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1965 El Camino - Born With It

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By Tommy Lee Byrd, Photography by Tommy Lee Byrd

Without a doubt, the term "street car" sparks discussions and arguments all around the country, especially with the folks on Internet forums, who are known for bickering. Everyone has a different definition for "street car," from one extreme to the other, so we weren't sure what to call this El Camino when we saw it run at I-40 Dragway, an eighth-mile drag strip located in Crossville, Tennessee. The car ran strong, and sounded good, but it rolled on street tires and had mufflers, so it got our attention.

After an inspection, we were surprised to find a full interior and all steel body panels, aside from the hood. Though we were still skeptical on this car's streetability while at the track, David Kaveshan sealed the deal when he actually drove the car to the photo shoot location. It runs on pump gas, it doesn't overheat, and it's totally legal from front to back.

When we asked David how he became interested in hot rods, he replied, "Born with it," and that summed it up quite nicely. He's a low-key guy with tons of respect for his fellow Chevy nuts, and he turned every bolt on this wicked El Camino. He did receive help from friends Roger Puckett, Steve Morris and Michael Collier throughout the build, and he had plenty of support from his wife, Crystal, as she is quite the hot rodder, too.

David built the '65 El Camino to be legal in the Real Street class, but he didn't want to get wrapped up in the full-time racer life style. He didn't build a car to win races, but he did build it to have fun, whether he's blasting down the drag strip or cruising around his hometown in Tennessee. Either way, the El Camino makes a striking statement with its exhaust note and looks good, too. David traded with his brother and ended up with this Chevy in October 1985, and it served as a very active daily driver for the first 15 years. It made several cross-country trips and it even delivered David to his high school Senior Prom.

In a previous life, the El Camino was bracket raced in Nebraska, and it still wears NHRA decals on the wing windows from that era. Since then, it's been raced in bracket classes, heads up classes and it's seen a few street races, too. David admits his street racing days are long gone, but he still loves the trill of speed--only in a safe and legal fashion.

Though David got plenty of use out of his El Camino, he wanted a weekend toy, so he disassembled it and started planning out the build. He began by notching the rear frame rails and gathering parts to make this Chevy hook. He retained the stock suspension setup, but upgraded with QA1 double adjustable shocks, Wolfe Racecraft adjustable trailing arms and a bullet proof 12-bolt rear end from Moser. Fit with 3.73 gears and a spool, the rear end is the original width, and Wilwood discs cap off the ends. Weld Draglite wheels roll on all four corners--the front runners measuring 15x3-1/2 inches, while the rears come in at 15x10 inches. Mickey Thompson street radials serve David well, whether he's at the track or on the highway, so he keeps them mounted up at all times.

Up front, the suspension is simple, as it features Moroso springs, QA1 shocks and another pair of Wilwood binders, while the control arms and steering system is stock. Just above the stock crossmember is a custom motor plate, built by Rogers Speed & Custom of Irvine, Kentucky. Bolted to it is a big block built by Steve Morris of New Era Racecraft in Muskegon, Michigan. It boasts 540ci, thanks to a Dart block, fit with an Eagle crank and connecting rods, which send the JE dished pistons into motion. All this results in an 8.0:1 compression ratio, which is perfect for a power adder. Kaveshan's choice of induction consists of a Procharger F2 blower, which sends massive amounts of air into the C.S.U. prepared 850cfm carburetor.

From there, it's all about airflow, as the fuel mixture travels through a Dart single plane intake manifold, before entering the Dart 355 CNC cylinder heads. A Comp Cams solid roller moves the enormous valves, while the MSD ignition system lights the fire before the spent gasses are sent through a pair of Lemons headers and Borla XR-1 mufflers. With a steady supply of 93-octane from the Magnafuel Pro500 fuel pump, the big block puts out 1,200hp and 1,050 lb-ft. of torque on a modest tune.

With all this power in a heavyweight car, a strong transmission was at the top of David's to-do list, so he went with a trusty Powerglide automatic. Built by Keith Neal Racing Transmissions in Sneedville, Georgia, the two-speed uses a Neal Chance torque converter, which has a stall speed of 4,500rpm, according to Kaveshan. A Hurst Quarter Stick pokes through the floor pan and into the cockpit, which offers a clean and simple surrounding for David, and his wife.

The interior features a chrome moly roll cage, built by Roger's Speed & Custom, but it's easy to navigate, unlike others we've seen. Two Kirkey seats are fit with Simpson five-point harnesses, while a Billet Specialties steering wheel helps David increase his upper body strength, thanks to the manual steering box. And while the dash looks stock, it's actually been completely revamped by Redline Gauge Works. These cars never had an in-dash tachometer, or a speedometer that registers 160mph, but the crew at Redline made it look like a factory piece. A collection of Auto Meter gauges reside beneath the six-inch cowl induction scoop on the Glasstek fiberglass hood, and an American Autowire harness sends juice to all the accessories.

The El Camino's exterior is unlike most of its drag racing counterparts, as it isn't littered with decals or fit with race-weight fiberglass components. Classic Restorations in Knoxville, Tennessee took the Chevy down to the bare metal and went back with a few coats of urethane primer to seal it off from the elements. Then, it was time for lots of blocking, and several coats of Mineral Gray base coat. This was followed with clear, and the Classic Restorations crew color sanded and buffed the fresh finish to perfection. When the car was reassembled, David wanted to see what his efforts had created, in terms of performance. After a season of casual racing at I-40 Dragway's Bounty Race, David ran a best of 5.69 at 126mph in the eighth-mile and took the win in the Real Street class in the final event of 2008. Keep in mind this car weighs 3,720 pounds and it's an honest street car, running on pump gas! The 1,200 horsepower definitely helps get you down the track.

David's happy with his El Camino and we can't blame him, as it's a unique machine that exemplifies a real-world street/strip car. And since he keeps the boost pressures and timing at moderate levels, David plans to save parts, rather than push his Procharged big block to the limit. He would no doubt run deeper into the 5-second range, but we think he's having way too much fun to take that chance.

By Tommy Lee Byrd
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