Everyone loves to read about the latest and greatest barn find. Doesn’t it ever make you wonder why there are so many cars being found in barns? The unvarnished truth is that there aren’t enough barns across this country to house all the cars buried under piles of dust waiting to see the light of day. The so-called barn find is just another catchy way to say that a stalled project has been dragged out of some dark hole. The upside to these dormant projects is that they often find new homes at fairly reasonable prices. The ’66 Chevelle that you see certainly falls into that category. In 1988, Pennsylvanian Josh Hillard, at the ripe old age of 16, acquired this neglected Chevy for the meager sum of $1,000 when his dad fronted him the cash to buy it.
This ’66, while neglected, was far from a basket case. Josh recalls, “The quarters were good and the front end was just sitting on it, but it wasn’t bolted on. The 305 and the tranny were in place but nothing was hooked up. The interior was bad and there wasn’t much to it. Someone had installed some funky carpet, and it only had one seat.” As he dug into the car, it quickly became clear that at some point it was being raced. There was a 4.56:1 posi installed, along with ladder bars and a heavy-duty suspension up front. The previous owned had mentioned that he wanted to take it down a few notches and build something mild for the street. Josh, on the other hand, wanted to return the Chevelle to its former glory by restoring it back to stock with very minor deviations. His plan was to install a warmed-over 327 mill and swap out the automatic for a four-speed. He got as far as painting the frame and repairing the body by welding in some patch panels in the floor and inner wheelwells. Beyond that point, it didn’t take long for this formerly neglected project to end up being—as you might guess—a neglected project. Living at home with limited funds and spare time, and a proper workspace, quickly took the wind out of his sails, so the Chevelle once again sat for a number of years.
As he transitioned into the adult world, Josh started working as a sheetmetal fabricator in the aerospace industry, which introduced him to a variety of welding and fabrication skills. Those skills were subsequently put to good use when he started moonlighting for Tom Cressman, the owner of Cressman Race Cars in West Chester, Pennsylvania. While there, his expertise was used in the fabrication and installation of rollcages and rear tubs. This activity was the spark that rekindled an interest in the dormant Chevelle. He also became a property owner with a decent sized garage, which allowed him to once again indulge in the restoration. Josh explains, “My new goal was to tub the car, while retaining the complete factory interior and exterior, with only the big tires and ride height to differ.” Keeping that stock interior was a priority, but he further explains, “At the time all over-the-counter framerail kits required a rollbar to complete, and also hacked up, or removed, the back seat. It would also sit too high in the back for my liking so I decided to fabricate a custom rear frame to accommodate the new look I was going for.”
Many hours were spent designing and fabricating the rear section, which was built around an S&W Race Cars ladder bar kit, QA1 coilover springs and shocks, and a 12-bolt posi stuffed with Strange axles and centersection. Up front, stock spindles with adjustable QA1 shocks gave him a 3-inch drop. The brake combination, again keeping it as close to original as possible, consisted of factory discs up front and drums in the rear.
Once the frame was sorted out, Josh moved to the body. Using plans he found in a magazine, a rotisserie was fabricated to help him with the next phase in the project. Since the car was in remarkably good condition, and some of the patch panels were already installed, tubbing the car to his liking was the next part in the makeover. He was determined to have the underside as flawless as the rest of the car so a great deal of time was spent massaging it. As that phase was finished, he moved topside. The original quarters were repaired with some patch panels as well, and a door was reskinned, but beyond that, the Chevelle still sports its original clothing. The only aftermarket piece he added was the Super Sport hood. It is worth pointing out that all this work was taking place at home in his spare time, and when it came time to smooth out the sheetmetal, leaning on a friend with a body shop proved to be indispensable. His buddy Duane Mellinger, the manager of Superior Paint and Collision in New Holland, Pennsylvania, was a once-a-week visitor that worked with Josh to get the body ready for paint. They spent months massaging the sheetmetal and blowing the car apart to check for fitment of all the panels. Once that was achieved, it was transported to Duane’s shop where the color was laid down. In keeping with the stock theme, a mix of PPG Artesian Turquoise was the chosen shade. As Josh points out, “How can you go wrong with a factory color?”
Under the hood, the plans shifted away from using the 327 small-block. Josh went uptown with a 400 block that was punched out to 406 cubic inches. Ober’s Performance in Lititz, Pennsylvania, was entrusted with executing all the machine work on the block and rotating assembly while Josh tackled the final assembly. That mix also included a set of Dart Iron Eagle heads and TRW 10.5:1 pistons, crowned by an Edelbrock Air-Gap intake mated to a Holley 750. Stainless Works 1 3/4-inch headers and a custom 3-inch stainless steel exhaust system fabricated by Josh utilizing Flowmaster 50 Series Delta Flow mufflers do their part to purge the hot exhaust gases. An M20 four-speed built by his dad, Elvin Hillard, backs everything up. This combination, by some standards, is pretty tame but Josh has a very simple explanation for it—air conditioning. “I just wanted to be able to drive it,” he points out. “I want to be able to jump in and go anywhere comfortably. If I want to go fast I have two race cars, so I can always hop into either one of them.” A Vintage Air unit rounds out the underhood details.
As the pieces of the Chevelle puzzle came together, the living compartment was next on the to-do list. Stock was the word of the day, so Josh had Sam Ellingsworth, the owner of Custom Rags in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania, stitch up the seats in black vinyl and install a new headliner. They also added a vinyl top for that period-correct look. When you peek inside, it looks like it just rolled off the assembly line, right down to the factory AM/FM radio.
Nailing down the right tire and wheel combo was perhaps the most critical visual aspect he faced. Stock didn’t enter into the vocabulary when it came time to make that choice. In the end, he was dead-on when he opted for a matched set of 15x4 Billet Specialties wheels wrapped with Mickey Thompson Sportsman Front tires measuring 26x7.50-15 at the front, while at the rear, massive 15x15 Billet Specialties wheels wear 31x18.5-15 Mickey Thompson Sportsman Pro radials.
This project spanned almost 30 years, with a lot of dormant downtime, and in early 2016, it finally broke cover at the Motorama show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Josh claims that, “If I didn’t stop working on it when I did, it would probably have ended up as another stock, mild restoration.” We think this was one project that benefitted from a long hibernation.