When you were a high school kid, you had to have wheels, but even if you didn't, you always knew someone who did and became their best pal whether you liked them or not. The four O'Conell boys had it made. Jim was the oldest and therefore held the ticket to the universe-a white '65 four-door Chevelle with a red vinyl gut. They shared it for nearly a decade ('70 through '78). It carried them to school as well as every game, dance, and party. They never forgot the camaraderie. Or the car.
By modern standards, that saloon had nothing going for it, except that it ran and took them wherever they wanted to go. It was a spartan sled, no air, no power anything, bench seats, and three-on-the-tree-but the boys did find cultural enrichment by hanging an eight-track tape player under the dashboard and sinking big speakers in the doors.
Two years ago, Jim began his search for lost youth. A year later, he found that fuzzy photograph in his mind and bought it sight unseen, save for the images online. "I didn't want the vehicle because it would be rare but because it was the same make and model that I'd shared with my brothers. I was pleasantly surprised at how great the body was. It was blue with a blue interior. I thought I'd give it a coat of white, make it drivable, and tool it around on Sunday afternoons." But Brian Dean at Ultimate Customs (ultimateva.com) in Dulles, Virginia, took one look and planned radical moves.
"He quickly convinced me to give it modern technology that would keep me interested once the nostalgia wore off. Wow, was he right! Corvette engine, automatic transmission, power everything, leather, big brakes and suspension, 18s, state-of-the-art sound system, and a lot more detailed stuff. Everything on the outside says 1965 but the vehicle is present day," says Jim.
Though the White Bomb is show-car neat and lavishly appointed, it was built strictly as a driver, with low maintenance and reliability as its priorities.
Builder Brian attests, "The exterior was to have an old-school appearance with a touch of modern muscle, and we wanted the engine compartment to retain the uncluttered look of the '60s."
For the interior, Brian retained the column-shift steering post, factory gauges, factory radio, and so forth, but also has it vibe a comfortable, more luxurious feel. One look says he engineered success. We're not fond of a red gut, but the way this one's been done casts some doubt about that now. As for that cultural enrichment thing, the powerful audio/information center is off the hook. Brian says the sound quality is amazing because of the high-end components and the flawless and quite hidden installation. The leather-lined trunk is cool touch. It looks great but is still rugged enough to swallow four sets of golf clubs.
How'd the boys like it? "When I got the car back, I had my brothers over for a showing. They all thought they were seeing a ghost," Jim chortles, "Except that the original 'Velle never looked like this. Seeing the car brought so many memories for all of us. We reminisced late into the night over more than a few Heinekens. Although, if we really wanted to relive our youth, we would have found some cold cans of Schlitz."
Given the new curb weight (about 3,100 pounds) and its new mission, the engine didn't need to be a hellion, but it had to be down for reliability as well as feel sprightly under Jim's right foot. The motor's a 350hp 5.7L out of a '00 Corvette and is untouched, save for a Camaro throttle-body conversion, a Camaro oil pan (and pick-up) that clears the crossmember, and Hummer H2 exhaust manifolds and heat shields. Brian strung a 2.5-inch ceramic-coated exhaust system from the manifolds to the Corvette cats, the custom H-pipe, and back to the Magnaflow mufflers. A custom-built isolation box and K&N filter nestled inside the passenger-side fender sprouts a 311/42-inch intake tube that becomes one of the engine's focal points. The fuel system gathers a Walbro 255- lb/hr in-tank pump and a Corvette inline fuel filter and regulator assembly that fill custom-bent stainless steel lines complemented by AN fittings.
A custom four-core aluminum radiator with a built-in transmission cooler lurks behind a one-off shroud and a single SPAL 16-inch-diameter puller fan. The external power steering cooler and billet overflow tank were powdercoated.
Transferring the power is nothing less than a 4L60E (from a '99 F-body) to feed torque to the powdercoated 10-bolt axle stocked with an Eaton True Trac differential, Richmond 3.91:1 gears, and stock axles.
Removing the body from the frame afforded an excellent opportunity to sandblast the rails clean and powdercoat them in satin black. A notch in the front crossmember provides clearance for the A/C compressor. Overlooking nothing in the chassis prep, Brian broomed all the heavy suspension members and put up some sensationally sleek Global West upper and lower wishbones from its G-Plus Kit, 1-inch lowering springs, QA1 adjustable coilover shocks, a 111/48-inch antisway bar, and polyurethane bushings in all the joints. In back, Global tubular lower control arms, adjustable upper arms, 1-inch lowering springs, QA1 shocks, and a 1-inch antisway bar keep things under control.
The Chevelle reacts a lot quicker now with its Flaming River power steering box as abetted by a Corvette power steering pump, a Flaming River collapsible steering shaft with Borgeson joints, and a Flaming tilt steering column with the shifter on the column, just like the old days.
When the chemically stripped body arrived at Ultimate, Brian savaged the insides with sound deadener, laying Dynamat all over the floor, the inner firewall, the doors, and the roof. He pieced the interior together with remolded factory seats that he covered in custom red leather. He replaced the 40-year-old lap straps with retractable thee-point safety belts, installed seat belts in the rear, hand-stitched the door panels, and plopped a Billet Specialties 15-inch, leather-wrapped Classic steering wheel on top of the Flaming River column. For some flash down low, he hung Lokar billet aluminum pedals above the ACC carpet and floor mats. Jim ogles that factory SS gauge package beneath the factory repo dashpad. Finally, Brian dyed all the panels and trim to match the interior.
Woe be that dastardly eight-track contraption, now just a bad memory. Big stuff here: an Alpine head unit with CD and MP3, Sirius satellite radio, and an iPod hookup. Ultimate flush-mounted Boston Acoustics 5-inch Pro Series speakers in the front doors and 611/42-inch speakers in the package tray are balanced by a JL Audio 10 W-3 subwoofer captured by an airtight enclosure in the trunk. They concluded the arrangement with a JL 300 X4 amplifier working with a JL 250 X1 amp. The head unit and iPod were mounted in the glovebox, and Jim changes them up by pointing the remote control at the original radio in the dashboard. A Painless 18-curcuit harness manages everything, including custom-fab'd power window regulators, power door locks, and a keyless entry system.
No more hot August nights for this boy, either. Jim thought air conditioning was indispensable and got proactive with Vintage Air. The compressor is mounted low on the engine, and custom dash vents and a modified A/C box direct air beneath the dashboard factory style. All hoses leading from the engine compartment have been hidden.
BodyLuckily, the car was completely free of rust, so Ultimate disassembled the structure and had it chemically stripped before laying down the PPG '06 Corvette Arctic White. The shell was finished off with 3M undercoating as applied with a Schutz gun. The chrome is all new, the glass is tinted, and the fenders proudly display LS1 badges.
Wheels & Brakes
The brakes are just as serious as the suspension, no less than 13-inch slotted rotors front and rear squeezed by PBR calipers fed by custom-tweaked stainless steel lines. Billet Specialties 18x8 Roulette rims, with powdercoated accents, post Michelin Pilot Sport P225/45ZR and P255/ 40ZR rubber.