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1971 Chevrolet El Camino SS - Suitcase Job

Mike Saiki & Pat McNeil Build One For The Street

Ro McGonegal Jun 10, 2010
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These cats are no strangers. We've displayed their race cars before-functional, fast, eye-catching examples of the ideal. They did up this particular '71 Elco as an SS lookalike and they did it on the cheap. They are connected car-builders and know where all the good stuff is and how to get it.

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Mike: "First plan was to build the El Camino as a shop truck [for Mike and Pat's Motivational Engineering in Carson, California], and maybe later flip it and make some money. A couple of weeks into the project Pat decided he wanted the El Camino for a driver." Between the two of them, they had enough parts to turn it into a respectable car in appearance and style as well as performance, at once, something that vibe both hemispheres of the brain with equal resonance.

Pat kicked in the 350 engine, the radiator, and the 12-bolt; Mike anted up the transmission, suspension, and the SS dashboard conversion. Then the familiar refrain "somewhere along the line, things got carried away." They ended up with a complete Edelbrock suspension; disc brakes; all-new interior; gas tank; moldings; taillights; SS stripes; wiring harnesses; alarm; power door locks; air conditioning; and larger, wider rollers all around.

They admit that the conversion cost an estimated $20-large, partly because they got real lucky and found a roller that already had outstanding refinishing and paint. All it needed were some guts that worked constant and some loving care for the rest of it. They cleaned and painted the engine bay and installed the new suspension and front disc brakes. The drivetrain was pieced out to well-known vendors who already contribute to their race car addiction.

Remember now, this isn't any kind of Pro Touring, Pro-Parking Lot, or drag race suppliant, it's a street-only, layin'-back, driver without pretense (save for its blaring red blazer), meant only as a conveyance from point A to B, and with the occasional crankshaft or cylinder block rocking in the bed behind Pat's head.

Forever the racers, Pat and Mike could not refuse the allure of forged internal engine parts. Though Motivational does its racing with nitrous oxide, Pat refrained from pairing it or any other popular power-adder with the El Camino's 355. Its atmospheric engine puts out as much grunt and horsepower as an air-only big-block crate so they didn't see the need for redundancy or the unneeded fuel attrition, and they did it at a bargain-basement price. Though an all-aluminum LS would have been in keeping with the current trend, it would have increased the budget for no real cause.

Since funds were far from unlimited, they made the only feasible choice: mostly go and very little show. These guys weren't interested in changing the direction of the earth's orbit. No. They just wanted to have a little fun and make some noise while they did it. They used a lot of stuff that could just as easily have been factory parts, so in a sense, the build was still a budget-oriented deal. There was no waste. They made the most of what they had.

And you know that California cars have always been known for incorporating a specific trend or "look" before the rest of the hot rodding world has recognized or implemented it. Though that trend is slowly bleeding out (mostly because of the direct connection, vastness, and immediacy of the Internet), look what a simple thing McNeil has done to boost his Elco. If that torch red under stripes weren't enough, it clicks down the avenue twirling monstrous chunks of polished aluminum. See this car one time and you're not likely to forget it-and everything it implies.

Motor And Drivetrain
Contemporary Auto Machining in Huntington Beach, California, dispatched Yo to take care of those chores, the balancing, and assembled the bullet as well. A 0.030-inch clean-up bore made it a 355-incher. Yo put the short-block together with an Eagle 3.48-inch stroke crankshaft and included Eagle H-beams swinging SRP forged pistons ringed by Total Seal. In the interest of pump gas, he held the compression ratio to a conservative but still plump and healthy 10.5:1. He covered the bottom end with a stock oil pan that works with a Melling oil pump. To complete the short-block, he installed a buttery Isky hydraulic roller (0.600-inch lift and 235 degrees duration at 0.050-inch) and connected it to the crankshaft with a Cloyes double-roller chain. Thence to the cylinder heads, not some iron junk but way-out AFR 195 Eliminator aluminum castings holding 2.08- and 1.60-inch stainless steel valves. Isky pushrod guideplates, retainers, and locks host Comp 1.6:1 roller rockers and AFR valvesprings. Over the top of it all, an Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake mated with a Holley 770 Avenger carburetor and a K&N filter element. Spark jumps from an HEI distributor set at 36 degrees. A custom 3-inch exhaust system hosting Dynomax Super Turbo muffs processes unburned hydrocarbons via short-tube Hedman Elite headers. The motor's got snappy throttle response and is good for about 500 hp at a sensible rpm ceiling. For the Turbo 350 snatch, it was Steve Sharp out of Torrance. He put a Hughes 2,500-stall torque converter in front of it and plumbed for the B&M cooler. The big fake-out? The shifter stayed where it was, on the column, thus saving a shekel or two. Though probably not necessary for this particular application, venerable Cook's Machine in LA built a custom driveshaft for the project. The back end of it snuggles up to a rebuilt 12-bolt fitted with 3.31:1 gears and an Eaton differential.

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Body And Paint
Since the car came with a 6-year-old paintjob done right, there was nothing else it needed save black SS stripes over that knockout red. Pat: "We don't know who painted it or what the name of the color is. All we did was color-sand it and buff it out. Looks like new, huh?"

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Wheels And Brakes
Motivational resisted the big brake theory in total, going with the stock spindles and discs from a '70 Camaro. The rears are still drum and likely to stay that way because there's no need for anything more. The reason this car is likely to leave a lasting impression falls to the eye-pop blood red and those impossibly large Esajian PCH billets. The gang posted 20x8.5 and Toyo Proxes' 245/35s in front and 22x10 with 285/30s at the other end. Pat: "It drives nice and tight without any rattles or squeaks."

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No strengthening needed here, so the Motivational boys simply cleaned and painted the rails and planted 2-inch lowering springs all around (the rears stuffed with Hotchkis airbags) that are controlled by KYB adjustable shock absorbers. To finish it off, Motivational strung the Elco with Edelbrock adjustable upper arms and replaced the original lower channel with Edelbrock pieces. The spindles are stock and fitted with disc brakes.

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Again, no funny business, just a little bit of labor. A custom-built stereo box holds 6x9 Pioneer honkers that process input from a Custom Auto Sound stereo head. Pure black SS interior covers or replaces the original stuff and that a steering wheel is out of a '74 Camaro SS. In September and October, when the streets become broilers, Vintage Air quenches the heat like a natural sponge teeming with cold water.

chp_05_o 1971_chevrolet_el_camino_ss Steering_wheel 7/7



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