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'66 Chevelle - The Bruiser

It took a whole village to build John Martell's Pro Street '66 Chevelle.

Apr 26, 2011
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John Martell, a landscaper from Phoenix, just finished the latest on his "Chevelles I have owned" list. This bruiser of a '66 is added to a list that includes a '64, '65, and a '72. With owning that many A-bodies, you tend to make each one a bit better than the last. That is exactly the case with this '66. Over the three-year buildup, John combined his past experiences, knowledge, money, and help from friends and family to get it finished.

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The Bruiser's story starts with John searching on Craigslist when he ran across a listing for a Pro Street '66 Chevelle basket case. After contacting the owner, John plopped down some money and took the unfinished project off the guy's hands. It took a trailer and three pickup beds full of parts and pieces to get it home. Even though the car was in a million pieces, all those pieces were ready to go, the sheetmetal was painted, the tube frame was ready, and there was even a 283 all set for action.

Like a kid on Christmas morning, John wasted no time starting to assemble what he called "the ultimate puzzle." The only issue John had with the whole deal was the engine: He thought a car that looked like this should have a big-block under the hood.

Unfortunately, while deep into the build, Kathy, John's wife, had some health issues. That slowed the progress, but didn't stop it. John and his kids used the car as a mental getaway for the hard times. Kathy's health improved and construction was put back on full blast. John and his team of family and friends finished assembling all the stuff John got with the car.

The Competition Chassis was built up to a roller using a Mustang II front with tubular arms, with Alden coilovers and 4-piston Aerospace brakes. Out back, a custom ladder bar set up was used to hang the fabricated 9-inch that has 4.56 gears and a spool. Another set of Alden coilovers and Aerospace brakes were also fitted out back. To complete the rolling chassis, a set of Billet Specialties Street Lite wheels, 15x5.5 up front and 15x15 in the rear, was wrapped in P165/80R15 Kumho and big sticky Hoosier QTP 33x22.5-15 tires.

The interior is pretty sparse with just a slew of Auto Meter gauges, an Auto Rod Controls 8000 switch panel, some race buckets, a B&M shifter surrounded by aluminum panels and roll cage bars.

With the chassis and interior out of the way, John focused back on the powerplant. He ditched the 283 and had Mike Scott assemble something more fitting. The heart of John's Bruiser is now a 598 Merlin big-block. The fat rat is stuffed full of performance goodies like an Eagle crank, JE pistons (10.5:1), and a Comp Cams .748in/.714ex lift, 276in./284ex. duration cam with +0.300 diameter lifters. The short-block is finished on the bottom with a Moroso oil pump and Milodon 8-quart oil pan, while the top is capped with Brodix BB2 xtra aluminum heads, Dart intake manifold, Demon 1350cfm 4500 style carb, and a K&N air cleaner. REF Custom step headers evacuate the spent gasses, an MSD 6AL crank trigger ignition system provides the spark, Polished Moroso valve covers add some shine, and a Ron Davis aluminum radiator with a dual fan set up keeps it all cool. The engine is backed by a Hughes TH400 transmission with 5,200 stall converter and a reverse valve body.

Even though the car was already wearing the white and black paintjob (John later found out Dan Chester sprayed the car for the previous owner), the new engine just wouldn't fit under the cowl hood. So John and Byron White of Byron's Garage added a snorkel to the Harwood glass hood. Says the owner, "This hood took Byron and myself five weeks to cut, trim, and add on the scoop. Most of the time was spent finishing off the bottom so it was as nice as the top before Byron sprayed some matching paint."

Now that the car was done, John took it out for a few shake down runs before heading to the track to see what it would do. The engine propelled the car to 10-flat in the quarter. With only about 300 miles on the motor John took it to the Pinks race at Firebird raceway to see if he could go faster than this Sad to say, at the big end on his very first test pass, the motor spit out a rod and even snapped the cam in half. While that carnage did end John's dreams of winning Pinks that weekend, it didn't kill his aspirations and drive. John is already building a bigger 632ci powerplant that will have 14.1 compression and live on a diet of race fuel.

This is so much more that just a car to John and his friends and family; it's a good memory machine. Speaking of friends John wanted us to specifically thank everyone who helped build his bruiser and here they are in no particular order: his kids Joshua, Haylie and Matthew, his buddy Fred who wired the car, Dan who did the body and paint, Bryan who did the hood, and Robert and Todd who were always there to lend a hand.



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