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by Steve Temple  More from Author

Reliving Those Early Days of Cruise Nights

For some, collecting muscle cars is all business, merely a financial investment. For enthusiasts, though, a rumbling ride is more like family member, a rolling milestone of their life. Which can also mean that you don’t need to spend gigabucks for a car to be valuable (in every sense of the term).

Take Fred Battaglia, for instance. As a manager of a tire store, he’s no Bill Gates, but does know how to size a set of slicks. More important, each and every one of his muscle cars has some sort of significance, both personally and from the standpoint of time and effort that he’s invested.

Looking back to his youth, growing up in North Brunswick New Jersey, he was surrounded by muscle cars, and like so many car guys, he learned at his father’s knee, working on the family car. “Dad was a pilot mechanic,” Battaglia recalls. “He didn’t have a lot of money, so he fixed stuff himself, and taught me how to work on engines.”

When son Fred was old enough to get his driver’s license, he experienced that sudden elation and realization shared by every muscle car enthusiast: “I felt like a kid who could fly,” he laughs. “I knew on that day, I would drive fast cars and be a car guy the rest of my life.”

As with so many of us, every Saturday night was a Cruise Night with the guys, where they showed off their cars. “I had a ‘66 GTO at the time and later a Corvette,” he recalls. “On cruise night, we were always on the lookout for officer Lyons, a motorcycle cop on a Harley who kept everyone in line.” (Or at least he tried to.)

In the mid Seventies, Battaglia moved to California, and in 1981, found a Tri-Power GTO that he restored and drove for four years. But life sometimes takes priority over car ambitions, and the birth of his first child forced the sale of the GTO.

Moving ahead to 2002, now that he had established himself in the business world, it was time to stir up that passion from his salad days of cruising. He vividly recalls one friend in New Jersey who had bought a ‘70 Z28 Camaro when it was new, and blew off another friend’s Mustang. That memory prompted him to get the Victory Red ‘67 Camaro shown here. It had been sitting under someone’s tree for about six years—not exactly a barn find, but good enough to get him back into the family fold of muscle cars.

“There was just a rolling chassis, no motor or trans, and a lot of critters had made their home in that car, and the interior was a disaster,” he notes with a wince. “When I brought it home, it took a full day to clean out the nests and debris from inside.”

Battaglia located a 396 engine and fully rebuilt it with Keith Black pistons, steel crank, cast-iron heads, Comp cam and roller rockers, Edelbrock intake, Dominator Holley carb, Hooker headers, and Accel distributor. Mated to the mill is a Muncie close-ratio 4-speed and a 355 Posi rearend, spinning Cragar wheels wrapped with BF Goodrich rubber. To replace the rotted interior, he acquired parts from Classic Industries and on Ebay. 

Of course, Battaglia was now on a roll and couldn’t stop there. A ‘72 Nova came next, purchased from a private owner in Duarte, California in 2004. Another good friend from Jersey inspired this purchase (funny how those old relationships continue to affect our decisions in life). This time Battaglia didn’t want a total basket case, and the car was pretty much altogether. He did a rebuild on the mouse motor, though, with Keith black pistons, Comp Cam, GM Vortec Heads, Edelbrock intake, ceramic-coated headers, and a Barry Grant Carburetor, backed up by a 350 automatic trans. He also redid most of the interior, using buckets from a ’85 Camaro. He finished off this project with American Racing TTO rims fitted with Firestone 500 tires, and a fresh coat of Arrival Blue paint.

Yet another ol’ buddy from Jersey encouraged the purchase of a ‘67 Chevelle (do you sense a trend here?). He remembers doing burnouts in front of his friend’s house, which was located on Racetrack road, fittingly enough.   The Chevelle is a factory A/C car, but it’s not quite fully restored. The drivetrain consists of a Turbo 400 trans and a 12-bolt 308 rearend, and the stock wheels are fitted with Firestone 500 rubber. The interior was pristine when Battaglia bought the car, but the exterior and 396 engine needed help, so he threw on a Comp cam and Barry Grant carb. The color of this car is Aqua Marine Blue.

“I call this car ‘Dad’s Car,’ because it has a jewelry box emblem from my father that I received from Mom when he passed away seven years ago,” Battaglia says with a note of affection. That emblem takes the place of the gear selector on the column, because he converted the shifter to a floor console.

The remaining car in this collection doesn’t have any connection to old friends or family. It’s simply a model that Battaglia really digs, and he poured his heart into restoring. He found this ‘67 Nova in Fresno, California in February of 2007. It was the only one that he took everything out of: windows, dash, wiring harness, motor and trans, so he could sandblast the interior and engine compartment for paint.

The engine build followed more or less in line with his previous mills, but he pulled out all the stops for the interior, using components from Classic Industry Parts. He installed new glass, and the Fiesta green paint was sprayed on by a member of a car club called The Axle Draggers.

“It is arguably the nicest one I have done so far,” Battaglia beams with pride. “My son and daughter also have helped me with the restoring of all these cars. I also have a very understanding wife who allows me to buy and spend time building these cars—as long as she gets to drive ‘em. Building these cars has been a great experience for myself and involving my family and friends.”

Like his father before him, Fred has passed his skills onto his kids. So who knows? Maybe they’ll carry on the family tradition of collecting muscle cars. Son Nick is already shopping for an early ‘70s Camaro, so it’ll be interesting to see if one day he returns to his car-guy roots, just like Dad did.

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