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Hot Big-Block-Powered 1966 Chevelle Street Machine

With A Bullet: Owner waits 17 years to drive his dream for the first time

Ro McGonegal May 12, 2016
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Adam Robinson has owned this car since he was 16. Now he is 33. The story began very calmly and innocently in an old barn. Adam took out the engine and then started to sand the body. But he didn’t have a plan at all and didn’t know what he was doing. While dust motes swirled, he sweated. And he thought. He needed to stop fooling around and get some credentials. That way he’d probably tender a well-paying job that would afford him to build the car that was in his mind’s eye.

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The backstory is that in the early 2000s, property values in certain parts of Southern California ballooned to an all-time high. People were paying really stupid money for chicken shacks—and loving it. Adam got busy in the real estate investment business and made more or less of a killing. With the money, he could have at it and never look back. He dragged his 1966 Chevelle to one of the heralded shops in the area. They saw a sucker coming from a mile away and milked him for a ton on the suspension and the frame before he stopped the pilferage. After too much time and more than a few words, the car was on its way to Hot Rides by Dean (Sears) in Moorpark, California.

Ol’ Dean also saw opportunity, yes he did. His argument to Adam: since you’ve already got beaucoop bucks in the car, why not take it to the end and make it a trailer queen—a dedicated show car that didn’t even need to run. Adam sank with it. He took it to some shows and won a few awards but before long he couldn’t stand the silence. He wanted to be peeling out in his Chevelle and driving it like he meant it.

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Back on his turf, Adam and the A-body sidled over to JR Competition in Escondido for a heavy dose of big-block grunt, suspension tweaks, an overdrive transmission, and a fat custom exhaust system. So now, the engine that once got no thought became the prime mover of the build. A Chevrolet Performance 572 crate is a fine powerplant all by itself, but Adam wanted—let’s hear it—MORE! JR Comp pulled the bullet apart and spent a lot of time on the cylinder heads and the intake manifold. The heads have 2.25/1.88 valves, 310cc intake passages, and were angled milled to give another point of compression (9.6 to 10.6:1). JR applied a five-angle valve job and cleaned up the ports and runners. Then they performed similar tasks on the single-plane intake manifold.

Although this engine is built with a forged rotating assembly, there’s always room for improvement. To that end, JR incorporated Mahle pistons, but kept the factory rods, crank, hydraulic roller, and aluminum roller rocker arms. Manton chromoly pushrods provide the critical link. The 850-cfm carburetor was swapped out for a 950, installed with a Wilson four-hole tapered 1-inch spacer. It’s fed by a Holley mechanical pump. On the very bottom is a Moroso 8-quart sump and a Melling oil pump.

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In the search for the optimal exhaust, the yawning cylinder bores of the 572 dictated a 3 1/2-inch system of stainless steel, interrupted by a crossover pipe and DynoMax mufflers. The Lemons Pro Tour Long Tube ceramic-coated primaries measure 2 1/8-inches in diameter. Fire is by the included HEI distributor and MSD box. Timing comes in at 8 degrees BTDC and 36 degrees total. JR then piled on the accessories, beginning with a Billet Specialties Tru Trac serpentine drive, a Sanden compressor, and a Powermaster alternator. JR estimates that the 572 is putting out 700 hp at 5,500 rpm and 650 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm.

Although Adam now wishes that he’d installed a six-speed manual transmission, he has instead put a kinky amalgam called the 765R4 behind the big Rat. BowTie Overdrives noodled this one for while and then went about gathering all the benefits of a 4L65E retrofit into a 700-R4 case, but without computer control. The unit in Adam’s ride is a Stage 3, which includes everything from a Delco five-pinion planetary set, Torrington bearings, and reinforced bushings that cover 50 percent more surface area. The converter is an FTI billet unit with a 2,900-stall and cohabits with a Meziere billet flexplate. Torque is schussed to a Currie 9-inch carrying 3.89:1 gears and a limited-slip differential.

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Nothing beats that flop-to-pavement boogie, does it, dogs? To look the part and give substance to the ex-show queen, the Chevelle was fitted with an Air Ride system that uses Hotchkis upper control arms, Air Ride lowers, custom bumpstops, and GM spindles. Disc brakes were also in order. JR used 13-inch Baers in front and the 11-inch Explorer discs that Currie offers with the 9-inch. Adam’s choice of hoops stands out beacon-like in the sea of five-spokes and modulars that are inevitably peppered with an impossible number of fasteners. The forged Billet Specialties Vintage Outlaws measure 18x8 and 18x9.5 and are fixed with 225/40 and 295/45 Nitto NT555 rubber.

If the sun god exterior doesn’t grab you, the Conejo Custom Upholstery (Thousand Oaks, California) ought to. The interior stands alone, a brilliant collection of select cowhide and Wilton carpet that makes Halloween look like a piker. A competition-like flat instrument panel holds Auto Meter Carbon gauges and the Air Ride controller. Some vintage cues (ignition and headlamp switches) lend a frame of reference. A custom-built console provides A/C vents that join the ones smoothed in at the ends of the dash. For the sound system, high-zoot Integrated Innovations up in Simi Valley laid in a Pioneer AVIC-22 head, twin Alpine PDX 4-150 amps, and a JL subwoofer. When Adam drove the car for the first time, he sawed away on a Billet Specialties steering wheel and rapidly changed up his 765R4 with a B&M Quicksilver stick.

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Revealing its primal roots, the body is immaculate with shaved driprails, a custom cowl hood with EMS billet hinges, and tucked-in bumpers. No less attention was lavished on the engine compartment. A flat firewall and smoothed and re-contoured inner fenders provide a nice foil for the aluminum radiator and the drawn steel of the Lemons headers. Alan Palmer at Palmer Custom Paint and Body in Camarillo, California, worked the body unmercifully and then shot the 2006 Hummer Fusion Orange.

Now we had to ask. What’s your favorite moment with the car? Can you remember it? “Hell, yeah,” Adam squealed. “It was driving it for the first time. I never drove the car when I first got it and then waited 17 years until it rolled under its own power with me in it. Yes, that’s my favorite moment.”

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