivated Ray to spec a bottom-line Chevy with an awesome powertrain, one purely incredible car remains as a tribute to the true muscle car sleeper.

It might first be suggested that this rather ordinary Chevy is a non-factory item – the custom creation of some back alley enthusiast with a torch and an engine hoist. Not so! This bold, brazen and just plain bad Biscayne is a factory original, although its history indicates that special arrangements with certain powers to be at the “General” were required. The 425-hp version of the 396 is not listed in most Chevrolet publications of 1965, and where it is mentioned, it’s listed exclusively as a Corvette option, code L78.

Some sources indicate that the 425-hp 396 Turbo-Jet V-8 was indeed available with the full-size Chevy of 1965, on a special order basis only. Still, one would expect that this engine would be limited to the more expensive Impala or Impala Super Sport series, and not the “el cheapo” Biscayne.

Shepard’s car is completely original in appearance, right down to the wiring, engine mounts, etc. It shows no signs of tampering whatsoever, except where the transmission was swapped when the car’s original owner decided he’d be much more at home with an automatic. Also, the car’s numbers match up properly for its year and model. It appears genuine and totally original, and as a final bit of evidence in establishing authenticity, Shepard can produce supporting documents, including the original factory sticker. There really is very little to brag about with this car, beyond the obvious performance characteristics. It is about as plain jane as one could get in 1965, even a basic Nova or Corvair would have a bit more flash. But once that big block eight is fired to life, the whole image changes from one of stark conservatism to one of wild, carefree and completely uninhibited behavior. The car literally pins the body rigidly against the seat; and those seat belts are not just decoration. It’s a matter of holding on for dear life when running one of these sleds at full bore.

Because of its rarity, there are no 0 to 60 or quarter-mile times for this baby, nor is there an estimated top speed. In a Corvette, however, the 425-hp version of the 396 would push the little fiberglass-bodied two-seat sports car to a top end of about 136 mph, with a 0-to-60 mph time of 5.7 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 14.1 seconds at 103 mph. Naturally, the larger, heavier and less aerodynamic Biscayne would inflate those figures a bit, but its performance would still be incredible.

Its performance package – keyed, of course, to the 396 mill – encompassed an aluminum radiator, heavy duty suspension and Positraction rear end. Also included were seven-inch rims and a lightweight sheet metal package. Chevy, in essence, had built a factory racer! This Detroit hot rod is also equipped with an in-dash tachometer, an AM pushbutton radio and a heater (a no cost “delete for credit” option). It’s obvious that this mean machine was built for a singular purpose – optimum straight line performance with absolutely no creature comforts and a minimum of gross vehicle weight.

The car, again, is bone stock original as the factory built it back in the ’65 model year, except for the transmission, and even that will soon be put straight. Shepard bought the car primarily because of its novelty as a real sleeper, and its thoroughly original nature. And i f anyone is familiar with well muscled machines it’s Shepard. He’s the owner of Shepard’s Automotive, an engine and speed shop in Akron, Ohio. He’s also a veteran of the dragstrip campaigns back in the exciting days of the 1960s and early ’70s. Trevis and his son, Larry, were regulars at strips throughout Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

The year 1968 was a banner season for Trevis and Larry, as the father-and-son team set three national records. And Larry became the world’s youngest national record holder. They ended the ’68 campaign with 36 wins, one forfeiture and just one loss. The victories included two Ohio state championships, a class national points finale in Kansas City and first place in the seventh division in top stock wins. It was a banner season for the Shepards.

So the high-flying Biscayne is right in character for Trevis Shepard, and his son. Both are intrigued by big, brutish engines… and quite excited about rebuilding, fine tuning and racing them. And the 396 in its highest form is one heck of an engine.

Conceived and developed primarily as a race engine (what else would you do with 425 hp?), the premium 396 V-8 is a cast iron engine that weighs about 680 pounds. It features a single Holley four-barrel carb, modified wedge-type combustion chambers, and a very beefy bottom end with expansive bearing surfaces and four bolts per cap. The engine is a real workhorse, and one designed for durability as well as performance.

The spirited 396 V-8 is, of course, the main reason Shepard was interested in aquiring his ’65 Biscayne, which he bought just last year. The car, carrying serial number 154695F-323899, shows only 16,000 miles on its odometer, and its documented authentic, Shepard says.

During his 35-plus years in the old car hobby, Shepard has owned many cars, including a number of 1955-57 Chevys, and he currently has a ’63 Dodge two-door hardtop, ’63 Dodge convertible, ’69 Barracda 440, ’56 Mercedes 300C and a 1970 Subaru convertible.

Shepard may own a number of interesting collector cars, but his 396 Turbo-Jet Biscayne is the “real sleeper” of the bunch.

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