Iron Fist – 1966 Chevrolet Biscayne L72

GM Scene Magazine®

Robert Martin's 1966 Chevrolet Biscayne L72

In the mid-1960s, before the arrival of big-block Camaros, Mustangs, and Barracudas in the NHRA stock classes, limited production, base-model full-size sedans outfitted with high-performance big-block V8s ruled the upper-level classes. Standard-size models with big-blocks from Ford, Chevy, Pontiac, and Mopar were the cars to beat. For Chevrolet, the 1966 Biscayne sedan with the L72 427 engine was one of those strip stompers. Less than 200 were produced, and the people who follow that sort of thing believe there are fewer than 20 left.

Robert Martin of Palm Harbor, Florida, has one of the rare survivors, and his comes with a story of years on the drag strip, followed by an enforced rest for nearly 20 years before Robert bought the car and began a meticulous restoration. His Madeira Maroon two-door was assembled at the Doraville, Georgia, GM plant at the end of December 1965 and delivered to Baugher Chevrolet in Waynesville, Virginia. According to what Robert learned about the car, it was ordered by the dealer to be a drag race performer under the “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” marketing strategies in vogue in those days. A dealership employee drove the car before buying it a couple of years later when the dealer decided to campaign a newer model. The second owner raced the car for a few years before parking it in 1973 or 1974. There it sat.

Robert says he always liked the L72 cars and wanted one. He mentioned this interest to a friend who participated in vintage drag racing events on the East Coast. Eventually, Robert received a call from his friend, who told him about the car resting in a garage in Virginia. Robert contacted the owner, who told him that he had no intention of selling the car. Robert told him what any of us would say: Well, if you ever decide to sell it, let me have first shot at it. Over the next 10 years, Robert stayed in touch with the owner, but he never budged. In 2001, the owner finally called Robert and said he wanted to sell it. Robert promptly traveled to Virginia to buy the car before the seller could back out of the deal. “I never give up,” Robert says.

The car was in pieces; the engine and transmission were out of the car, but it was mostly complete. Robert stored the project while he searched for as many NOS parts as he could find. In 2017, he began the restoration. As he disassembled the car, he discovered the factory build sheet, which guided him to acquire all the options that were on the car when it was new. Robert is no stranger to complex restorations – he’s restored Sixties’ Corvettes as well as Chevy Nomads – so he knew the challenges of finding those rare parts, including a hard-to-find transistor ignition system. He says those early transistor systems were flaky at best, so they were often discarded in favor of old points-style systems. Finding an appropriate transistor distributor also meant finding special coils, alternators, and the control unit that are required to make the system work properly.

Robert’s Biscayne was optioned to race. The 425-horsepower L72 engine produced 460 foot-pounds of torque, thanks to a solid-lifter cam, 11:1 compression heads, aluminum-domed pistons, and a Holley 780-cfm four-barrel carburetor on an aluminum intake. The M-21 four-speed transmission (no automatics were offered with the L72 option) was connected to a 12-bolt Positraction rear end with factory-installed 4.88 gears.

Robert’s car was priced at $3403.95 when new, including a whopping $42.15 for the 4.88-geared Positraction rear end. Back in the day, that power combination produced quarter-mile performance to be proud of, especially on the tires of that era. Robert has documentation that his Biscayne ran an 11.76-second quarter-mile at 125 miles per hour in Super Stock D at a dragstrip in Suffolk, Virginia. The L72 Biscaynes were offered in 15 exterior colors, but only three interior choices: fawn, blue, or red. Robert found NOS fabric for the restored interior. The rest of the interior components are aftermarket reproduction pieces.

Robert was able to find five NOS 8.25×14 tires to use on the upgraded factory wheels. Because the L72 car produced so much horsepower and torque, this car had a wheel upgrade, which meant that the heavier-duty wheels that were standard on station wagons were offered on L72 cars. One noticeable difference between these mid-1960s high-performance cars and today’s screamers is that the L72 Biscaynes were equipped with four-wheel drum brakes and a single master cylinder.

This car was never titled for the street until Robert finished the restoration. The 32,374 miles on the odometer when he bought it were the result of quarter-mile blasts and highway miles being flat-towed to racetracks. These days, the Biscayne gets on the road for car shows or cruise nights. The tall rear end gear and the high cost of 110-octane gas make highway runs prohibitive.

GM Scene Magazine®