The stats don’t lie: 13.4:1 compression, 18-degree heads, an .806-lift cam, and a Dominator plopped on top. With serious hardware like that—good for 648 rwhp and 9.56 e.t.’s at 140 mph on motor—how could John Wilson’s 1967 Chevelle be anything but a full-tilt race car? It’s quite simple, really. Assessing this crimson hellion requires throwing all stats out the window. Numbers can’t describe how smoothly it idles, how obediently it heeds to throttle inputs, how deftly it attenuates the thunderous remnants of cylinder pressure after they exit the exhaust ports. Although anything that emits the sweet aroma of race fuel will never pass for a street car, this Chevelle comes pretty close.
First off, let’s make clear the context in which “streetabilty” is used. Any car that can damn near pull the front tires on the street and keep on chugging to 8,000 rpm is by no means tame. However, relative to machines that make far more concessions to achieve far slower speeds, this Chevelle is downright civilized. Not only is there a full interior, the seats are of the cushy, comfy variety opposed to the unyielding, utilitarian aluminum units found on most bracket cars. At 3,600 pounds in race trim, it hasn’t been molested and defiled in the name of speed. Likewise, the modestly sized 10.5-inch slicks out back belie a chassis capable of formidable 1.32-second 60-foot times, and further enhance its street credentials.
Getting so much weight down the track in such little time is one of the baddest small-blocks you’ll ever encounter. The Dart-block-based 427 features a Lunati steel crank and billet rods along with Ross pistons, but that’s not the impressive part. At the core of belching out 800 hp in naturally aspirated trim are Brodix 18-degree heads with massive 2.18/1.625-inch valves massaged to 372/248 cfm. Making sure the rest of the induction package can keep pace is an Edelbrock Victor Glidden single-plane intake, and a Braswell-modified Holley Dominator carb. The Camshaft Innovations 267/282-at-0.050 solid roller is an interesting piece that seems better fit on a nitrous motor, but the thing flat out works. It packs .806/.792-inch lift and peaks at 7,600 rpm, factors which necessitate a staggering 800 lb-in of spring pressure.
The 427’s ability to idle like a 350 with 50-degrees less duration is probably attributable to the cam’s moderate intake duration and relatively wide 110-degree lobe-separation angle. Its crisp throttle response and docile street manners, on the other hand, is the product of high-dollar carburetor that does things that a Dominator just shouldn’t be able to do. It cruises and accelerates without a hint of surging or gurgling, and doesn’t hesitate or bog when the secondaries kick in. Granted $1,400 is a lot of cash to spend on a carburetor, the dividends this Braswell-modified unit yields, especially on a Dominator, is priceless, and makes you wonder why anyone would even bother with EFI on a hot rod. “Everyone thinks you can’t run a Dominator on the street, but my car drives just as well, if not better, than when it has a 4150-style carb and makes a lot more power in the process,” explains John. “I’ve gotten so sick and tired of trying to convince people of that on message boards that I’ve just given up. Too bad they don’t know what they’re missing out on.”
Interestingly, while most racers would probably opt for a Powerglide or a TH400 behind a motor of this caliber, John went with a TH350 instead. Despite its reputation as a lower hp capacity tranny than its more-popular brethren, the Coan-fortified unit features billet internals that significantly enhance durability in addition to reducing parasitic losses. Furthermore, a custom 2.34:1 First and 1.41:1 Second gear complement the high-winding mill, as does an ATI 5,500-stall converter. It’s all coupled through a Denny’s 3.5-inch driveshaft, which feeds a Moser 12-bolt rearend with 33-spline axles, 4.56:1 gears, and a spool.
Superb street manners aside, the Chevelle’s true domain is the drag strip, where it routinely mesmerizes witnesses by showcasing the astonishing potential of modern small-blocks. “I’ve thought so much about building a big-block that I have already made a list of all the part numbers I’ll need,” John confesses. “However, I keep coming back to the satisfaction I get from running so quick with a small-block. It’s a great feeling when folks walk up after a pass expecting to see a Rat motor only to find a small-block. It’s even better when I tell them that there’s no nitrous either.” John expects to knock off another tenth or two once the summer heat subsides. If he does decide to forgo building a big-block, he plans on hitting the 427 with some spray and shooting for 8s.
Although it elicits admiration and affords profuse bragging rights, running naturally aspirated is seldom the cheapest way to play. As such, the Chevelle has tallied up a bill of roughly $40,000 during the 11 years John has owned it. However, John is anything but a checkbook racer. Through the course of his ownership, he’s restored the car from a $2,700 heap to a near show-quality machine. He also has a couple of engine builds under his belt that performed quite admirably at the track, including a 355 that propelled the Chevelle to 11.80s and a 422 that was good for 10.0s.
Ultimately, the Chevelle’s multi-faceted talents are what make it so difficult to classify. It’s a car to which traditional labels don’t apply, a car that forces introspection on how we all judge cars. When it comes down to it, the gutted, fat-tire’d, bracket cars out there that will barely run 11s are too numerous to count. And despite its non-pump-gas-compliant compression, John Wilson’s Chevelle makes them all look stupid, so which would you rather own?