I am a longtime reader and subscriber to Chevy High Performance and a lifelong gearhead. Your magazine is great! I thought I would tell a story that spans a few years. I was a teenager through the muscle car era of the 1960s and early '70s, and I used to drool over the SS Chevelles, Z/28 Camaros, SS Novas, and all the BOP go-fast cars. My first car was a '65 Mustang convertible (yes, a dreaded Blue Oval, but it was cheap back then).
Fast-forward 20 years: second marriage and a new family. I was looking for the ultimate family vehicle and decided on a Suburban. I found a well-used, well-laid-out '78 that had a broken 454 but was otherwise in good shape. Towed it to a friend's house since I had no place else to work on it at the time. Tore out the engine to discover a broken lifter bore. So began the search for another block. After several weeks of searching I found a guy at a swap meet who had several and went to his home to buy the one I had picked out, but he had sold it and just happened to have a 0.060-over 454 two-bolt block with a set of 11:1 forged pistons. Hmm, I thought, this could be a good thing. I bought it for $250.
From there I bought a hydraulic cam and lifters from Summit and freshened up the bottom end. Otherwise no other go-fast parts were installed with the exception for a dual 21/2-inch exhaust. After all, it was meant to be a family hauler. The Suburban had the trailer towing package, which meant a 3.42 posi among other things. Long story short, the thing was strong and pretty quick, so of course I had to take it to the track. My friend's son, Freddy, was 16 at the time and was helping me turn some bolts on the project so he and his dad came to the track with me. Freddy had a '78 Camaro with a 400ci small-block, and we took that too. The Camaro couldn't hook up with the 3.08 open rearend and was still able to run in the mid 15s, and the Suburban ran a best of 14.9 at about 94 mph on street tires and full exhaust-not bad for the behemoth it was.
Freddy, a smooth talker, convinced me to put the 454 in his Camaro. We knew the 3.08 was a no-go, so we came up with a 12-bolt 3.42 with a posi out of a pickup truck. We also installed a set of headers. Beyond that, we left the engine the way I had it with a stock torque converter and the Turbo 350 that was in the Camaro, along with 10.5-inch slicks. It was running in the low 14s. As you know, one thing leads to another. Next we put in a higher stall converter, which helped but not enough. Then it was a bigger hydraulic cam with a high-rise intake and a 780-cfm Holley. This was better, into the mid 13s, but still not enough. Next was a pair of 96cc iron heads fitted with 2.19s and 1.88s and a bigger solid lifter cam with a 3,500-stall converter, and we upgraded the tranny to a Turbo 400 (we toasted the 350). Now we were in the low 12s around 115 mph. Yet, again, it still wasn't enough. In the meantime Freddy had found himself a girl and was finding less and less time to spend on the car, but we managed to get a 4.10 gear in it. Unfortunately, the last time we took it to the track the governor went out on the 400 so we didn't get in a full pass, but it was a rocket off the line! Eventually Ibought Freddy's share of the car.
My son and I are tinkering with the car now. We detuned it a little for some cruising. Now it has a nice lopey hydraulic cam, stock open-chamber heads, and an Edlebrock dual quad setup and is a ton of fun. We will get it back to the track one day. I guess if you had to classify the car it would be a rat rod. The body is a little rough and is primer gray at the moment, but that will change. Interestingly, while some of the parts were new, most are used GM parts, so this ongoing project hasn't cost all that much and we have many fond memories, with more great memories to come.