For generations, the horsepower disease has been passed down from father to son time and time again. Building a street machine or a race car takes more than one set of hands, and nine times out of 10, the person helping you spin the wrenches on the Chevy in your garage is related to you in some way.
For Gary Chmielewski, the story is the same but the twist at the end is different. The odyssey surrounding his 1971 Chevelle starts not with his father, but his offspring.
"The whole Chevelle story started with my oldest son, Curtis', interest in the plastic model of the Red Alert Chevelle," Gary explained. "Years later when he was in his first job, a fellow worker told him about a 1971 SS Chevelle that he knew was for sale."
Curtis and brother Troy couldn't afford to save the Chevelle, but thankfully, Curtis' brother-in-law had the green to purchase it. Fast forward 12 years and the same Chevelle was up for sale again. After seeing both of his sons buy a few Chevelles and enjoy them, Gary knew his time had come to get one of his own.
After purchasing the car, Gary enjoyed it for a while before getting the itch to fix the unsightly rust that was on it. When the body man looked at the car a little deeper, however, the quick fix turned into a more expansive project. Knowing the car would be laid up for a bit of time, Gary concluded he would not only work on the body, but massage the car from bumper to bumper and roof line to frame rail.
"From the beginning I had a vision of driving the car a lot, but I also wanted to have fun," Gary said. "I wanted to be able to jump in the car and drive cross-country without any worries, get 15 miles per gallon, and run 12-seconds flat in the quarter-mile with sticky tires but without wheel tubs."
Since the car was already in the body shop, Gary decided the first logical step was the get the bodywork done. First on the to-do list was replacing the necessary body parts, which was taken care of by Dale Lavse at D&B Corvettes. When the sheetmetal was welded up and bolted into place, it came time to choose the proper hue to grace the flanks of the A-body. Enter dilemma numero uno.
"I wanted to paint it black with silver stripes," Gary said. "The restorer (Dave) wanted to paint it red. My family wanted it painted Ontario Orange."
Since it was the family aspect that gave Gary his interest in the Chevelle, he decided to trust the family's choice-orange it was. At first, Gary wasn't too sure but once he saw the car rubbed out and dressed with the appropriate GM trim in place, the feelings changed. "After 10 years, I am still satisfied with the color and happy I listened to the family," Gary said.
With the body finished, the Chevelle rode home to the Chmielewski household on a set of American Racing wheels. The chrome Torq-Thrust Ds surrounded by BF Goodrich 295/50/R15 shoes up front measure 15x7 inches, while those under the rear quarters measure 15x8 inches and are wrapped in slightly bigger BF Goodrich 245/60.
Now Gary turned his attention to the power needed to move the vintage muscle car down the road and the track. When he bought the Chevelle, it came with a worked over 454 fat-block. While the car had no problem completing objective number three, there was no way objectives one or two would ever be realized with the large cam the 454 had. The compromise came when he purchased a retooled ZL1 block from GM Performance Parts. Back in 1969, the ZL1 engine option was the pinnacle in engineering, featuring an aluminum block and heads that made an expected sick amount of big-block power with the unexpected lightweight characteristics of a small-block.
"They were pricey," Gary said of purchasing the ZL1 block. "But I figured that if it was mated to my GM/Winters aluminum, rectangular port, semi-open chamber heads and dual-plane high-rise intake, I could have enough power to keep the car in the 12s and allow for the proper weight transfer."
Gary made the appropriate phone calls, and after getting the casting in from GMPP, enlisted the help of Steve Stratton of Performance Auto. Originally designed for 454 cubic-inches, Stratton punched and stroked the block out to displace 492 cubes. With a rotating assembly featuring a stock GM crank and rods linked to Wiseco pistons, Stratton finished up the short-block by bolting on a Miloden oil pan before turning the motor over on the stand to finish off the engine's assembly. After sticking in a Crane hydraulic roller cam advertising a 234/242 duration with .610/.630-inches of lift on the intake and exhaust sides, respectively, Stratton dropped in Comp Cams lifters and pushrods before slapping on the GM heads Gary had for the big-block. Fitting between the heads is the high-rise manifold off of a 1967 Vette. Induction chores are handled by the Carb Shop-worked 4150 series Holley flowing 930 cfm, which has fuel provided to it via a Carter fuel pump.
To evacuate the spent fumes created by the 10:1 compression powerplant, Stainless Works headers dump into a Stainless Works exhaust system with crossover pipe measuring 3-inches in diameter. The exhaust is quieted a bit by the chambered 3-inch mufflers. Before the fat-block was dropped into the frame rails, it was given a chance to stretch its legs on the dyno, where it produced 435 horsepower and 485 lbs of torque at 6,000 rpm and is was good for an 11.99/117 mph quarter-mile blast.
Before moving into the interior, Gary spent his time making sure the Chevelle could get all the Chevy power to the asphalt. Looking for performance along with economy, Gary swapped in a Tremec TKO 600 5-speed stick rowed by a Tremec shifter and actuated by a Centerforce 11-inch dual friction clutch. Linking the tranny to the Moser rear is a Dynotech driveshaft that spins the 3.43 gears in the rear.
Next, Hal adjustable shocks made their way on all four corners, along with Air-Lift airbags, Dick Miller upper trailing arms, and Lakewood traction bars.
Knowing the car could handle both short trips down the dragstrip and longer jaunts on the highways near his Bryan, Ohio, home, Gary and the crew at D&B Corvette retained the stock black interior, with the only changes coming in the form of stereo department and the addition of a few Auto Meter gauges. The tunes come courtesy of a Kenwood KRC-3006 cassette/CD head unit and XM radio wired to an XSite 800 watt amplifier and Fusion 6 1/2-inch front and 6x9-inch rear speakers.
Since completion, Gary has driven the wheels off of his Chevelle, taking it all over. The Chevelle met all of the objectives Gary set out for it in the beginning, and it all started with his son and a plastic model.