The '70 Chevelle is generally regarded as the peak of Chevrolet musclecar development. Being the first year to offer the big 454 certainly helped, and being the only year the fat powerplant was delivered sans smog equipment with up to 450 underrated horses only serves to ice the cake. Stylewise, the since-'68 body should have been showing its age, but instead some innovative and aggressive styling touches served to refine the muscular lines. Smoothing the harder leading hood edges and softening the relocated taillights truly helped define the '70 and put it in a class of it's own.
The '71 model that followed lost the distinctive quad headlights, and, interestingly, the singular taillight design became circular and grew to number four lenses. The muscular shape of the '70 would stand between the desirable '68-69s, and the less-fondly remembered '71-72 models, isolating it as a one-year design with one-year only big-horsepower options. It's no wonder racers, enthusiasts, and collectors all covet the '70 Chevelle, especially when there's a big-inch big-block underhood.
Keith Wagner has enjoyed the style of the '70 Chevelle for many years, as this car is the second to be built by the 35-year old McHenry, Illinois, engineer. The first was in the long-popular Pro Street tradition, and Keith admits to its shortcomings.
"My Pro Street '70 was over the top. It was a great car, and I'm proud to have built it, but it was hard to drive on the street. When I sold it, I still wanted a '70 Chevelle, but I was determined to make it more comfortable and driveable on the street. I saw this car at an auction, and the love affair began!"
Wanting to redefine the classic American musclecar as a true all-around performer is no easy task, but it is getting easier. Keith went straight to Ken's Hot Rod Shop in Rockford, Illinois. A full suspension and braking plan was launched, focusing on bolt-on upgrades and attainable goals to add to the overall motoring experience.
The chassis now boasts a full complement of aftermarket grip-adders, including Global West tubular upper A-arms and spindles, QA1 adjustable shock absorbers, lowered custom coils springs, and a pair of antisway bars measuring 1.75-inch up front and 1.5-inch in the rear. Adding the grip in the back is a complete complement of Hotchkis control arm components, featuring their proven solid lower control arms and adjustable uppers. With the chassis sufficiently stiff, binders were added.
Keith chose proven Baer Racing discs in 14-inch front and 13-inch rear diameters. The drilled and slotted rotors would require a big diameter wheel to clear, and Keith chose 17x10s to steer and 17x11s to drive. The tires are likewise fat, checking in at 275/40-17 up front and 315/35-17 out back. Grip was determined to be sufficient and under control; now, what should be powering this beast?
As mentioned, the "pinnacle" powerplant offered in '70 was the 454, and this seemed a logical choice. Wagner went to Speedfreak of Alden, Il, and made his desires clear. The resulting block now displaces 468-inches (after a basic overbore) and was loaded with Comp Cams valvetrain and reworked iron heads to deliver plenty of torque on pump gas. While we weren't provided with horsepower or torque figures, Keith did share quarter-mile timeslips in the 12.50-second range at 116 mph. He also claims to put 4,000 annual miles under the car, which proves he was able to regain the streetable qualities he was after from the start.
Of greater interest to g-machine fans is Keith's performance on the road course, which we were lucky enough to witness at the Speed Seekers event in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Wagner is not afraid to push the car to its limits, and due to its well-developed suspension and braking systems, those limits are pretty far up the "cool" scale. The popular "bright red paint with black interior" choices make these cars look their best, and when that black interior is filled with Sparco seats, Auto Meter Phantom gauges, and a LeCarra wheel, all the better. What does Keith Wagner think about his "new" '70 Chevelle, done up g-machine style?
"I had road course experience from other cars I'd owned previously, and as soon as I finished this one I began looking for places to run it. These Open Track Day events are great, and I've enjoyed driving the car so much I've decided to take it on the Power Tour this year. I think that should prove you really can have speed and reliability in the same car you truly enjoy at the dragstrip and on the road course. These cars are for real, and are much more practical than Pro Streeters. I'm one of the few who can attest to it personally, but I doubt I'll be the last."
Once again, the '70 Chevelle can be viewed as being at the pinnacle of musclecar style and performance with a 454 under the hood. Few could have predicted this to be represented on the road courses of America, but the timeless lines lend themselves to function-following form as well in the corners as they have down the dragstrips for so long. Thanks to forward-thinking builders like Keith, the '70 Chevelle legend will continue, and the g-machine movement will continue gaining speed.