Let's face it, as cars come and go throughout our lives, they almost become a part of us-try and recall any memory, and undoubtedly an image of a gasoline-powered vehicle will accompany that mental picture. For example, when I see a picture of a 1984 Camaro, I instantly think of my high school days, all the way down to the way the car smelled as I did doughnuts in the parking lot after school.
Keith Heilig of North Carolina certainly remembers his '71 SS454 Chevelle. The car was a complete pro-street machine, and was cherished by Heilig, who completed most of the work himself. After an accident left the car KIA, he knew he had to build another hot rod, one that could help replace the memory of the '71.
What Heilig came up with appears to trump (at least in our eyes) any previous incarnation of Chevelle he owned. This car is a 1969 Chevelle, an original 396-powered car. Here's where it gets good: There used to be a day and age where you could get a car like this on the relatively cheap side. This was before people in the middle tax brackets had even heard of automotive auctions, before the musclecar movement exploded. To wit: Heilig bought this car way back in the ancient year of 1995, for, hold your breath, the staggering amount of $1,800. That's one, eight, zero, zero. Good luck finding an example like this for less than $20,000 in today's market.
However, the car had been sitting in the same spot since 1978, and had been housing, among other things, a group of chickens that enjoyed spending time on the Bow Tie upholstery. Even after being exposed to the elements for years, the car was in relatively good shape. Heilig replaced the window channels, both rear quarter-panels, the driver door, and both front fenders with all GM units (it just so happens that Heilig is Assistant Parts Manager at Team Chevrolet in Salisbury, North Carolina). Keith then drove the car around in that condition, to "feel out" the Chevelle, and decide exactly what route he wanted to take in the rest of the build.
Over the following five years, Heilig turned this car into another Pro Street machine, a magnificent tribute to his former Chevelle. The motor is a 2000 502 Rat, with GM Performance Parts Signature Series aluminum heads, running at 11:1 compression with JE pistons, ARP studs, and Manley rods. Twin Holley four-barrel carbs ride atop an awesome Offenhauser low-rise intake-a very uncommon, but definitely functional manifold. On the exhaust side of things, Hooker Super Comp headers push the bad air back through a custom Muffler Masters exhaust, with 3-inch aluminized pipes and Dynomax Ultra Flow mufflers. The combination makes an earth-shaking 706 hp at 6000 rpm, and a terrifying 714 lb-ft at the same tachometer reading. That's a lot of power, to say the least.
The entire suspension has been reworked, with poly bushings replacing the tired old OEM pieces. The front has remained mostly stock, with addition of Lakewood shocks, and rolls on American Racing CL205 15x4 wheels, and Hoosier rubber. The back-halved rear is an amalgam of Pro Street suspension pieces, with a custom four-link setup, Chassis Engineering square four-link framerails, and fully adjustable Aldan Eagle coilover shocks. The tubs enable the massive Hoosier-shod American Racing CL205s at the rear to bite off the line.
The interior is full of OEM replacement black, with the addition of some Auto Meter Ultra-Lite gauges to help keep an eye on the vitals of the Chevelle, and a beautiful rollcage that is painted to match the exterior Olympic Gold color scheme.
Although the car is complete, according to Keith, he often gets asked what else is going into the car. "I mean, it's done," Heilig said. "The only thing I might have changed with the build is adding an 8-71 supercharger."
With 700 hp to the wheels, adding a supercharger to this pristine Chevelle might just put Heilig into the realm of the FAA, having to add airplane-like call sign numbers to the doors, and request permission for takeoff every time he takes the car out on the street.