It's a classic rite of passage in an American family: a father and his teenaged son, looking for the youngster's first car. The two usually have much different considerations, and when father's paying the bill, son often ends up with something less than his dream ride. Every once in awhile, though, the aspiring young hot rodder finds that father knows best.
Greg Tolles of Shelbyville, Michigan, was unimpressed when, as a 14-year-old, his father, Dick, showed him a '69 Chevelle SS 396 he'd come across. The front end was a total wreck after a collision. Greg's verdict was swift: "Dad, this car is junk." Dad, however, had a vision of what this car could be, and assured Greg that the car could be made to look "like something out of a car magazine." The asking price was a paltry $200, so the two took the Chevelle home. Dick was friends with the owner of nearby Dalton Body Shop. They handled the front clip replacement, but father and son did everything else necessary to make the car a runner, and by the time Greg was 16, he was cruisin' to school in grand style. Greg worked part time to pay his dad back the $200, and didn't "hot rod" the SS-according to dad's requirements.
Greg drove his Chevelle in stock form for close to 20 years before deciding to remake it according to his own vision. Greg had caught the Pro Street bug-maybe it was all the repressed hot rodding-and was determined to have a Chevelle of that ilk. He even considered trading his long-time companion for another '69 that had already undergone the Pro Street treatment, but Greg's SS had value you can't put a price tag on-that of the sentimental type. He'd bought and rebuilt the Chevelle with his father, and that attachment was too strong to break. There was still that Pro Street dream, however...
Tolles finally began making his vision a reality in 1993. His father didn't like Greg's decision. "He said, 'You're crazy to cut it up,'" Greg remembers. He forged ahead, though, starting with a 2X3-inch-tubing Chassis Engineering subframe and matching wheeltubs. Tolles and his friend Don Lata installed the kit themselves, modifying it to accept extra-large tires. The new rear end was filled with a narrowed Dana 60 differential, sporting stiff 4.10:1 gears. Thirty-three spline Moser axles support the massive 15x15 Center Line wheels and 33x21.5-inch Mickey Thompson Sportsman tires. Camaro calipers with Ford rotors provide extra stopping power, Aldan Eagle coilovers and a ladder bar system pull suspension duty, and Alston wheelie bars helps control those hard launches. The pair also installed an eight-point rollcage to stiffen things up and provide some safety.
The front end is basically stock, excepting the matching Center Lines and Monroe Magnum shocks. Resting on these basics, however, is a stout big-block. Jay Bos of Middleville, Michigan, treated a '68-vintage 396 block to forged Speed-Pro pistons and Hastings rings, making for a healthy 10.5:1 compression ratio. A Crane cam and Speed-Pro lifters actuate Crane lifters, Milodon roller rockers, and Speed-Pro double valve springs within stock 454 heads. A Melling oil pump keeps the fossil juice flowing. For induction, Tolles joined his B&M Mega Blower (underdriven 23 percent) to a pair of dialed-from-the-box Holley 750s. An MSD billet distributor and 6AL ignition fire the fuel, while Blackjack headers, 4-inch oval pipes, and Flowmaster mufflers channel out the waste gasses. Tranny duties fall to a Turbo 350 sporting a TCI 3,500-rpm-stall torque converter and a Moroso fluid cooler.
When it came to the passenger compartment, Tolles enhanced the otherwise-stock interior with black leather SHO seats, a Grant steering wheel, RJS harnesses, and Auto Meter gauges. He did all the wiring himself, and added some more do-it-yourself touches in the form of the aluminum underhood work and rear wing. A U.S. Body Source fiberglass hood completes the package-except for the can't-miss-it paint job, laid down in yellow DuPont Chroma Base and House of Colors purple by Tolles' friend Larry Drewyor.
And what of Greg's father, Dick, who thought his son was "crazy" to take this path? Well, just like 20-plus years ago, the difference in visions turned out to be only a small problem, and father and son worked on the Chevelle together. In fact, Dick even "likes" the finished product. You could say that that the process has come full circle. And that's a good thing, since between Greg's long-time attachment to his SS, and all the fun he has with it, there's little chance that it'll ever see another owner.