Time marches on, but we all remember what really grabbed us when we first fell for that classic piece of Chevy muscle. It may have been a sleek bodyline, or maybe a just-right street-machine stance. It may have been a bellowing set of pipes, or it may have been a making-the-scene cruise around the block. These things we hold on to. But how many of us recall the things we didn't like about that fondly remembered Bow Tie? Gil Dickason does, though no bone of contention would keep him from creating the '66 Chevelle SS he'd dreamed about for decades. Gil simply exercised one of the hot-rodder's most sacrosanct rights: If you don't like it, change it!
Remember the cool older kid in the neighborhood, the one we all wanted to be like? In Gil's neck of the woods, that kid drove a '66 Chevelle SS. "It was just bad," he recalls. "I liked the bodylines. There was just something about it. And the fact that he always had the hot women on his arm didn't hurt, either." Now that's what we called peer pressure! But while Gil found the shape and structure of the second-gen A-body a delight to behold, he didn't develop the same fondness for the car's interior, especially that V-shaped stock dash.
While the question of dash aesthetics didn't stop our man from finally getting a '66 SS of his own, it seems that life's other circumstances always went against him. Mr. and Mrs. Dickason wouldn't go for it, equipping their son with a '72 Honda 600 instead. Money saved for a Chevelle was put toward getting married, then a family...we all know the drill. He got close in 2002, agreeing to buy an already-complete '66 'Velle. Marriage again intervened, though this time it was the seller's distaff half that put the kibosh on the deal.
More than a bit frustrated, Gil changed course. Rather than going for a finished car, he went the eBay route and found an ideal starting point for his own build. The "good but not great" '66 SS had some minor rust issues, the interior needed help, and the previous owner had performed jigsaw surgery on the hood, but all the essentials were in place. Gil wanted to do something first class, and his quest for a hot rod craftsman led him to Southern California's High Desert, where he hooked up with Mike Cinqmars of Mike's Street Rods.
Mike's outfit came real close to providing Gil with one-stop shopping. Mike did all the metal work on the SS, going the extra mile by custom-bending the brake lines and exhaust and creating a one-off trunk-stowed fuel cell. Mike also crafted the one-of-kind dash from 16-gauge steel, giving Gil the basis for the radically different interior look he was seeking. And if that isn't enough, Mike sprayed the car too.
While the paint gun was active, Mike and Gil collaborated on a side project, indulging Gil's desire to have as much color in the engine bay as possible, painting the slick Ram Jet 502 intake and block with the same House of Kolor hue found on the Chevelle's flanks. It could have been the SS' original 396 that got painted, but internal politics once again changed the course. Maintaining domestic bliss meant making sure Gil's wife Susie could take the wheel-out with the four-speed, in with the automatic.
Not that updating the powertrain was a compromise; the agenda also lent itself to Gil's plans to drive his long-sought SS on the 2006 Power Tour. 'Cause whatever else he's created, this two-year-long project turned out driving like a new car. "It's tight," a satisfied Gil declares. "It feels good, it's solid. It's got a great ride." In all ways, even working from the inside out, he's got the car he's wanted for so long, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Gil went for power and reliability under the hood, installing a color-matched GMPP Ram Jet 502. A full array of Street & Performance accessories, including a serpentine belt system and valve covers, further the dress-up effort. While the Ram Jet intake end came with the motor, Gil and Mike went for an exhaust smorgasbord at the other end: Sanderson headers, Doug Thorley electronic cutouts, custom-bent pipes, and MNM Design mufflers. Cooling duties are handled by a Desert Cooler radiator and Scotts fans. This big engine is backed by a big transmission, namely a 4L80E built by Bow Tie Overdrives (Hesperia, California). The plus-size automatic sports a shortened Gennie shifter run by a Compushift controller, and shoots those 502 hp and 565 lb-ft of grunt back to this Chevelle's original (rebuilt) 10-bolt rear, which now spins an overdrive-friendly 3.55:1 ring-and-pinion.
Mike Cinqmars of Mike's Street Rods in Apple Valley, California, created an all-new steel dash panel for this SS, and outfitted it with Classic Instruments Vintage Series gauges residing in a Stanton billet insert. Victorville, California's Luis Valenzuela rebuilt the Chevelle's stock seats and covered them in gray hide, continuing his leather artistry across the dash and onto custom door panels. The ididit tilt column is topped by a Budnik steering wheel, and the pedals are by Lokar. Power windows and a Pioneer stereo round out the package, all tied together by a custom wiring harness.
Most of this A-bod's metal was in good shape when it reached Mike's Street Rods, but the Montana weather had had its way with the trunk floor and the floorboards. Mike also smoothed the firewall before spraying on the vibrant House of Kolor Cobalt Blue.
Wheels, Tires, Brakes
This thing will stop on demand with a Baer Serious Street brake system. Budnik Fontana 18x18-inch hoops score style points and permit Gil to use serious rubber, BF Goodrich g-Force T/A radials, 225/402R18 and 245/402R18.
The frame was soda-blasted clean, smoothed, and beautified by V&L Powder-coating in Apple Valley, California. Poly-urethane bushings were installed as the original control arms and swaybars were reattached to the fame; new springs created a 2-inch drop out back and a111/42-inch dip up front. Monroe shocks handle damping duties, while a fast-ratio power box from True Connections ensures turning prowess. While he was at it, Mike ditched the factory gas tank, installing a custom-built fuel cell instead.