This car will send the tea-and-crumpet restoration set into a spastic tizzy. A car so powerful, scary fast, and just plain badass, that it redefines the term "intimidation." A car whose mission is not only to tear up the dragstrip, but also to dominate car shows and then cruise carefree into the balmy Ohio night.
"When I was growing up, I loved to draw the Corvette body, but I never thought I'd be able to afford one," says Westlake, Ohio, engine builder Gary Box. "Even after buying and building more than 40 cars over the years, I still wanted a Corvette. So, just when I had finished putting together a 7-second '34 Ford coupe, someone made an offer on it too good to refuse. It gave me the money to buy the Corvette of my dreams."
Gary's dream Corvette is a far more complicated beast than you might first imagine. Not content with building just another back-halved door-slammer for the strip, Gary envisioned a beast capable of knocking down 7-second quarter-mile blasts while remaining completely streetable. In the case of most really quick cars, the word "streetable" is ambiguous at best. But in the case of Gary's '65, the term "street car" really does apply.
After two agonizing years of searching for the right candidate, Box came upon just what he was looking for: a '65 396/425 coupe. Who in their right mind would carve up an original big-block midyear to build the sort of monster shown here? Gary Box would. "This car was in sad, sad shape when I got it," he recalls. So rather than set out on a quest for correct date-code blinker fluid, Gary got busy building the car he had wanted for so long. He immediately disassembled the car, selling off most of its components as he went. In fact, only the original body, doors, and glass remain.
Gary knew from the get-go that this car was going to have the kind of prodigious power that would completely overwhelm the capabilities of even an extensively fortified stock chassis, so he contacted noted Cleveland chassis builder Gary Reese. Almost without exception, cars set up to hustle the 1,320 (particularly those that do it in less than eight seconds) make crappy street cruisers. Gary told Reese of his requirements, and Reese responded with a stock-wheelbase tube chassis certified to run down to 7.50, yet be comfortable enough for a couple of hours behind the wheel. The suspension was completed with Strange Engineering struts and a four-link rear with Koni coilovers. In a nod toward improving driver comfort, Reese fabricated the firewall some 12 inches forward of its original position, into the engine compartment, giving Gary and his 6-foot, 3-inch frame some room to stretch out.
Once chassis construction was underway, Gary got busy collecting the very finest engine components money could buy. He selected a cast-iron Dart Sportsman block, which was bored and honed to 4.600 inches. The block was also decked and align-honed to ensure perfect, bind-free rotation of the reciprocating assembly. A Crower 3.75-inch stroke, 4340 steel non-twist crankshaft was then laid in place. It was adorned with Crower 6.650-inch forged-steel rods and Wiseco 7.7:1 forged blower pistons. The Crower solid roller camshaft boasts 294/306 degrees of duration at 0.050 inch and 0.729/0.722 inch of lift. Sealing up the bottom end is a traditional wet-sump Milodon pan with a Titan oil pump.
Knowing that cylinder heads can make or break any engine combination, Gary selected a pair of Dart PRO 1 aluminum heads. The intake ports were opened to a cavernous 362 cc's, up from 355 as delivered. Gary performed one of his proprietary valve jobs and fitted the heads with REV 2.30-/1.90-inch stainless valves. "I can't over-emphasize the importance of a good valve job, especially the exhaust side on a blown application," he says. He crowned the heads with Crower 1.7-ratio roller rockers.
Wanting to make the kind of statement that can only be accomplished with a massive supercharger, Gary chose an 8-71 huffer from Littlefield. The blower is overdriven 21 percent and delivers 22 pounds of boost by the time 5,500 rpm comes around. Eschewing modern EFI, Gary opted for mechanical fuel injection, employing a Hilborn injector body and its obligatory bug catcher.
"It took me a long time to get the injector set up just right," he says. "Mechanical injection works great and is easy to tune with alcohol, but with gasoline, it's another story. It's a delicate balance to keep it from loading up at low rpm but still make good power without leaning out. When it's right, it makes a very driveable combination with loads of power and crisp throttle response."
