How did Gwen Leclerc come by the hot rod game? “I was the son my dad never had,” she said, eyes crinkling at the edges. “He used to drive us around the lake in his Omaha Orange Cobra kit car [she was 12], and then we’d stop for lunch. My love for cars and horsepower began then. The growling and rumbling of the engine was exciting, but I really didn’t know why I felt that way,” she said.
Dad was driven, adamant, kind of a hard case. “Everything had to be modified to go faster,” mused Gwen. “He rarely left any car alone … or stock. I wanted to have a car that I could share with my family, create those same memories I have of my childhood, and to go fast doing it.” Initially, the Chevelle was to bump shoulders with her husband, Javier’s, 1969 Camaro, but it turned out to be an ‘in memory of’ her father, a family cruiser.
The Leclercs find their slightly crusty gem in Colorado, that they term a “fresh” restoration … done with a 400 little-block. A nice beginning it is but Gwen craves a lot more than that and so the redone car is to be done yet again. They join with Mike Finn at Midwest Classics in Oklahoma City for his sheetmetal finishing and fabrication acumen. They take a completely diverse avenue, send a smoke signal far to the east, and contract with Scott Shafiroff to supply one of his world-class big-blocks. They initiate a third association with the lads at Distinct Customs right there in Edmond, Oklahoma, for its sumptuous gut work. The makeover requires a jail sentence of more than two years, but Gwen’s so stoked she does it standing on her head. Everybody’s happy.
In search of the pleasing stance, Javier and his pals fit the cleaned framerails with a slew of Hotchkis pieces. They rig the front of the car with TVS tubular control arms, drop springs, and antisway bar. Aft, they install adjustable upper arms, solid lower ones, specific coil springs, and a matching antisway bar. Bilstein dampers are the rule. It makes for a nice, tight package that looks more to life on the street than a road course or slalom spiral. Twenty-inch rims supporting rubber band sidewalls complement that image.
For most, that 400 would offer more than enough civilized grunt for any situation, but we’re talking about Gwen Leclerc here, a woman on a mission. No sissy LS for her, either. She wants the icon, the big Rat for its potential and its intimidating presence. Shafiroff builds her a 540 with sensible squeeze (10.3:1) and 685 lb-ft of torque at a measly 4,300 revs, right for rumbling around town, and an affinity for cat-pee octane if need be. Javier and the crew vent it with 2 1/4-inch primary pipes and a Flowmaster Super 44 signature. Gwen never entertains the idea of a clutch. She wants shiftless and TCI Automotive has what she wants. The ubiquitous 700-R4 gets the Super Street Fighter treatment and a lock-up converter with a 3,000-stall speed. As a hedge against the future, TCI Automotive builds the case to withstand 1,000 horsepower.
The Butternut Yellow is warm as well as nostalgic. Though the car is painted when they buy it, they bring the jaded eye of Mike Finn to the process. Finn does an exemplary job on the firewall and fenderwells, hides the usual component distraction and creates a smooth, flowing vessel that offsets the undeniable engine. The exterior, save for the steel cowl hood, stays stock. Finn builds 12-inch mini-tubs to accept the 11-inch wide wheels. He fixes a lot of small issues and reshoots the body.
Gwen wants a serene and pleasing environment. Inside the A-body, Distinct Customs custom-tweaks the door and the back seat panels. They slice and dice the 2006 GTO buckets and cover them with a leather and tweed combination. They build a console that softly divides the cabin. They lay down Classic Chevy Parts carpeting.
Javier digs around and finds the artist that painted Gwen’s father’s motorcycles. He customizes the center panel of the console with her dad’s initials in an elaborate script wholly representative of the holy pinstripe. Rather than abide the customary phalanx of gauges, Gwen reserves the unobtrusive but vibrant Dakota Digital VHX compilation that shimmers in the instrument nacelle like it was born there. She curls her digits around the Billet Specialties steering wheel, pulls the B&M ratchet by the skull shifter knob, aims for the horizon and stomps the loud pedal all the way back to her childhood.
We always ask what was the most difficult part of the process. Flat out, Gwen says that it’s the wheels, an avalanche of them to go through like mug shot book, looking for the right atmosphere and aura for her Butternut basher. Certainly, Dad is smiling.
|Owner:||Gwen Leclerc, Edmond, Oklahoma|
|Type:||Scott Shafiroff Racing Engines (SSRE)|
|Cylinder Heads:||Dart Pro 1, 2.30/1.88 valves, 121cc combustion chambers, 345cc intake runners|
|Rotating Assembly:||Scat forged crank, forged 6.35-inch steel rods, JE pistons, Clevite 77 bearings, Total Seal ring packs|
|Valvetrain:||Comp Pro Magnum 1.7:1 rocker arms, Isky Enduro springs, 3/8-inch pushrods|
|Camshaft:||SSRE hydraulic roller (0.646/0.651-inch lift; 236/245-deg. duration at 0.050), custom ball-milled rocker covers|
|Induction:||Edelbrock Victor intake manifold, Quick Fuel Q-Series 950-cfm carburetor, Rick’s 22-gallon stainless fuel tank, Aeromotive Stealth pump, Eddie Motorsports/K&N air filter|
|Ignition:||MSD 6AL box, Pro Billet distributor, MSD 8mm primary wires, Powermaster 140-amp alternator|
|Exhaust:||Hooker 2 1/4-inch primary pipes, 3 1/2-inch collector, X-pipe, Pypes 3-inch system, Flowmaster Super 44 mufflers|
|Ancillaries:||CFR Performance aluminum core, SPAL fans, Edelbrock water pump, Vintage Air Front Runner accessory drive, chromoly four-point rollbar by Midwest Classics, mini-tubs by Mike Finn|
|Output:||701 hp at 6,000 rpm, 685 lb-ft at 4,300 rpm|
|Transmission:||TCI Auto Super Street Fighter 700-R4, 3,000-stall TCI Auto lock-up converter|
|Rear Axle:||Moser 9-inch, limited-slip differential, 3.73:1 gears, 31-spline axles|
|Front Suspension:||OE spindles, Hotchkis TVS Stage 2, tubular control arms, 2-inch drop springs, Bilstein shock absorbers, Hotchkis 1 3/8-inch hollow antisway bar|
|Rear Suspension:||Hotchkis four-link, 2-inch drop springs, Bilstein shock absorbers, 1-inch solid antisway bar|
|Brakes:||Wilwood vented 13-inch discs, four-piston calipers front; Wilwood 11-inch discs, four-piston calipers rear; Wilwood master cylinder|
|Wheels & Tires|
|Wheels:||Rushforth Rated-X 20x8.5 front, 20x11 rear|
|Tires:||Nitto NT-555 245/30 front, 285/30 rear|
|Upholstery:||Distinct Customs (Edmond, OK)|
|Seats:||2006 GTO, modified GTO seatbelts|
|Steering:||ididit stainless tilt column, Classic Performance Products power-steering box, Billet Specialties Boost wheel|
|Instumentation:||Dakota Digital VHX|
|Audio:||Kenwood head unit, Kicker amps, Kicker KS 4-inch speakers, front; Kicker KS 6x9, rear installed by Distinct Customs|
|Bodywork:||Mike Finn at Midwest Classics (Oklahoma City, OK)|
|Paint by:||Mike Finn|
|Paint:||PPG Butternut Yellow|
|Hood:||Auto Metal Direct steel 2-inch cowl hood|