When airline pilot Terry Stevens built his 406ci '78 Caprice as a high-rolling Pro Touring car 10 years ago, and long before there was such a term in the hobby lexicon, we looked it straight in the grille and said "no way". Terry (aka Twitch) slipped us the keys with a look in his eye that said "so long, suckers". Five minutes later we felt like chumps. He'd attended all the car's systems, balancing torque and power with equal measures of braking, ride quality, and handling. The Caprice was better than it had a right to be. The wise guys had been told.
Maybe a dozen years later, Terry retired from the grind, hungry to build a car or two at his "hobby shop" outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. He had all the tools and know-how and was surrounded by proponents who twirl NASCAR wrenches and we-can-make-anything fabricators. One of those guys was Kurt Binkley, ex-Detroiter who relocated in the area to be as close to the NASCAR mantle as (a wrench and fabricator) he could be. He worked with Terry on the LS2-powered '68 Camaro drop-top we cover-featured in the Oct. '05 issue. Henry D. and I were able to get a gut feeling of Terry's sincerity and work ethic and met everyone involved with the build, including Kurt and the rest of his crew. They were self-effacing and worked like machines. They smoked our brains.
"I owned a yellow '67 Chevelle all throughout high school. I had to give the car up to move my family from Detroit to Charlotte and have missed the car ever since," Binkley said wistfully. "When I began helping Terry build cars, we both exclaimed our secret love for the '67 Chevelle."
This writer was also enamored of the same creature, laid down $2,900 for a new L79 small-block powered, M21 four-speed Malibu, not the big-block Super Sport that everyone in the state lusted after. Save for the solid-lifter 375/396 that you never saw on the street, the L79 made as much horsepower as the two lesser big-blocks in a lighter and (to me) cleaner-appearing, no-nonsense package that didn't scream "look at me". Call it stealth.
Binkley: "Before I knew it, Terry bought one and we all thrashed on it to make the '06 SEMA show. The 'we' was Mark Auten (interior detail and helped dismantle, handled wiring, and hung doors), Kevin Bryde, Steve Webb, and Bobby Persinger (fabrication), Shane Brown (painted the firewall), Elbert Efird (trunk lining and carpet), and me. Terry had become the East Coast rep for Hotchkis and the car wore Hotchkis colors. About this time, Terry was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. That changed just about everything.
"We had big plans, including Power Tours, car shows, and so on, but Terry's health was failing and goals and deadlines were getting harder to reach. We won the '08 Goodguys Autocross Street Machines Division in Charlotte, North Carolina," said Binkley. "Had three great days and the car performed wonderfully. That made Terry very happy."
After a courageous two-and-a-half years of fighting the odds with experimental treatments, all in hopes of finding a cure for others, Terry voluntarily refused his meds and chemotherapy, stared the Reaper in the face and told him to bring it on. He passed on July 22, 2009. "Terry left the Chevelle to me in his will," Binkley said. "For that I'm eternally grateful."
Terry's car-building philosophy was one of balance and a penchant for details, something he probably always adhered to but being a pilot with the lives of thousands under his auspice, his attention to the fusion and the function of the whole became his mantra. He never bragged. The cars he built did that for him. His engines were powerful but never stupid. He used as many factory parts as possible. He built all of the systems robust so that they would contribute equally and seamlessly to the whole. His cars could be driven anywhere. He loved revving up, popping the clutch and going sideways, certainly, but he loved using the tires, suspension, steering, and brakes to hold the car to the road in precise, surgical lines. He loved that concert more than anything.
Three years ago, the 6.0L LS2 was the hot GMPP crate engine. As was Terry's modus, it stayed pretty much stock. For the Chevelle he wanted some of-the-day flavor so he supplanted the EFI system with a GMPP four-barrel intake manifold, Demon 750-cfm carburetor and matching front-mounted distributor/timing cover from Wegner Motorsports. Wegner is a supplier of LS-type NASCAR spec-engines and therefore based on the carbureted system, so in this respect they were way ahead of the curve. The detailed and compact accessory drive is also a Wegner product. Terry upgraded the oiling system with a Street & Performance pan, pump, and windage tray so that the engine would not starve during the high-g corner loading that the car would inevitably experience. MSD furnished the 6AL box to work with the DUI HEI-type distributor. The ceramic-coated header tubes measure 13/4x30 inch and dump into a 3-inch exhaust system. Wegner dyno tested the mild combo at 388 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm and 391 hp at 6,000 rpm. McLeod is responsible for the modular bell housing/scatter shield and companion steel flywheel, clutch disc, and pressure plate assembly that are operated by hydraulic "linkage." The recipient is a Classic Chevy Tremec TKO five-speed conversion that's ultimately overdriven by a 0.68:1 gear ratio. A Dynotech Engineering Services steel driveshaft connects with the big-dog DTS Dana 60 axle that houses an Auburn differential and 3.73:1 gears.
Priority was given to all the visible metal, so that the paint would be without flaw. With the bodywork addressed, it was then sprayed PPG Butternut Yellow (RPO Code Y), a take off on the original one that was offered from 1967-69.
There is something to be said for a full-frame vehicle in that short of a complete rollcage to tie everything together, it is not a strict requirement for splendid handling characteristics or pull-your-eyes-out braking. Hotchkis applied their complete A-body suite: centerlink kit, tie-rod sleeves, tubular upper and lower control arms, 13/8-inch tubular antisway bar, 1-inch drop springs (512 lb/in), 1-inch drop spindles, adjustable upper links, tubular lower links, 1-inch drop springs (124/159 lb/in), 15/16-inch tubular antisway bar, and specific wheel damping in their Bilstein shocks. The return is a smooth, Caddy-like ride that becomes noticeably aggressive the instant it needs to be.
Concessions to the braking system include Baer 13-inch rotors front and rear as monitored by four-piston calipers. Quality Bonspeed forged 18x8- and 18x9.5-inch modulars are paired with just the right complement of BFG g-Force KDW glue spools.
Stevens built his interior as a driver-oriented pod, complete with repro vinyl where needed, sublime Recaro seats, and Auto Meter instruments secured in a structure that Binkley built custom. The 40-year-old spaghetti was supplanted by Painless' finest loom and a Flaming River steering column was capped by a 13.8-inch-diameter WaterFall wheel.