Volume II, Issue 8, Page 22

Nickey is Back!

Backward K and All!

Nickey Chevrolet was the first dealer to yank factory engines and replace them with even bigger bullets. They were also known for having the best drag cars both in-house and those built from its extensive parts department, which was essentially a big-ass speed shop. Nickey Parts sold the latest goodies from Chevy/GM and the aftermarket. That’s part of the reason why the dealership had such a presence (see sidebar). But all of that ended in the early 70’s not long before the first oil embargo and Nickey shut down, seemingly forever.

Responding to the musclecar resurgence, the fabled company is alive and well and in the capable hands of Stefano Bimbi who has plans for the distinctive name. Right now Nickey is a work in progress with big plans for the return of the Camaro in 2009. Presently, Nickey Chicago is a used car lot with plenty of interesting inventory and many in the inventory have a strong Nickey connection.

Nickey in Print

Vintage Motorsports magazine recently ran a great piece on Nickey. VM caters mostly to road racing enthusiasts and that’s exactly what Nickey did in the early years. Its “Purple People Eater” Corvettes were named after a popular song of the time but were a serious threat in sports car racing. While we thought Nickey as known only for their drag cars, this article by Tom Stephani tells us how Nickey went road racing, stock car racing, and drag racing--all before those big-block Camaros ever peeled out down Irving Park Road. Stephani should know; his father was one of Nickey’s owners. The piece also includes how Chevy kept funneling Nickey the good stuff for the purple ‘Vettes even after the announcement of the Automobile Manufacturers Association racing ban in 1958. 

And what about that backward K? According to the Stephani, it started when one of Nickey’s owners was in Florida and spied a sign with one of the letters backward in the name. The trick stuck in his mind. Once home, he tested it on one of the placards on the lot. The steady stream of people that stopped in to tell them the sign was wrong was given a coupon for a free upside-down cake at a nearby bakery. With attention like that, it wasn’t long before the big red backward K was on everything and everywhere.

Crack open the hood, and “Psycho Too” reveals a severe engine set-back, stick frame, and Gasser-style fuel tank.

“Psycho Too’s” interior is as utilitarian as it gets. Note the engine set-back, door bar and the spindle-mount vintage Halibrands rims. The headers lean towards the zoomie style. No frills rear wheel cut outs (watch your fingers!), one piece, lift-off front end, and those badass Hilborns peeking out of the hood.

The wildest of the bunch is “Psycho Too,” an actual barn find (from a remote northern Wisconsin lake house) that had been stashed for thirty-five years. Why was it hidden? Romantics have their choice: the car made so much money street racing that the IRS was after the owners. The more accurate version is that the names of the last two owners were removed from the side of the car when it was purportedly hidden to avoid a rumored IRS seizure for delinquent taxes. Another rumor, yet to be disproved, was that it was such a bad boy on the street that Nickey ordered its stickers be removed. Regardless, this is one baaad Chevy II.

This time capsule was bought new from Nickey in 1963 and became a legend on the street as well as the dragstrip. Built by a parts department employee, it features a factory L88, bored and stroked to 500ci, Hilborn fuel injection, a Clutch-Turbo transmission and an Olds axle fitted with 5.13’s. Take a close look and you’ll see a slight alteration in wheelbase length, signaling the beginnings of A/FX cars that would quickly become Funny Cars. It also displays definite Gasser elements from the era. This time trip is a big hit at shows and everyone pretty much agrees that the Deuce should not be restored.