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1969 Chevy Chevelle - Restor-ection

One man's dream meets one '69 Chevelle

By Frank H. Cicerale, Photography by Mike Harrington

Everyone has that one car they've dreamt of owning. For some it may be a 1957 Bel Air with a 283 fuelie. Others may have dreamt of waking up on the morning of their 18th birthday to find a big-block Camaro, L79 Nova, or L88 Corvette in their driveway.

As time progresses and we get older, life sometimes gets in the way. Marriage, a house, kids, college tuition, and a host of other forks in the eye divert our attention away from the pleasure of swinging behind the wheel of a Chevy muscle machine.

Dennis Hopper is one of those who dreamed, but was not able to do something about it for a while. Dennis started out on the right track, holding the pink slip to a '72 Chevelle. Dennis hit the A-body up with the usual assortment of speed parts-headers, exhaust, and wheels-but when graduation time came, Dennis had a choice to make. His decision resulted in a stint in the military. Upon being discharged, he met and married his wife, Kelly, and got involved in the mobile electronics world.

After picking up an '88 IROC Camaro, Dennis was getting restless. Reflecting back on his '72 Chevelle made him long for another dose of vintage Chevrolet muscle. Even worse, his father had a sizeable car collection. One day, Papa Hopper called and told Dennis he was going to start selling off his collection, and wanted to offer him a chance to grab his pick of the litter. Dennis immediately conjured up an image of his dad's numbers-matching 1968 SS396 Chevelle, but upon a subsequent inspection and test drive, he realized the car was too far-gone for a restoration. He did pluck its drivetrain, a 396/Muncie combo.

As fate would have it, the stars aligned and Dennis got a call from business associate Paul Newmann, who clued him in on a '69 Chevelle SS that was for sale locally. After seeing it, Dennis plunked down $3,500 and parked the '69 in his garage right next to the drivetrain from his dad's '68.

"It took just a moment to decide what to do with [the Chevelle]," Dennis explained. "After going to tons of car shows over the years, I noticed that not very many musclecars had new world electronics and convenience items installed in them like what I was used to in the industry I was in."

The vision for the car was clear: resurrection, restoration and modification. Combine them and you have restor-ection. Pretty catchy, huh?

While Dennis envisioned the electronic end of the car, John Soule took care of the engine department. Soule, a former GM lineman, took the 396 engine down to the bare block, cleaning and boring it .060 over to raise the cubic inch displacement to 408. After grinding the crank down .010, Soule balanced and blueprinted the rotating assembly, which consisted of the stock crank and rods linked up to Speed Pro pistons. Keeping the stock iron heads required Soule to pick the right camshaft. Soule perused the Comp Cams catalog until he found the grind he wanted, a solid-lifter, dual-pattern bump-stick showcasing .575 intake and .604 exhaust lift numbers. Duration checks in at 242/250 on the intake and exhaust sides, while the lobe separation comes in at 110, giving the A-body that lumpity-lump idle.

After dropping in steel pushrods, also from Comp Cams, Soule bolted on the stock GM intake manifold. The original carburetor was swapped for an Edelbrock Performer-series 800 cfm four-barrel. Feeding the oversized Rat is a polished Holley mechanical fuel pump.

Big cylinder head ports require a proportionately sized exhaust system. Tying up that end is a set of Dynomax ceramic-coated headers featuring 1 3/4-inch primary tubes merging into a 3-inch collector. The headers are mated to a Pypes Exhaust ceramic-coated 3-inch system complete with crossover pipe. Backing the 396 on steroids is the Muncie 4-speed, which runs the gamut to the 12-bolt rear spinning 3.55 gears.

To lower the car, Soule installed a complete Air Ride suspension system. Between the Air Ride tubular front control arms and four-corner airbag system, the nose of the A-body can dropped 5 inches and the hind end 4 inches at the limit.

Bolted to the spindles are Wilwood 13-inch rotors clamped down by 6-piston calipers. With such a large rotor size, Dennis needed the perfect wheels to fit the car, surround the stoppers, and finish off the look. One phone call to Boyd Coddington later yielded Dennis a set of Smoothies, 18 inches for the front and 20 inches for the rear. Wrapping around the wheels are supersized Falken meats.

With the drivetrain and suspension refurbished, and upgraded, Dennis enlisted the help of Art Dupont to take care of the sheetmetal work. With the body pretty solid, Art only had a few small areas to work on before he sprayed the flanks with, ironically enough, Dupont Torch Red paint.

Dennis was happy, but he wanted his Chevelle to stand out more than all of the others he had seen. Thus the Chevy went to 1 Off Rides, where William Fonseca and Hector Ramos kicked things off by grabbing a set of custom buckets, which were promptly rebound in pleather, complimented with red French stitching, and customized with new-style SS logos embroidered in the headrests. The IP was reconfigured with a Covan's Classics dash stocked with Auto Meter gauges before the Vintage Air HVAC controls took the place of the stock radio. An American Racing steering wheel replaced the stocker. With the dash pad matching the seats and headliner, the two fabbed up a custom center console that starts at the dash and runs all the way back to the rear deck. After bolting in dual bucket seats to replace the factory rear item, the middle console was rigged up to house the A/C controller, Air Ride keypad, power window switches, Hurst shifter, and Pioneer audio/visual head unit complete with navigation system. The one-off door panels house parts of the stereo system as well.

Speaking of the stereo, since this is Dennis's specialty, he came up with a sound system that would rival the best in the industry. The Pioneer head unit kicks the tunes to two sets of 6 1/2-inch JBL components, located in the custom door panels. A pair of 12-inch JBL subs is located just behind the console in the rear deck, and powering it all are two JBL amplifiers located on a motorized amp rack that Fonseca rigged up.

The trunk of the Chevelle houses all of the electronics for the Air Ride, and the batteries were relocated to the rear to help clean up the engine bay. Speaking of the engine bay, 1 Off worked some magic in that area as well, fabricating a top hat for the carb, a smoothed firewall, and custom radiator cover. Wrapping up the brightwork under the hood is a Zoops billet accessory system.

"I think the motorized amp rack and all of the custom pieces 1 Off created are what makes this car unique," Dennis said, "though I must admit, the most memorable moment I had with the Chevelle was when the motor was first started. It didn't have the exhaust hooked up, and the roar was wild."

By Frank H. Cicerale
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