An MSD billet magnetic distributor, an MSD 7-AL ignition box, and a set of Mallory Pro wires handle the spark that lights off the mix. Gary custom-built the 231/48-inch long-tube headers and equipped them with 5-inch collectors. These are mated to a 4-inch side-exit exhaust system with Borla mufflers.
Gary selected a Dedenbear case for his Powerglide and installed eight clutches, a TCI hardened 1.76-ratio low gearset, and a transbrake for frighteningly hard launches. To this he added a Hughes 10-inch torque converter that delivers 3,800 rpm of stall speed. At the strip, Gary says he usually reaches for the Hurst Quarterstick and high gear just before 6,500 rpm. The Dana 60 third member is stuffed full of more Strange stuff, including 3.70 gears on a spool and 35-spline axles.
The original body required surprisingly little modification, in light of the exotica hidden beneath. To a flat fiberglass hood was added a 2-inch cowl-induction scoop, most of which was then cut away in order to clear the towering blown big-block. A 12-inch aluminum rear wing was fabricated to add stability during quarter-mile passes. Gary and his pal Deano Bevelacqua completed all paint and bodywork with some help from son Gary's son Cory.
Turning his attention indoors, Gary opted for safety and durability over weight savings by constructing the car's floorboards from 0.060-inch steel, rather than aluminum. The driver-side floorpan was extended into the engine compartment, adding legroom and comfort for long hours of cruising. Driver and passenger accommodations consist of vinyl-clad fabricated aluminum race seats with five-point harnesses. Gary keeps tabs on the revs and velocity with a 5-inch tach and speedo combination that he views through a classic Corvette-style three-spoke steering wheel. The fiberglass dash contains a quartet of Auto Meter Phantom gauges, stacked Grand Sport-style in place of the superfluous factory radio. In order to give the remainder of the interior a finished appearance, Gary constructed lightweight kick plates and rear-compartment panels and upholstered them in GM-issue black carpet.
From the very beginning, the plan was to have more than a race car with a token license plate, so Gary built this car to be driven, and driven often. "I built the car to maintain a stock appearance with tons of drag strip potential." Yeah, we know, calling this car "stock appearing" is akin to calling Michael Jackson original and unmodified. Nevertheless, Gary is proud of the efforts made to maintain stock features such as turn signals, horn, and even a high-beam indicator. In fact, the conservative gearset and tall tires allow the car to lope down the highway at 70 mph and only about 3,000 rpm. Gary tells us he manages to knock down a respectable (for 1,000-plus horsepower) 12 miles to the gallon.
OK, so it goes down the road just fine, but what's it like at the track? In a word, it's a handful. "The first time out at the dragstrip, the car went an unbelievable 8.40 and scared the pants off me. You have to understand that I had previously made passes in the upper 6s in my long-wheelbase dragster, but shooting down the quarter-mile in a 98-inch-wheelbase door-slammer is a harrowing experience. It's like driving a Chevette or a Vega in the eights. You really have to 'drive' the car, and it's still a handful to this day."
The list of accolades bestowed on the '65-both on and off the track-is long and distinguished. Gary nailed down the win at the '01 Ohio Fastest Street Car Shootout with an 8.07 at 171 mph. "After the run, the car was inspected by an Ohio State Trooper to [verify it was] street legal, and we had to participate in a half-hour cruise. Since I do this all the time anyway, and because I have a 16-gallon fuel tank, it was no problem at all." The car has also been awarded Judge's Choice at the Mid America Motorworks Funfest, Best Engineered Car, Outstanding Pro-Street, and Best Pro-Street at ISCA's Cleveland Autorama.
Gary tells us his son Cory has now taken up musclecar artistry, just like the old man did at his age. "He's grown up at the track and in the garage with a wrench in his hand, and he loves this car just as much as I do." Careful, Gary, you may just have another monster on your hands.