After a 16-year hiatus away from the car hobby, Pennsylvania resident Brad Hooper joined a long list of guys who made their way back. The usual culprits of raising a family and focusing on career were at the forefront of his prolonged absence. So when the bug bit, he pulled the trigger on the 1967 Chevelle drop-top that you see. Hooper recalls, “It had a decent paintjob and a set of Cragar wheels, and I had in my mind where I wanted to go with it.” At the time, having a bit of fun with it was the main goal. Propulsion for the A-body came from a rather anemic 230-horse inline-six backed by a Powerglide transmission. It didn’t deliver earth-shattering performance but Hooper and his wife, Amber, spent a fun-filled summer tooling around Pennsylvania with the top down. Entertaining as it was, he couldn’t get past the eyesore that was the interior, which eventually led him to place an order for a complete replacement.
That decision consequently landed him on another less glamorous list. He unwittingly joined the not so enviable group of individuals who buy a car that ends up being a money pit. It was a realization that quickly set its roots when he removed the old interior. “When I tore the interior out of the car I discovered some pretty bad rust in the A-pillars and the floor,” he explains. That dose of bad news prompted him to order a new floor, which he was planning on installing in his home garage. Lacking the necessary resources to do the job, plan B kicked in.
At that point he could have easily opted to sell the car but he was determined to get it fixed. Hooper points out, “I started hunting for a local shop to help me work on the car.” That’s when Lonny Gordon and the crew at East Coast Muscle Cars (ECMC) came into the picture. After a complete assessment of the damage, Gordon agreed to help Hooper redo the car. ECMC has a long history of cranking out killer customs and high-end restorations so the mindset at that point shifted away from a mere rust repair to taking the Chevelle up a few notches in every aspect.
With the Chevelle at ECMC, the crew quickly disassembled it. The body and frame were separated and both mediablasted. As the layers of paint were peeled back, more hidden sins were uncovered. At some point the car had been hit in front of the driver-side rear wheel opening, which meant more sheetmetal replacement. As they removed the damage, new repop panels were hung. Once the metalwork was done, Hooper, an experienced welder by trade, cut out the floor and fabricated a new tunnel.
His plan was to install an LS engine along with a 6L80 transmission so the custom tunnel was needed for the late-model drivetrain. He also notched the frame to accommodate larger wheels and tires, while his Missouri buddy Steve Harrah built him a custom rear with a 9-inch housing.
As the pieces came together and the metalwork was completed, the ECMC guys spent countless hours massaging the body to the point it was ready to lay down the DuPont ChromaPremier custom-mixed blue paint.
While that was taking place, ECMC was busy assembling the frame. Up front they installed Detroit Speed’s control arm and spindle kit giving the Chevelle a 2-inch drop, along with QA1 adjustable shocks. At the rear, QA1 adjustable springs with a 2-inch drop were installed, while Detroit Speed sway bars at both ends further enhance the ride quality. Braking was improved with the installation of Wilwood 14-inch discs at all four corners with six-piston calipers at the front and four-piston calipers at the rear. Better handling usually goes hand in hand with the addition of better wheels and tires. Wheel choice is also crucial when you’re building a custom car. Fully cognizant of that reality, Hooper chose a set of Billet Specialties SLC62 wheels. The front pair are 18 inchers shod with 245/35ZR18 Kumho Ecsta tires, and at the rear, 20 inchers are wrapped with 295/45ZR20 Kumho Ecsta tires.
Under the hood he opted for an LS2 that was pulled from a salvage yard. It was a low-mileage unit from a wrecked 2005 GTO. Before its installation it was carefully inspected, cleaned up, and then mated to the 6L80 transmission. Also on the to-do list was a new exhaust system. That came together with a set of custom stainless steel headers plumbed to an X-pipe that precedes a pair of MagnaFlow stainless steel mufflers.
Coming full circle back to what initially sparked the transformation on the Chevelle, the interior and convertible top were the last pieces of the puzzle to be addressed. In keeping with the custom theme, the idea of reinstalling a stock interior was quickly tossed. ECMC kept it local by hiring Brad Wurzbacher, the owner of Driven Fab & Upholstery in Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, to do the stitchwork. Wanting to craft something unique, Tobacco leather was the material of choice Hooper opted for to dress up the interior. The original seats were tossed in favor of a complete set from a 2005 GTO. They were covered in leather, along with the custom dash that the guys at ECMC fabricated. Other touches included the custom door panels and center console, which also received the full leather treatment. Vintage Air A/C, a Billet Specialties steering wheel, and a full complement of Speartech LS series gauges round out the interior upgrades.
After three long years, the Chevelle rolled out of the ECMC shop and hit the open road. Hooper enjoyed the top down driving but the car still didn’t feel right to him. The issue was the salvaged LS2 that started to have problems. That engine gave way to a low-mileage L99 that was salvaged from a 2012 Camaro. It was also cleaned up, inspected, and installed. That option was also problematic so he did the sensible thing and had the engine that is currently in the car built from all new parts. RaceKrafters in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, did all the work on this new mill. They started with an LS3 block that they punched out to 416 cubic inches. They stuffed the bottom end with a Callies crankshaft, Oliver Racing connecting rods, and Mahle 10.5:1 pistons, while the top end was crowned with a set of Trick Flow Specialties aluminum heads and an Australian-made intake from Shawn’s Custom Alloy. As with the rest of the car, the custom factor was very important so Hooper chose to use Billet Specialties components extensively under the hood. As for some numbers, the dyno pull with the new powerplant netted a stout 695 horses at the rear wheels.
The culmination of this journey for Hooper was twofold. On a personal level, the most memorable experience with the car was when he went back home to his native Missouri and was able to take his father for a ride in it. On a professional level, it also sparked an interest in the car fabrication business to the point that he now owns Lucky 7 Rod Shop in Stewartstown, Pennsylvania.