Just for a moment, imagine that you're one of the world's most talented automotive designers and you've got two brothers whose mechanical skills are freakishly awesome. Then imagine that you've got the kind of rare magnetic personality that makes people want to bend over backwards to help you. If you were all of these things, then you might very well end up with the '65 Chevelle you see here, and then again, you might not. In any case, Mike Desmond is such a person, and this is his car.
What started out as a rotting $500 carcass languishing in a San Bernardino lot six years ago has been transformed into one of the sweetest rides never to win a major national car show or see one of the many TV cameras fashionably prowling the top shops.
"Bottom line, the choice was either buy a house, or build this Chevelle," says Desmond. "Everybody else had their beautiful homes and I was building a Chevelle. All my rich art school friends were looking at me like I was a fool!" Desmond, who until recently was one of the top designers at Mitsubishi's California-based design center, made some tough financial choices in the process, but also had the good fortune of having two mechanically-inclined brothers--Pete and Joe. Desmond is quick to give credit: "Pete was the driving force behind building that car. He's a genius mechanic. Joe and I merely assisted him. Joe and I started it, and when we started scratching our heads, Pete came in and took charge, especially when it was time to wire the car. He stopped everything he was doing for a good six months."
All the mechanical skills in the world, however, don't guarantee a beautiful result. All things worthwhile are created twice, first in the mind of the creator and then in the hands of the builder. Desmond's creativity is the result of an early schooling in hot rodding by his father and brother Joe. The decisive career move came after Desmond's admission into the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. "I opened up the school doors and the angels sang!" Desmond attributes the influence of designers Mark Stehrenberger, Chip Foose and Rick Dobbertin, along with Cartoons magazine for his style. But adds, "I was fortunate to know the mechanical aspects of car building before going to art school, a lot of artists don't have that background. Just grabbing a cherry picker and pulling a motor and not being afraid to do all that--it gives you an advantage."
An internship with Boyd Coddington led to another decisive moment--Desmond's hiring by Mitsubishi. "Prior to graduation, the big car manufacturers came through the school to look at our presentations. That day I received offers from GM, Audi, and Mitsubishi. Mitsubishi got me because of what they said to me: 'We're a Japanese company, but we want a full-blown American street rod guy that can bring your perspective.'" Although Desmond is now on his own as a designer, the ties he has at Mitsubishi are strong, especially after his fellow designers helped with the Chevelle's body and paint work. "We did it at lunch and at night at Mitsubishi R&D," says Desmond. "It took three weeks. All the guys at Mitsubishi pitched in to help completely redo the body and paint. I love those guys!" As a point of interest, the paint, a silver hue called Dimont BC151, is what Mitsubishi uses on all its internal review models for evaluating design.
The resulting body work is smoother than a 30-year-old single-malt scotch, but all that smoothness belies the subtle work under the skin. Those rear quarters have been massaged quite a bit; each side has been widened by 1.25 inches and each wheel opening has been stretched and sectioned with additional quarter panels from Original Parts Group. In conjunction with an Alston Chassisworks backhalf and tub job, the enlarged rear wheel arches house gargantuan Nitto 305/50R20s mounted on custom 20 x 11-inch wheels. The Alston four-link kit was modified ("we widened it and relocated the shocks to the outside of the frame rails," says Desmond) and a Fab 9 rear stuffed with a Detroit locker packing 4.88 gears was hung.
Don't look for the Chevelle's trademark Delta-V wheels in any catalogs, because they're one-off customs. Desmond told PHR: "I wanted to do something that hasn't been seen before and it had to be custom. I did some sketches and sent them to Brad Fanshaw at Bonspeed. He custom cut the wheels on a CNC machine. I call them the Delta-V. I wanted an ugly, functional, gnarly wheel. Everybody's doing shiny, polished, cutesy--so I had Brad powder-coat the centers silver. It looks like a Halibrand on crack!"
Desmond's '65 Chevelle was destined from the start as a driver, and to that extent an overdrive 4L80E automatic was procured. "We got the 4L80E automatic from Jet," says an appreciative Desmond. "It's the most solid, freakin' product in the market. It's been absolutely flawless since we rolled this thing out. We had to get a lock-up torque converter, so we went to Pro Torque, where they built a custom 10-inch converter for it. There weren't any converters out there with a high-enough stall speed for our cam. Joe Rivera at Pro Torque built this [2800-rpm stall] thing and he absolutely nailed it." The result of having overdrive with converter lock-up in conjunction with 4.88 gears and a tire nearly 30 inches tall is a somber 2200 rpm at 70 mph.
For power, Desmond and his brothers turned to an old favorite of ours, the GM Performance Parts ZZ502 short-block. The nominal 9.5:1 compression has been upped to 10.5:1 by having the block decked. In the process, the bearings and rings were upgraded and a custom Crane hydraulic roller cam was spec'ed (.640-inch lift, 296 degree duration). Induction is handled by a ported set of Stage 2 aluminum Brodix heads topped with an AS&M fuel-injection manifold sporting an 1100-cfm throttle body. An older Gen VI DFI system is fed by an Airdyne electric fuel pump from a 23-gallon Fuel Safe fuel cell. Exhaust exits through custom 2-inch coated Hooker Super Comp headers and a 3-inch Flowmaster exhaust. Cooling gets handled by a Be Cool aluminum radiator and electric fans.
The engine makes 585 reliable horsepower on pump gas and has been set back 1.5 inches and lowered 1 inch, thus preserving the stock hood line and improving weight bias and handling. Topping off the engine compartment, a custom air intake was fabbed by Desmond using a 3-inch mandrel tubing kit from Summit.
The all-important stance is achieved in front with smaller 18 x 7-inch Delta-V wheels wrapped with Nitto 225/40R18s. A pair of Superior 2-inch drop spindles is equipped with Baer brakes (13.6-inch rotors with 2-piston PBR calipers up front and 11.6-inch rotors with single-piston calipers in the rear). "I sent Baer the drop spindles from Superior and they modified them to take their brakes," says Desmond enthusiastically. "In fact, they even mounted the brakes on them for me. I bolted them on and they were done. They're so good, you don't even need 'em!" Hotchkis A-body suspension parts are used throughout with additional help from Energy Urethane bushings, Koni coil-overs, and a custom 8-point roll bar.
The cockpit has likewise been carefully crafted with chopped Recaro seats, a custom console with integral switch panel, a custom trans tunnel and firewall, a B&M shifter, a brace of AutoMeter Pro Comp gauges in a custom gauge panel, fresh black leather upholstery by Ward Interiors, a Painless wiring harness, charcoal paint and a host of other subtle custom mods too numerous to mention here.
Desmond sums up his car building experience: "Once I got the job at Mitsubishi, I said to myself, 'Is this all there is to this job?' It wasn't enough for me. I had moved to Southern California and away from my brothers in Marysville [California], and we had grown apart. I decided to do the Chevelle because it was the one thing we could do together. The Chevelle was the catalyst for bringing my family back together again. We built it in a small almond dryer shed on the ranch where I grew up. For five years I would hop a red-eye on a Friday night and work all weekend with my brothers. Every Christmas, every New Years, every Thanksgiving, every vacation. That's why it took so long--everybody's got kids, family and a job. It was a sporadic process, but it's brought us back together again, and that's what matters the most."