As the economy continues to worsen and inflation continues to rise, doubtless there will be less and less discretionary income squandered on things clearly unnecessary for day-to-day survival. Yes, survival.

Is our hobby doomed? Will hot rodding become an amusing footnote to American history? The old hands have heard this talk before. They didn’t get to be old hands by being idle. Before the time when you could buy whatever you needed, you made it out of nothing. You pulled your brains together, maybe got a like-minded pal to help and to have a few laughs in the bad times, and you came up with something unique, something that no one else had and that’s a fact.

Bum budget or no, some people will never quite cotton to store-bought goods, no matter how expedient or efficient they might be. By and large, the doers outnumber the payers by an ungodly margin. The doers’ clock runs a little slower. Doers don’t need that part yesterday. They seek adventure in the journey, not the destination. Damned if that doesn’t smack of the old days.

Michigander Trent Wendell, 32, is hardly an old guy. But he is a mechanical engineer specializing in brake and safety systems. He isn’t a member of any club or driving organization; his inner circle is composed of family and a few very close friends. There is age and there is youth, and there is respect for both. Trent’s cast includes his dad, Dave. “He helped with everything,” Trent says. “He’s an amazing body and paint guy as well as a person who ‘just knows what a car needs’ to make it right. He loves to cut up cars and make them better. He has taught me so much.”

Julie (Trent’s wife) and Debbie (his mom) were very supportive and cheerfully abided Trent and his dad being in the shop for monster hours at a time. Julie polished moldings, recovered the seats, and helped put the engine together. Although he was becoming very ill, granddad Richard Krause was in the shop throughout the project. “He helped with the engine and the rearend. He died, but not before seeing the first incarnation of the SS 396.” Friend Dwight Polzin is a pipe fitter by trade. He soldered the heater core to reroute the hoses and did other jobs along the way.

The beginning was rough. Trent: “We bought this car when I was 14. My dad found it in a farmer’s field near home in Fenton, Michigan. It was a 138 VIN, an original SS 396, red with a black interior. Over the following two years we restored it the first time. My dad said he wouldn’t work on the car unless I was doing it, too. There were weeks that it just sat because I was preoccupied with something else. We did this entire restoration right out of dad’s garage. What I could not afford to buy we built, including the serpentine accessory drive, valve covers, air cleaner lid, modified heater core to hide the hoses, fiberglass subwoofer box, and more.

“When it came time to paint, he asked me what color. I said, ‘orange’, and asked him if that was OK. He told me that he’d paint it pink if I wanted.” Fifteen years after the car was finished, the Wendell clan did the whole thing over again, this time with a body-off resto and an all-new drivetrain,” Trent says, with just a sliver of celebration in his voice. Fortunately for the rest of us, some people just don’t know when to quit.


There’s no telling where Trent Wendell found the truck 454, maybe it was at the other end of the farmer’s field. He shuttled the slug to Fenton Machine Shop. There, it was bored 0.030-over, the rotating assembly was balanced, crank ground 10/10, and the decks of the heads and the cylinder block were squared. The compression ratio needed a bump, so Trent specified that JE pistons produce a 10.5:1 compression ratio when fitted to the combustion chambers of the iron Chevrolet cylinder heads. He installed a COMP Cams K11-208-3 hydraulic flat-tappet stick that provides 0.520-inch lift and duration numbers of 230 degrees at 0.050 inch for both intake and exhaust valves. Pushrods and rocker arms are stock Chevrolet; fasteners are ARP throughout. Induction is heightened by an Edelbrock Performer RPM intake manifold and a Holley 850-cfm carburetor. Fuel is delivered by a Holley Blue pump. An MSD 6AL box sends the arc light. For the ace up his sleeve, Trent plumbed in a N.O.S. Big Shot plate worthy of a 200hp hit. Burned hydrocarbons are extracted by ceramic-coated Hedman 13/4-inch primaries leading to a 21/2-inch collector and Flowmaster 44 mufflers. For the accessory drive, Trent fashioned his own serpentine system around an ’00 Grand Am power steering pump and alternator (as well as room for the Vintage Air compressor). An aluminum core and engine-driven fan help keep the big-block temperate. For the correct strength and seeming longevity, Trent got him a 700-R4 and paired it with a Corvette converter and a 2,200-stall speed. The rear axle has Positraction and 3.36:1 gears.

Wheels & Brakes

You can’t go wrong with five-spoke wheels, especially ones that mimic the original Americans. Trent knocked on Rev Classic 100 rims (17x8, 18x9) and fixed them with Conti Extreme Contact big ’n’ littles, sizes 245/45 and 275/40. As for the binders, Trent stayed conservative but added some of his know-how. He built a custom actuation unit from an ’08 Ford Explorer. He blueprinted it and created new 4.75mm lines. The front brakes use 10-inch rotors and are paired with the drum brakes.


There is no rollcage or other chassis-stiffening device, but Trent worked the suspension for looks as well as function. The spindles are CPP with a 2-inch drop. The powdercoated control arms are stock. He trimmed the original springs, losing another 2 inches and bringing the car 4 inches closer to the ground. Wheel movement is checked by Monroe shock absorbers. In the rear, Trent fashioned a custom-built rear stabilizer bar and applied a little black magic to the springs, screwed in Monroe adjustable air shocks, and dropped the back end 2 inches closer to the tarmac. All bushings and bearings were replaced with new.

Body & Paint

Daddy Dave and Trent jumped on the carcass to complete the bodywork. For the painting episode, they double-teamed the SS, each spraying one side of the car and then switching. Trent: “We’ve found that some of the best paintjobs are when we spray at the same time. We have matching guns and alternate sides as we go along.” The SS is devoid of “custom” modifications and lets the paint stand alone for effect. The men applied PPG basecoat/clear Hugger Orange. Trent smoothed the firewall, inner fender panels, and the core support. All the N.O.S. heater hoses, the MSD box, and engine wiring have been tucked away to maintain a clean, uncluttered appearance. They finished off the engine bay business with Ringbrothers hinges for the stock cowl hood, painted the same as the body color. The Ring boys are tops in Trent’s book. They gave him hints, help, and encouragement that he did not expect.

Working Environment

As you can see, the original duds are more than passable and the rest of the place is just as presentable. Being on the cheap applies only to the lack of funds, not the quality of the work. When it’s time to finish it off the right way, the digs will get a completely new wardrobe. For now, the aural gratification in all its gut-shaking glory is what we’re talking about. A Kenwood KDC-MP922 head, with CD player is puffed by an MTX 280 amp that howls through Alpine 6-inch speakers in front and 10-inch Pyle Driver in the back room. Trent replaced the original steering wheel with one from an unnamed Corvette, complete with custom center cap. He finished off the gut check with VDO gauges, and fabricated a lighted console for the nitrous and fuel pump switches. CHP

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