A hot rodder building his last muscle car is like a dog sniffing its last bottom, a Washington bureaucrat receiving his last lobbyist donation, or a magazine editor missing his last deadline. It's never going to happen. So when Kenny Hillin said that this '72 Chevelle is the last car he'll ever build, we figured he inadvertently brainwashed himself after repeating that line one too many times to his wife. Nonetheless, Kenny's A-body reflects the determination of a man who means what he says, and it represents a harmonious culmination of everything he's learned along the way.
Through the years, Kenny's taste in cars has grown. He started bracket racing as soon as he got his license in 1987, and he has been running in the local foot-brake classes every season since. Prior weapons of choice include a 327-powered '66 Chevy II, and a 406-powered '68 Camaro that ran 12.30s in the quarter. While Kenny has fond memories of dabbling with small- and medium-bodied Chevys, this time around he felt the need to go big. "I wanted a car that would run easy 11s, have modern creature comforts, and also handle well and have an excellent ride," he recalls. "That's why I picked an A-body. They're big and heavy and have coil spring in the front and back, so they ride very well. I've had so many cars in the past that weren't that nice to look at, so I wanted to build one the right way this time since this is the last car I plan on restoring."
Unlike most Bow Tie buffs, who go all gaga over the twin-headlamp look of the '70 Chevelle, Kenny prefers the single-light mug of the '71-72. The search for a clean A-body started 14 years ago, and he found the perfect candidate almost by accident. A mechanic by trade, his family runs both a repair shop (Hillin's Auto Repair, San Antonio, Texas) and a used car lot on the same facility. "One day my dad was at an auction looking for some cars for our lot," Kenny recollects. "He called to tell me about a '72 Chevelle that was there. I didn't have time to go there myself, so I told him to bid up to $1,000 if the car was nice. He ended up winning the auction for $350."
First on the agenda was swapping out the original 307 for a built 406, followed by rebuilding the suspension and beefing up the factory 8 1/2-inch 10-bolt rearend and TH350 trans. After a quickie paint job, the Chevelle was ready to roll.
It laid down consistent 11.70s at the track, but the combo was a bit too radical for Kenny's maturing proclivities. Once again, the solution was going big. In went a World Products 454 Mouse short-block, which he finished off with a set of Brodix 215cc aluminum heads, a Weiand single-plane intake, a Proform 850-cfm carb, and a Comp 236/242-at-0.050 hydraulic roller cam.
The new monster small-block resulted in times only a few tenths quicker: a best of 11.56 at 116 mph. However, increased speed wasn't Kenny's primary objective. "The extra inches have allowed me to put in a smaller cam and a less aggressive intake manifold compared to the 406, which has made the car much more streetable. I love having the displacement of a big-block, but with the weight savings of a small-block. Some people think that the thin cylinder walls that result from running a 4.250-inch bore mean that the motor will overheat easily, but I've never once had that happen even in 100-degree weather."
Having met his performance goals-as fast as you can go without needing a rollbar, in other words-Kenny turned his attention to polishing off the Chevelle's aesthetics. "I've always been a fan of sleepers, so I wanted the car to look good but not too aggressive," he says. Meeting that goal involved bolting on a slick set of Budnik 17-inch wheels and spraying the body with a hot coat of paint. Inspiration for the DuPont Sinful Cinnamon hue came from a Hot Wheels car, of all places.
There's no denying the Chevelle's powerful visual presence, Kenny succeeded in his sleeper aspirations. "With a bench seat, a column shifter, a stock hood, and a small-block, this car looks a lot slower than it really is. Let's just say it has been known to catch people off guard from time to time."
It has speed and rugged good looks, but perhaps the most appealing part about the entire package is the car's versatility. Equipped with A/C and power steering and brakes, and lined with extra-thick insulation to keep the cabin quiet, the Chevelle is a comfy place to take care of motoring business. In fact, Kenny says he drives it a dozen times each month and leaves the trailer at home when he heads out to the track. Granted, he has owned it for 14 years, but the 50,000 street miles Kenny has accumulated in that time is both impressive and commendable, to say the least.
Proving that big-inch small-blocks are plenty durable, Kenny has been flogging the snot out of his 454 Mouse for five years without a hitch. It is based on a World Products turnkey short-block and features a Motown block, SRP 9.8:1 forged pistons, forged pistons, an Eagle crank, and Eagle H-beam rods. A Moroso oil pump and a 7-quart Milodon pan hold the lube, and a Comp 236/242-at-0.050 hydraulic roller cam with 0.520/0.540-inch lift yields a mix of power and streetability. The lifters, roller rockers, timing set, rocker stud girdles, and pushrods are from Comp as well. Massive 4.250-inch bores get the most out of the lightly worked Brodix 215cc aluminum heads that move 270 cfm of air on the flowbench. They're fed by a Weiand Team G single-plane intake manifold, a Wilson 2-inch spacer, and a Proform 850-cfm carburetor. An MSD distributor, coil, ignition box, and plug wires light the mixture. Exhaust exits through Hooker 1 3/4-inch long-tube headers, a custom X-pipe, and dual 3-inch Spin Tech mufflers. Aft of the flexplate, a Hughes 3,000-stall channels torque to a TCI TH350 automatic and an Unlimited Performance steel driveshaft. From there, a stock 8 1/2-inch 10-bolt rearend fortified with Moser 28-spline axles, an Eaton Posi, and Richmond 3.42:1 gears routinely battles the strenuous 1.67-second 60-foot times.
Nothing says sleeper like a bench seat and a column shifter. The original yellow interior was recovered in black with seat covers, carpet, and trim parts from OPG. A set of G-Force five-point harnesses anchors front occupants into place. Modern touches include a Billet Specialties steering wheel, an Auto Meter tach, a Vintage Air A/C system, and a Sony stereo.
Wheels, Tires, Brakes
An aftermarket four-wheel disc conversion is on the wish list, but the stock front discs and rear drums work just fine for now. Complementing the Chevelle's aggressive stance are Budnik Lateral wheels, 17x8 up front and 17x10 out back. They're covered in BFG g-Force tires, 255/45ZR17 on the steering end and 285/40ZR17 on the driving end. At the track, Kenny bolts on a set of Weld wheels and 28x10x15 Mickey Thompson slicks.
With crisp handling as one of his primary project goals, Kenny didn't skimp on the suspension. At the corners are Global West springs and QA1 shocks. Hotchkis sway bars anchor down each end of the body. The front control arms are also Global West units. Adjustable Hotchkis rear arms allow dialing in preload at the dragstrip.
The grandma A-body required very little metalwork. All the original panels were salvaged and required only minor dent repair. The trim and emblems were replaced with parts from OPG. JLM Collision in San Antonio applied the DuPont Sinful Cinnamon paint.