The closer you get to all this hot rodding stuff, the more it becomes apparent that car freaks like us do it just as much for rekindling that old-time spirit-the days that will never be again-as for making the thing perform to our liking. It's like a film negative in the heart that the mind can print anytime. Personal history is infused with current situations. Things are often not what they appear. Pat McNeil's Chevelle is one such example. He built his $5,000 fixer-upper with a street-and-strip vibe, mostly race car but something that would function ably on Main Street. The fact is that his '69 Chevelle would do the straight cruise well but it would be far from agile on a road course. Pat couldn't care less. He's got the car he wants.
Being a Cali guy (Long Beach), Pat couldn't abide by anything less than a finished project with a perfect body and equally detailed paint. Zounds! He found his Chevelle right there in the neighborhood and cruised over to check it out. Despite its skuzzy in-and-out paint shop maroon coat, it had a straight and sound sheetmetal that characterizes the "California body," which means that his car most likely came to life on the Fremont (California) assembly line. What he saw was encouraging. Although certain that the car had never spent a winter anywhere but the Golden State, he snooped. He peeled back a door panel and determined that his new baby was originally Butternut Yellow...and that it would be again. Then the race began, albeit slowly.
For a few years he pedaled the Chevelle on the weekends, running the 454 big-block and the four-speed that came with it. One day he went right for the jugular. "Hooking up with Mike and Gordon Saiki at Motivational Engineering in Carson was a no-brainer. In May 2008 the car ran the quarter in 12.8. After three short weeks at Motivational it ran 11.37 at almost 120 right off the trailer," Pat happily declared.
In high school he had wheeled a four-speed '67 Goat. The forlorn Chevelle he bought had the same transmission. For reasons of stealth, he wanted to recreate that aura inside his car but with an automatic that appeared to be a stick shift. Pragmatic Pat knew that consistency and repeatability at the drag strip would come only with an automatic transmission. Regardless, he strove to maintain the stick-shift aura with a modified console and a vintage Hurst gear lever. He had a similar notion for the engine as well.
"The goal was to make the motor look fairly stock until you take a good look at it and see the B&B spacers beneath the stock rocker covers," he said. "Same for the fake-out stickers on the air cleaner lid that would have been on an SS 396."
Pat's funds were far from unlimited, though, so he made the only feasible choice: mostly go, very little show. Motivational did a lot of work with the body off, like smoothing and painting the frame and later sealing off the underside with spray-on bed liner. He wasn't interested in blowing up the world; he just wanted to have a little fun and make some noise doing it. Motivational built his 0.030-over 454 with a mild compression ratio but a nasty camshaft and ported steel cylinder heads. The shop used the factory forged bottom end. It used a lot of stuff that could just as easily have been aftermarket parts, so in a sense, the build was a budget-oriented deal. There was no waste. They made the most of what they had.
Torque is applied to a mostly stock chassis, too, one using some old but proven methods of verification but nothing that required something as serious as a back-half rendition. This is stuff anyone can do in his own garage. The hard-part components, the ones that shouldn't break, are bulletproof, battle-proven, and endorsed by the Saikis. And that's how the Butternut Yellow cow from Long Beach jumped over the moon. Moo!
Pat went old-school here, but guess what? It works. No ladders, only heavy-duty station wagon springs combined with an airbag on the right side of the car help plant the tires. Gabriel gas-pressure shocks and a stock antisway bar take up the slack. In front, the plan was even simpler: Moroso Trick springs and QA-1 adjustable shocks. An antisway bar is not used. Pat twists a manual steering box, so he won't be testing this combo on the snaky Ortega Highway anytime soon. Car weighs 3,800 pounds without driver.
In keeping with the old school vibe, Pat left the gut alone but fitted the original bucket seats in repro clothes. A smattering of Auto Meter vitals hangs by his knee, while the big Stewart-Warner rev counter and shift light huddle near the floorboards away from prying eyes. He puts hands on an OE Comfort Grip steering wheel and shifts that fake four-speed. To adhere to the NHRA rules, a six-point roll was added with removable side bars and tucked neatly for minimal obtrusion.