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Here’s One Big-Block-Powered Beast of a 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle

Cannon’s Big Gun: Kyle Cannon’s E-ticket Chevelle

Chris Shelton Sep 1, 2015
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Big-block engines tend to do dramatic things as they approach 6,000 rpm. Usually they heave their guts. Not the 540 in Kyle Cannon’s 1971 Chevelle. As if a prodded bear, it charges beyond the point where few dare to shift. It’s an unnatural, gut-wrenching sound the thing makes as it crests the 7,000-rpm mark. Then he shifts.

Kyle does it all over again, only this time in Third. Excitement makes way for low-grade panic upon the realization you’re hurtling along a floating bridge faster than double the national speed limit … and Kyle still has three gears to go. If personal experience is any indicator, there’s a substantial dent in the floorboard from passengers haplessly jabbing at the ghost brake.

One could make the point that Kyle Cannon is insane. That he raced Top Alcohol flat-bottom boats for a dozen years certainly bears testimony to that. But, forgive our pun, he’s no loose cannon; he builds everything — cars, bikes, you name it — as if he were going to go 150 mph in it on the water. Safety wire, handmade brackets, double-shear mounting, quality fasteners … he builds things that stay together.

1971 Chevy Chevelle Side 2/19
1971 Chevy Chevelle Rear Side 3/19

The story why he built it is rather typical: “It was the car I dreamed of having in high school,” he said. He had a Chevelle — a ’69, in fact. “I went through a lot of motors and transmissions, gaining a lot of experience on wrenching and getting in trouble speeding, etc.,” he continued. He traded that car for a ’67, an SS 396 “and got in a lot more trouble.” In fact, it was trouble in Chevelles that inspired his shift to something safer … like drag boats.

This Viper-blue specimen began as a stripped Auto Trader find. Anticipating lots of power, he boxed the frame’s open channels and fortified it with additional crossmembers. The 25-gallon stainless fuel tank he and Bud Wilson fabricated required raising the trunk floor.

1971 Chevy Chevelle Exhaust X Pipe 4/19

He replaced the corporate axle with a Currie Enterprises Track 9 housing and equipped it with a Strange Engineering gearcase, 3.73:1 gears on a Detroit Locker carrier, and Tom’s axleshafts. The rearend bolts to the chassis by way of a Hotrods to Hell truck-arm kit. Only rather than use the kit’s Panhard mounts, Kyle fabricated adjustable ones in the likeness of NASCAR pieces. By altering the rod’s height and the car’s roll center, he can tune the suspension’s antiroll properties more directly and effectively than he could with any antiroll bar.

Kyle modified the front suspension with Global West control arms, tall F-body spindles, a 1 3/8-inch hollow-tube Hotckhis antiroll bar, and a 12:1 AGR Performance steering box. The front and rear suspensions have Bilstein monotube dampers, Wilwood 13- and 12-inch rotors and six- and four-piston calipers, and 18x8 and 18x10 American Racing Torq-Thrust wheels. The front wheels wear 275/35ZR-18 BFGoodrich T/As, the rears, 305/35-18R Mickey Thompson ET Street Radials.

What inspired those rear tires started as a collaboration between Portland’s Hutchins Performance (machine work and balancing) and Kyle (assembly). It consists of a Dart Big M block, an Eagle large-radius 4.25-inch stroke crank, 6.8-inch H-beam rods, and J&E pistons. Those pistons and the 119cc chambers in the Canfield heads yield a 10.6:1 static compression ratio. Due in part to the Bullet Cams’ 0.050-inch duration specs of 254- and 262-degrees, the combination thunders to the tune of 767 hp at 7,400 rpm … on pump gas no less.

A missed shift that scattered a Tremec T-56 inspired a Rockland Standard Gear six-speed Tranzilla gearbox. A Ram dual-disc clutch on a forged aluminum flywheel couples it to the engine. Kyle modified the Shifter Pro 5.0 stick to match the seating position.

1971 Chevy Chevelle Rear Seats 11/19
1971 Chevy Chevelle Fuel Regulator 12/19

Kyle fabricated the headers from 2.25-inch primaries and 4-inch collectors. To maintain clearance, Kyle made the remainder of the exhaust, including the X-pipe, from 3.5-inch SpinTech oval tubing. If given the option, Kyle admitted he’d rather carve the rockers and dump the exhaust ahead of the rear wheels rather than carrying it over the axle as he did.

1971 Chevy Chevelle Big Block Engine 13/19
1971 Chevy Chevelle Headers 14/19

A few of the car’s more generous proportions required body modifications. The tall, single-plane, high-rise Edelbrock manifold and 1,050-cfm Holley Dominator carburetor, for instance, required a 4-inch cowl-induction hood. But Kyle didn’t buy this one; he made it. He also split the rear wheelhouses not to tub them but to bulge the rear quarter-panels for the 305mm-wide tires. Kyle, who repairs damaged boat hulls for a living, turned his critical eye to the various inconsistent panel gaps and body lines before he applied the Diamond Viper GTS Blue. In fact, about the only thing he personally didn’t do was refinish the trim. He left that to Don Meth at American Plating in Centralia, Washington.

Not to deter attention to the bullet in the machine, a March Performance V-belt pulley system keeps ancillaries in motion and adds a bit of eye candy to the engine bay.

1971 Chevy Chevelle Interior 15/19

Kyle replaced the dash insert with an ABS Covans and filled it with Carbon Fiber-series Auto Meter gauges. The car came with a tilt column, which he topped with a half-wrap Billet Specialties Rival steering wheel.

1971 Chevy Chevelle Auto Meter Gauges 16/19
1971 Chevy Chevelle Console 17/19

He built the center console and the climate-control system panel that it houses. A car of this vintage seemingly can’t be considered complete without a pair of 6x9 speakers in the package tray, which this one does (MTX). Streamline Audio in Vancouver, Washington, installed them and the Sony Xplod 6 ½-inch coaxial drivers and a Pioneer head unit in the console. Kyle and his pal Rich Kobliha wired the car with a combination of the stock and auxiliary harnesses.

1971 Chevy Chevelle Seats 18/19
1971 Chevy Chevelle Door Panels 19/19

The centerpieces of the cockpit are 2005 Pontiac GTO buckets. Jeff Martins Upholstery trimmed them in black leather with blue details. A pair of three-point retractable Wesco harnesses keeps Kyle and his unwitting passengers planted. And planted they will remain as long as he has his right foot buried in that Holley’s backside. The car’s fast. Bloody fast; and glorious sounding, too. In that sense, Kyle Cannon didn’t build a car; he built a concert hall for a high-octane orchestra. That he has to wail on it to get the full effect … well, let’s just call that a fortunate dilemma.

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