There’s always a story behind a project car. Whether it’s an enthusiast’s first car that’s been restored and brought back to life, a car that the owner always wanted as a youngster, or some similar story, we know the story is going to come out when an owner lights up to talk about their specific project.
Memories of working on his first car with his dad powered Brad Whitt’s acquisition and subsequent build of the gleaming, head-turning machine seen here. His father passed along to gearhead nirvana several years ago, but those memories are still fresh in Brad’s mind and they inspired him throughout the tedious, three-year build process.
Despite the perfect specimen you see here, he struck out several times while looking for the right subject car to start with. “I started my search for a ’71 Chevelle in May 2013 on eBay. I thought I had a car purchased in New Orleans, but when I flew down there, the car wasn’t in the condition that the seller described. I also found cars in Texas and then Chicago that also didn’t meet my expectation when I drove to see them,” he recalls.
A local hot rod shop suggested he call Wagner’s Classic Cars in Bonner Springs, Kansas, as the company has a well-known reputation for its restoration and sales business. After meeting with owner Scott Wagner and explaining what he was looking for, Whitt was pointed in the direction of someone else’s stalled project, which was sitting in Wagner’s inventory. “The car was in pieces and needed quarter-panels and, well, everything. Scott quoted a price of around $75,000 and 10 months to complete the project. Let’s just say we went over on both!” says Whitt.
With a plan to build a period-correct car that made use of updated technology and a modern interior, Whitt pushed the Wagner team to explore its creative capabilities and, in the process, build a unique Chevelle that catches the eye immediately.
Don’t discount the effect of reading this very magazine, along with Hot Rod, because sometimes the result can be behavior that might seem irrational to anyone but a gearhead. We like to call it “gottahaveit” disease, and Whitt caught a good case of it. “I saw an advertisement for a Roadster Shop chassis and I thought ‘got to have it!’ so I called them and ordered the chassis,” says Whitt.
With the assistance of Vintage Fabrication, who did all of the sheetmetal work to fit the body to the chassis, the car began to take shape. “They introduced me to the engine builder Don Hardy. I thought, ‘LS3, got to have it!’ I was at an airport waiting for my flight, looking for something to read when I spotted a ’71 Chevelle on the cover of Hot Rod magazine that caught my eye. After looking through the magazine, I realized this car was awesome! It had this cool billet aluminum gauge cluster. I called him to see if he could build one for me. He said he could but it would be pricey, so I asked how much. It was going to be about $5,000, so I said ‘got to have it!’” says Whitt.
And sometimes that’s how great cars come to life.
The aforementioned Roadster Shop chassis includes the company’s 10-gauge boxed framerails and a large-diameter parallel four-bar rear suspension, which has been proven over the years to be an excellent all-around performer. The underpinnings include C6 Corvette spindles, tubular A-arms, Penske adjustable shocks at all four corners, and Wilwood calipers—six-piston up front and four-piston stoppers out back—with 13-inch rotors all ’round. A Ford 9-inch rearend housing customized to fit the RS chassis is underneath, filled with 3.70 gears for a solid balance between acceleration and cruising ability.
The 2013 LS3 376-cube engine has been balanced and blueprinted by Don Hardy Race Cars (DHRC) and wears a set of 821 cylinder heads to go with the 11.0:1 compression ratio inside. There’s a DHRC custom camshaft inside, which measures 0.580-inch lift on both intake and exhaust with 226/236-degree duration at 0.050-inch. The engine is topped off with a set of 6061 billet aluminum valve covers and air cleaner housing from DHRC. In keeping with the period-correct appearance, Whitt selected a Holley Terminator throttle body fuel-injection system, which gives a carbureted appearance with all of the performance, driveability, and reliability of a modern fuel-injection system. Holley’s Dominator coil-near-plug ignition pays homage to modern technology. With all of these pieces installed, Whitt estimates horsepower at 550 and torque at 500 lb-ft.
All of this power goes through a DHRC-built 4L60E transmission, which offers—again—modern driveability characteristics and reliability, which is critical for a car that’s expected to be driven often.
The modifications to the car include a completely custom interior. “As the car was being built, I constantly read car magazines, watched the Velocity Channel, and trolled builders’ websites. I noticed a Chevelle on Roadster Shop’s website that was white with black stripes. The interior had that period feel with a modern twist I was looking to do. When I called to ask who did the interior, they sent me to Paul Atkins Interiors,” says Whitt. You can guess what happened next. “I was like ‘got to have it!’”
The end result is what you see here. Atkins re-covered and installed a pair of black leather seats from a ’14 Camaro, then covered the doors in black leather before building a custom center console for the car. A full complement of AutoMeter Muscle Car gauges help to keep tabs on the engine, while a Budnik Sport steering wheel and Lokar shifter aid in precision operation of this slick ride. Tunes come from a Sony head unit. Remember that billet aluminum gauge cluster? Ironworks Speed and Kustoms built one specifically for this car, and it finishes the inside exactly as Whitt envisioned at the beginning of the build process.
Externally, the theme is understated and classic. With the exception of removing the license plate pocket and bumper bolts, the exterior modifications were kept to a minimum. A GM Super Sport cowl-induction hood is on top, Ogden Chrome in Utah did fresh chrome work, and Scott Wagner himself tuned up the graphics after Wagner’s Classic Cars lined out the arrow-straight bodywork.
No killer custom car is complete without a set of showstopping wheels. In the case of Brad’s Chevelle, those come from Billet Specialties in the form of the Velosity wheel in 18-inch front and 20-inch rear specs, wearing Michelin Pilot Sport 245/40-18 front and 335/30-20 rubber.
“I told Scott in the beginning of the build, ‘If someone doesn’t walk around the car more than once, then it won’t be good enough.’ The car turned out just as I had seen in in my mind,” says Whitt. Looks like he managed to get it all.
That’s the hallmark of a successful project.
Photography by Grant Cox