Need4Speed: John Wilcher And His Muscle Cars

John Wilcher standing next to his Chevy II Nova.

You may know John Wilcher from his campaign
ads. You may know him from the way he was swept
into the role of Chatham County Sheriff on electoral
promises to clean up the county’s law enforcement. 

What you might not know is that this law-and-order sheriff hides a speed demon streak behind that badge. His lifelong hobby of fixing up old muscle cars may not result in too many speeding tickets these days,but he’ll be the first to admit it hasn’t always been that way.

We sat down with the new sheriff in town to talk about old-school muscle cars and the devotion it takes to bring them back to life.

South: So what are you driving these days?

Wilcher: Right now I have a 1968 Camaro with a small block Chevrolet 327; a 1964 SS Chevy II Nova with a 327 small block and a four speed and 1968 a SS Chevy II NOVA with a 502 cubic inch engine, 735 horsepower, with a Muncie four-speed and a bench seat, which is unusual.

The ’68 Nova was in a book called, “Lost Muscle Cars.” There were, I think, only 600 of these at one point. My daughter found it up in Minnesota and I bought it up there.

South: And you rebuilt all of these yourself?

Wilcher: I rebuilt all of them from the ground up, yes sir. I do everything except paint and bodywork. I’ve done it all my life. This goes back to when I was in high school and got my driver’s license.

South: Do you ever get to open them up at all?

Wilcher: I don’t do anything with them but ride around in them on beautiful days like today. I don’t care about running them. I got all that out my system when I was a kid, drag racing in the ’60s.

South: But will they run?

Wilcher: Yes, they will run. All three of them were made to run… But I don’t get out there and show my butt, especially with me being the sheriff.

South: It would probably be pretty awkward getting pulled over.

Wilcher: Oh yeah.

South: So if money were no object, if you could add any car ever made to the fleet, what would it be?

Wilcher: If I was going to do that, I’d get two cars. I would get a ’62 Dodge Dart that I had when I got out of the Navy, or I’d get a ’64 Falcon Futura. I’ve been looking for both of those cars for years and haven’t been able to find one. The Futura, they made that and a 1964 Mercury Comet Cyclone and both of them were small Cracker Jack-box cars made for speed. They both had 260 or 289 cubic inches with four-speed and were probably 2,300-2,400 pounds with 300 horsepower under them.

 

John Wilcher standing next to his 1968 Camaro.

 

South: A Ford? I had you pegged as a Chevy guy.

Wilcher: A Falcon Futura is just a hard car to find because nobody has them anymore. A buddy of mine had a white one with red interior, and my other buddy had a Comet Cyclone bronze with brown. And I always liked those little cars. They were fast. Back in the ’60s everything — Chevys, Fords and even Plymouths — made were made for speed. That’s what everyone was competing on back then. They made the Furies with the big 383s and the 413s and the 426s in them. The car that I had, the ’62 Dart, had a 413 in it with 400 horses. Back then, everything was for speed, and competition was selling in the ’60s. Up until ’69, then you went to the electronic system, and the key wasn’t in the dash… in the ’70s and the ’80s people got away from that.

South: They don’t make ’em like they used to.

Wilcher: No, they don’t. The three that I have are valued at around $160,000. They’re mint and clean as a pin and stay in an A/C garage. I keep them clean. The underside is just as clean as the topside of the car. If I drive it downtown and get rained on coming back, I’ll put it up on blocks and clean underneath, then I’ll dry it with a leaf-blower.

South: Now that’s devotion.

Wilcher: They’re mine, and when I’m gone I hope my son will do the same thing. He’s into cars. He and I built a ’64 SS Impala together. That was one of the big cars — 19 feet 6 inches long. Blue with white interior. He kept it 4-5 years and then he wanted to buy a house so he sold it.

To read more about Sheriff Wilcher, subscribe now or pick up the June/July issue of South magazine.