We immediately know we’re dealing with an enthusiast when we see the block on the tech sheet that asks ‘How long have you been involved?’ When the answer says “ whole life!”, it’s clear that the owner has more than a passing love for the hobby. Bob Phelps from Naples, Florida is one of those lifelong enthusiasts. He smiles when he recalls that he started out as a mechanic, back in 1960, working for less than two bucks an hour at the Detroit Metro Airport. Equally passionate about cars and planes, he parlayed his natural mechanical ability with an adventurous investment sense and went into business for himself. He started his own air cargo airline from scratch in 1979. Branching out after many years, he diversified by buying and reconditioning European aircraft and selling them here in the states. Phelps sold his air cargo business back in 1994 and began devoting full time to his automotive passion. An avid race car driver and holder of several AA Altered speed records, Bob moved into the role of a full-time customizer, concentrating on his favorite brand, Chevrolet. His huge 30,000 square foot facility in Naples, Florida along with a similar complex in Addison, Michigan allowed him to indulge his hobby on a grand scale. Over the years he has customized multiple 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s Chevys, each capable of coming home with a top trophy from any car show. His approach is simple. “I tear them down to the last bolt and nut, then build them back up,” Smiling he says “I lose my ass on every one but you can take any of my cars, fill up the tank, and reliably drive it to the West Coast. Everything is completely overhauled.”
The 1966 Chevelle in the photos is a longtime favorite and Bob has owned every year of the Chevelle Super Sports, from 1964 to 1972. This 1966, complete with its LS9 V-8 is a perfect example of Bob’s customizing philosophy. Completely disassembled, the 115-inch Chevelle chassis was boxed with 3/16 inch steel, then narrowed two inches in the rear to make room for wider tires and the Ford 9-inch rear from DTS. Held in place with a triangulated four bar and QA1 coil overs, the rear was fitted with 3.50 gears and upgraded with 35-spline axles, Panhard bar, and Positraction. The front chassis rails were also modified, this time to accept an Art Morrison front clip fitted with C-6 Corvette suspension components, QA1 springs, and a second pair of QA1 coilovers. Z06 disc brakes were used up front with 14-inch Wilwood versions in the rear, activated by a CPP master cylinder and pedal assembly along with a Hydro-Boost power brake system. Stab these brakes and you better have a seat belt on your Slurpee if you don’t want it decorating your windshield! Corvette rack and pinion power steering was the final element, guaranteeing success on any local autocross circuit. It became easier for Bob’s crew to roll the chassis around the shop once the Billet Specialties rims were added, 18 x 7’s up front and 19 x 11’s in the rear. Michelin Pilot Sport rubber fills the wheel wells with 225/45- ZR18 rubber up front while 345/30-ZR19 versions bring up the rear. The final chassis mod was the custom-built 18-gallon, stainless steel gas tank, fabricated by Rock Valley with a quick fill cap, mounted high on the Chevelle’s rear fender. Bob likes the convenience of not having to bend over when he fills the tank.
Once the car’s handling was precise enough to get you out of the trouble that a big motor will get you into, it was time to light the fuse. Bob is a savvy builder and especially likes the combination of high horsepower, reliability, and the warranty that comes with a manufacturer’s crate engine. The Lingenfelter-tweaked, LS9 V-8 begins with a 427R block fitted with General Motors high-rpm-validated, lightweight reciprocating parts. The high flow cylinder heads were designed to accommodate the increased charge forced on them by the sixth-gen, Eaton supercharger. In addition to the instant response and extra power, the blower adds an elemental noise to an already exhilarating engine. It boasts Lingenfelter pulleys, 90-pound injectors, and American Racing 2-inch stainless headers that flow into a custom, 3.5-inch stainless system and X-pipe. Auto Rad components provided all the temperature controls in the car, including the radiator, support brackets, A/C condenser, and Intercooler. Oil and transmission coolers protect the motor while the high-capacity Powermaster alternator guarantees a hot spark. Considerable time and effort was spent on the engine compartment, painting and pinstriping it to match the exterior and showcasing the beautiful power plant with a contoured firewall, smooth inner fender panels, and custom Billet Specialties hood hinges. Multiplying the 750 hp output of the LS9 is a six-speed, TR6060 transmission with a Mcleod clutch disc and pressure plate, built by Rockland Tranzilla.
After the Chevelle was fitted with enough horsepower and torque to slow the rotation of the earth, it was time to move inside. The interior is as comfortable as the Elvis suite at the Vegas Hilton, beginning with the factory Chevelle seats that were re contoured and re upholstered with natural leather, using six hides to get the job done. Carbon fiber inserts on the dash hold a full complement of Auto Meter Pro-Comp, Ultra Lite gauges and the center console holds the clock and Hurst shifter. There is no stereo in the car since sub woofers are superfluous when you've got the back beat of a big V-8 thrumming through the car. Subtlety and elegance were the watchwords for the interior and the same mind set carried over to the exterior. Since Bob feels that the Chevelle styling was already a delight to the eyes, very few changes were made to the rust-free California car. Except for the steel cowl induction hood and 3-inch wider wheel tubs, the two-door, hardtop body is stock although HID headlights and LED taillights create new millennium illumination at night. When it came time for paint, Bob’s theory is plain vanilla is enjoyable long after the Raspberry Chutney Swirl has lost its charm. The Chevelle is the embodiment of elegance with its subtle combination of Dupont Ivory and Cashmere, painted in-house by Ron Caldwell. Built as a driver’s car, the three-years-in-the-making Chevelle is a 60’s-flavored, high performance car with modern levels of safety, comfort, and power. It has become one of Bob’s favorites and he gets behind the wheel at every opportunity.