Most never forget their first car. Although some may not have been the most exotic or the fastest, there will always be something about vehicle number one. You are unchained. It offers the freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want. Keith Wagner of Illinois is still the proud owner of his first car. Over the course of the last 24 years, this slick Chevelle has seen an evolution from mild grocery-getter to wild street/strip terror, and the changes keep coming.
In April of 1985, Keith was out scouring auctions and used car lots. After traveling hundreds of miles and searching everywhere, the quest came to an end when a '67 Chevelle appeared on the street two miles from his house with a "For Sale" sign on it. With 45,000 miles on the clock and a 283 under the hood, this granny-mobile was the perfect starter for Keith and the base for his life-long project.
Building and blowing up the 283 became common in those early days of ownership, and he took advantage of these opportunities to learn something new with each rebuild. The need for more power pushed Keith to build a bigger bullet, and a 350ci small-block was the next logical move.
"The 350 was going to be the race motor I was dreaming of," Keith explains. "Unfortunately it didn't like the runs at over 8,000 rpm that I enjoyed, and it soon went to the engine graveyard." The next step in the quest for more power found a 383 under the hood of the Chevelle. The addition of the stroker prompted Keith to upgrade the drivetrain in order to handle the newfound power. With a TH400 and a 12-bolt rearend under the car, the Chevelle lasted a season as a high 12-second street car.
As Keith's desire for more power grew, so did his need for more displacement, and the 383 soon gave way to a big-block. Three hundred and ninety-six inches of Chevy power soon took up residence in the engine bay of the Chevelle. Built to rev well above the 8,000 rpm zone, Keith backed the new heart and soul with an M-22 four-speed transmission, and blasted his way into the low 12s at the drag strip.
"I ran the car for a couple of years with that set-up," Keith tells us. "I was out with Ed Stoddard and we were talking about how to get fast revs and improve my car's performance." Sound familiar?
Soon after, the construction would start on a 427 with lightweight internals and a solid-roller drivetrain. The additions of a Tremec five-speed transmission and a 9-inch rear-end would also help Keith pilot his Chevelle well into the 11-second zone-a comfortable place for street and strip duty.
The next phase in the evolution of Keith's Chevelle found the A-body in Martin, Tennessee, for a full restoration. Steve Legend of Legend's Hot Rods, took 14 months to complete the overhaul of the Chevelle. "When the car returned, I raced it a few times, but it was done and I was bored," Keith adds.
It was his boredom that drove him to take the next leap in the name of extreme performance. A discussion with Stoddard and Jeff Schwartz sparked the need to build a street monster: A goal of 1,000 hp was set.