Ever wonder why you don't see many tan cars in the desert (in this instance, Phoenix)? Maybe it's because there are millions of acres of tan for as far as the eye can see and then there's lots more after that. OK, there's the occasional jacketed mountain range to break up the boredom, but what sticks in the mind is tan, like sand tan, suntan, cop-car tan, you get the idea.
Ever wonder why people drive something painted heat-sink black in the same type of moonscape lunacy? Maybe they do it for the stark contrast or maybe because no one else in their right mind would even contemplate such madness, or maybe because some people simply gravitate to the extreme.
Mike Watts seems to embrace the latter qualities to the fullest and Chris Fesler Productions, a high-end hot rod craft shop is right there to help a guy out. We featured one of Fesler's smooth, subtle creations on the cover of the January '10 issue. In light of most of his understated and impeccably detailed mind-benders, it's a good idea to have a duffel bag or two swimming with C-notes.
Where else would a guy with mind like a steel trap and a top-line Benz, BMW, and Range Rover take his new project? You realize that maybe the power wasn't in most European six- and eight-cylinder cars like it's always been here, but those sedans could out-corner, out-brake, and out-move anything we had. Think a little more and you realize that these buggers were the precursors of the recent Pro Touring ethic and its youngest offshoots, the gymkhana and the road course.
Previously, Fesler did a '55 Chevy for Mike on an Art Morrison frame with all the Pro Touring touches. Mike's also husbanding a '57 Chevy, so it's not difficult to see that he loves cars, collects cars, and most of all loves to drive them, but he's been spoiled rotten by those imports, so anything about American iron had better exhibit the same high levels of comfort, ergonomics, power, handling, and braking.
As is usual for one of these scenarios, the '70 SS plan began as "a basic daily driver with just some mild work." Uh-huh. Fesler: "We got the car in a raw stage with all the parts ready to go. There were parts that did not really fit the build [quality] we were after so most of the stuff was sold and we started fresh.
"Mike really liked some of the cars that we'd done and having seen them he decided to go further on this car and have something that no one else out there did. He wanted the car to have an appearance like something that most people wouldn't do.
"We took the bumpers, tucked them in and cleaned them up and did a special finish on them. Every piece of metal was done this way. We copper-plated it and worked that to perfection. Then we nickel-plated the bumpers and the parts and brushed them and, to seal them and keep them clean, we chromed over that for the look you have here. He wanted all the features of modern-day cars and wanted it to look as factory as we could get it but as a full-on custom.
"The interior is like the Mercedes with all leather and suede from a Mercedes supplier and Bentley carpet throughout. This car is so quiet you can roll the windows up and talk on your bluetooth phone, like driving in a new car. Mike likes the Chevelle so much he drives it to work," raved Fesler.
Yeah, with that Vintage Air cranked up BIG.
Now, isn't a crate engine with a warranty a better deal than piecing one together and simply lowering the completed form into its cradle? For the street and Pro Touring strata, it just makes too much sense to ignore. EFI or carbureted; have at it. The LS7 is getting a lot of attention these days. Fesler's guys converted the oiling to a wet-sump system but wisely adhered to the electronic cube with which this powerplant was developed. They left the insides of the engine unmolested, concentrating on the support systems needed for the ofttimes hellish environment. A Be Cool core is attended by SPAL fans. MSD primary wires replace the Corvette stuff. They built the fuel supply system from GM Performance Parts pump and filter, sourced the fuel from a Rick's Stainless reservoir. The air intake tract is Fesler-built. An Earl's cooler holds engine oil temp on a steady simmer (an indispensible ally on those oh-so-pleasant 100-degree Phoenix evenings). For the ultimate in packaging, the boys selected a Street & Performance accessory drive system. To fit the of-a-piece tableaus that Fesler builds, nothing less than stainless steel would do for the exhaust system. Fesler jig-built the headers and then pursued custom-bent MagnaFlow head pipes, mufflers, and tailpipes. The grunt pours from an LS7 clutch assembly through a T56 and down a Driveshaft Shop propeller. The recipient is a Currie 9 with the usual limited-slip, 4.11:1 cogs, and 31-spline axles.
Wheels & Brakes
Fesler Productions rolls several styles of their own device, so it's unlikely that a car will leave the building turning anything less. The combo for Mike's Chevelle includes model FS907, three-piece assemblies that measure 19x9 in front and 19x11 at the rear. Commensurately, the Goodyear Eagle F1 grabbers are 245/35 and 295/30. The brakes are full-on Baer 6S whose six-piston calipers quickly put fire in flying saucer-sized 15-inch rotors. A Hydratech booster, built-in proportioning valve, and a billet SSBC master cylinder govern the hydraulics.
Fesler and Gary Sharp completed the skin work, removing the side marker lights and the antenna, and tucked the bumpers in as previously discussed. Fesler also adapted its door handles, 5-inch headlights, and LED taillights and surrounds. Even if this car were not black, it would still be an evil-looking ride. Sharp sprayed the Sherwin-Williams Black, leaving the centers of the wheels with a subdued brushed finished.
Fesler's key on distinctive billet bits, so Watts' car could be the ultimate rolling poster. Except for one thing; they don't pop out and scare you. Fesler's stuff is elegantly unobtrusive. Witness more than 20 billet items on this Chevelle, mostly on the inside. Cripes, they jibe smooth so well with the whole that they become instantly and completely integral to it. "We built a hand-fabricated steel dash with all the latest gadgets in it: DVD/Nav radio, window switches, and more modern gauges and controls. Instead of a soothing shade of beige or orange, Watts wanted blacker than the Black Hole. Fesler lined the Recaros in leather, the headliner in suede, made the door and side panels, supplied the seatbelts, laid Bentley black carpeting throughout, gave the side glass Electric Life. The handbuilt steel dash holds Auto Meter gauges. Watts pops fingers on a contrasting Fesler-grown steering wheel. The Fesler interior repertoire includes: hood and trunk hinges, inner door pulls, and a custom seat to accommodate the mini-tubs. Nothing better than a big gulp of cool air with a smooth audio chaser. The Pioneer AVIC-F900BT head features CD, DVD, iPod, Sirius satellite, a navigation system and corresponding monitor. The door speakers are RS65.2 Kickers palled up with the same duo in the rear. Kicker CVT 12 subwoofers hang out in the trunk in a custom enclosure to coexist peacefully with the Air Ride tanks. Then the amplifiers, more Kickers in the trunk: SX 700.4 and SX 1250.1. That overworked Optima YellowTop even powers the DEI Viper alarm system.
Since the Watts project was to be a complete makeover, Fesler's Bobby and Chris started out by boxing and tubing the frame and smoothing everything out. Watts wanted to put it on the ground whenever he wanted, so there was no question that RideTech wouldn't be involved. Founding the conversion on the original clip, Bobby and Chris began with dropped spindles, added tubular control arms, and ShockWaves hard-lined to 450C Viair compressors and Accuair holding tanks. At the rear, an Air Bar four-link setup. Steering column, et al, are Flaming River pieces connected to a GM Performance quick-ratio gearbox.