We recently had a chance to crawl all over a new ride to the Chevy High Performance stable, an LS-powered 1966 Chevelle SS clone, owned by our own associate publisher, John Barkley. The basics include a carbureted 6.0L LQ9 engine out of an 2005 Silverado, a TCI Automotive 4L60E Street Fighter transmission, and a 12-bolt rear with 3.55:1 gears and a Posi unit—a combination that we felt was a great build for an attainable, modern-day muscle car. Even in this initial form, which still sports stock brakes and suspension, the snappy, button-shifted overdrive trans (trans can be fully automatic or manual button shifted at the flip of a switch) combined with the power of the LS makes driving the car a tire-barking fun time. If we didn't know any better, we'd think a carbureted big-block was lurking underhood, but that's only half-right. "The engine throws people off at car shows," Barkley says, about his late-model bullet. "Some stare for a while before asking, ‘Which engine is that?' Or, ‘When did Chevy release a big-block with coil-on-plug ignition?'" The Chevy Orange paint, individual header primaries, combined with the Z28 dual snorkel air cleaner, and separated runners of the intake manifold makes the engine look like some exotic GM secret engine from the 1960s, but in fact, it's a just a common truck engine from this decade with some carefully selected performance parts that makes this piece stray from your typical GM powerplant.
Over the past year, we watched a very simple setup come together, consisting of parts from companies like Holley, TCI Automotive, MSD, Aeromotive, Edelbrock and a handful of others that we felt made up an effective formula for any tire-smoker. While the '66 is not destined for any type of motorsport in particular, it's just a cool old car with an interesting engine and some features that made even a short cruise around the block a fun time. "The goal of the project is to be a comfortable driver that can be drag raced and taken to the autocross, but it will also be a compromise among all three," Barkley says. While we do have plans to take the Chevelle to the next level with some chassis parts from Detroit Speed Engineering, some more aggressive Cragar 18-inch wheels and stickier tires, and a Strange S60 rearend, until then we're enjoying tooling around in a Chevy that feels both nostalgic and modern, simultaneously.
The Regal Red SS clone was purchased with a very tired 396 with a greasy M21 four-speed behind it, but that combo didn’t last long.
At the Source Interlink Tech Center in Irvine, California, our Tech Center manager, Jason Scudellari, began transforming the ‘66 into a highly functional muscle car with one of GM’s most venerable V-8 engines: the LQ9.
THE ENGINE AND COOLING SYSTEM
The LQ9 engine could be found in the 2002-06 Cadillac Escalade EXT and ESV, ’03-07 Chevy Silverado, SS, and a couple different optioned GMC Sierra trucks. It displaces 6.0 liters with about 10.4:1 compression. The compression ratio combined with the GM’s better cathedral-port castings, and over 360 ci, makes this a great platform for making streetable power. This particular engine made about 495 hp on the engine dyno with just an different cam (COMP Cams hydraulic roller with 228/230 at 0.050).
To help mask the engine’s origin, the 6.0-liter was fogged in the classic Chevy Orange paint from Summit Racing (PN SP-1005), including the Edelbrock intake manifold (PN 71187).
Instead of the typical composite intake and forward facing throttle body, we opted for the non-EGR Performer RPM intake so we could run a carburetor for simplicity, but we do have plans to go with a new self-learning EFI setup eventually.
The LS was fitted in the A-body frame using Energy Suspension’s conventional SBC engine mounts (PN 3-1114G). The Doug’s Headers adapter plates bolt to the LS engine and allow for a standard Energy Suspension motor mounts to be used.
We had to install an extra plate to raise the motor in order for the Holley pan to clear the crossmember. The plates can also be used to move the engine closer to the firewall with some slight modification, too.
Before bolting up the TCI Automotive trans to the motor, Scudellari made sure to install the correct TCI early trans flexplate and spacer to bolt TCI Automotive’s 10-inch converter to the flexplate. Without this piece, the hub on the back of the converter wouldn’t fit into the back LS crank correctly, and in turn, the front pump would not engage properly. For those who are wondering what’s with the special adapter, we actually ordered our 4L60E transmission with an early bolt pattern case so we have other engine options, otherwise this is a very common LQ9/4L60E combo that bolts together.
AFCO’s dual-core aluminum bolt-in radiator and dual fan kit was used for the main cooling components in this build.
Earl’s Plumbing supplied the transmission and engine oil coolers for this project and we were able to install them behind the factory slots in the bumper for directed airflow.
The black coating isn’t just aesthetically appealing, it also helps dissipate heat.