As a rule, cars that walk the fine line between hot rod and custom car seldom do either camp justice. Like multi-fuel cars that run on everything yet don’t run well on anything, they often fall short in one way or another.
But as rules go, each has at least one exception. With its custom grille, molded driprails, and tuned-up bumpers and body lines, Frank Duval’s ’67 Chevelle is definitely custom material. At the same time its Art Morrison chassis, 572-inch fat block, and five-speed transmission makes the car go as well as it looks.
The car owes its split personality to two generations of Spokane builders, Derek Hall (OCD Customs) and Ron Pryor (Pro-Automotive). “[Pryor’s] a go-fast legend in Spokane for making things run hard,” Hall says. “I credit them for the soul—the car is a menace; it’s vicious.” Hall, on the other hand, is sort of the new kid with something to prove, specifically that a great car is a balanced system rather than simply a collection of cool parts.
The car came to Duval as a true four-speed, big-block SS. “I bought it as a driver but after a while I wanted more,” he says. Pryor obliged by installing the car’s current running gear. At first, he subcontracted Hall to address a few sheetmetal issues but a few change orders—specifically the new chassis Pryor installed—opened a Pandora’s box of ancient questionable repairs. “Initially, I was to just paint the car but it ended up needing so much more,” Hall says. But as Frank says, “I really liked his ideas so I decided to hire him to take the car in that direction.”
Considering the raft of modifications Hall made one could consider the car’s new direction an entirely new chapter. “Everything has to be done the same way and to the same extent,” he says. “It has to be the same idea, the same theme, (and) the same amount of effort. Whatever you’re lacking is what everybody else will obsess upon. If you do a car 99 percent they’ll go right to that 1 percent you didn’t do the same way.”
Though a great notion, it’s not one without a price: labor. Hall explains that such incredibly intensive work wouldn’t have been possible without generous help from friends like Andy Dunham, who miraculously appeared at the last minute to help, and Hall’s Web developer Nick Ernst, whose promotions based on Zach Isaacson’s photos helped earn this car its spotlight.
The result is the metaphorical iron fist in a velvet glove. “This thing is a straight beast,” Hall says. It looks sharp in an understated way. But most importantly, “Everything that it looks like it should do, it does it,” Hall concludes.
The chassis packages that Art Morrison created inspired a whole new definition for muscle car performance. With them, cars can accelerate laterally just as well as they do in a straight line. This particular mandrel-bent 2x3-tube chassis rides on a detailed C5 Corvette front suspension and a triangulated four-link rear suspension. Naturally, Art Morrison dispensed with all rubber bushings in favor of more stable urethane replacements. Both ends benefit from Strange Engineering rebound-adjustable coilover dampers and Adco antiroll bars. Derek Hall finished the ends of the chassis to accommodate the moorings that pull the bumpers close to the body. Naturally the new chassis shape required new floors; Rich Gortsema and his sons Brad and Mike fabricated them
“The horsepower stuff that Ron [Pryor] brought to the table that’s in the car was all him, not me,” Derek Hall says. Pryor chose the 620-horse version of GM Performance Parts’ ZZ572. But before he installed it, he commissioned Spokane Valley’s Dave Viall to reassemble it to finer specs. Typical for these engines, it swings 4.560-inch forged pistons on a 4.375-inch forged crank. Those pistons with the alloy heads’ 118cc chambers yield a 9.6:1 static compression ratio. The 254/264 0.050-inch duration specs on the supplied hydraulic roller-tappet cam mean the engine makes at least GM’s rated output: 650 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm and 620 hp at 5,500. Pryor topped the supplied single-plane manifold with a Proform Parts Street Series 850-cfm carburetor. Shawn McCarthy at SMC Customs built the 21/4-inch headers on the yonder side of the heads. McCarthy also built the MagnaFlow-muffed 3-inch-diameter pipes that they feed. A March Performance accessory-drive system spins a March P570 alternator, a Sanden refrigerant pump, and a GM HP Deluxe aluminum water pump. That pump feeds a Be Cool alloy radiator. A pair of that company’s high-torque fans ensures respectable airflow at low speeds. Billet lettering softens the otherwise austere image of the sheet-aluminum ZZ Custom Fabrication rocker covers. The conventional HEI ignition between those covers distributes spark to Taylor 8.2mm wires. Coupled to the engine by way of a McLeod bellhousing is a Tremec TKO 3550 prepped by A.J. Kautzman in Spokane Valley. A modified pedal assembly commands a McLeod clutch. A Hurst stalk, tailored by Hall so Duval’s hand falls to it, selects the transmission’s gears. A driveshaft made by Spokane’s Watts Wheel and Driveline transmits the drivetrain’s copious torque to a 3.73:1 screw bolted to a Detroit Locker carrier. It spins a pair of 31-spline Strange axleshafts in a housing of the same make.
You’re not likely to encounter wheels like the ones Hall used on a muscle car and it’s far from accidental. The wheels Boss Motorsports makes usually find homes on late-model sport-luxury cars but its Model 338 wheels borrow heavily from traditional five-spoke hot rod designs. The front wheels measure 18x8 and maintain a 4.5-inch backspace; the 18x9.5-inch rear wheels have a 5-inch backspace. They wear Uniroyal Tiger Paws, 245/40 and 285/40, respectively. They bolt to vented and cross-drilled 12-inch (rear) and 13-inch (front) Wilwood rotors. Arresting those are six-piston Wilwood calipers.
Derek Hall describes the car that showed up at his shop: “It was still painted and had all the trim. It looked like a nice restoration … till I tore it down. It had been rear-ended so hard that I had to basically cut the back of the car off and start almost from scratch.” He and Travis Thornburg shaved the driprails and formed smaller flared ones in their place; shaved the door handles; smoothed and resized the bumpers, bringing them closer to the body; streamlined the taillight bezels and manipulated the panels to match; and reshaped the roll pans. Hall also cut away the Goodmark cowl-induction hood’s inner structure, aligned it with the carburetor, and fully welded the seams. Arguably the car’s most visibly radical change is its grille. “I wanted something like a more modern grille without going to billet,” Hall says. “I was standing in my buddy Doug Standerfer’s shop sort of crying on his shoulder about what I had in mind. He turned around and pointed at a ’56 Chevy grille and asked, ‘You mean something like that?’ I held it up and it laid right in there the way the Chevelle grille did. It blew me away.” To pull it all together and commit the design to paper Hall consulted artist Jeff Allison. “I can’t draw like [Allison] but I love to give an owner an idea of what’s in my crazy-assed head. [Allison] was able to be that bridge. He’s probably the only guy in my area who can do that.” Hall made the perimeter from 11/2-inch square tubing and chose Headwinds slash-cut Mariah headlights for their aggressive brow and their blend of original looks and modern styling. A High-Intensity Discharge system lights the way. Doug Standefer (“…my mentor,” Hall credits. “He set the tone for my craftsmanship.”) applied the black Lusid Technologies single-stage urethane at his shop, High-Caliber Customs. Spokane’s Tripleplate Chrome and Bumper refreshed all of the plated surfaces.
“I designed the car around Frank—I explained that (a car) has to be more than pretty; it has to be functional too.” The centerpieces of the cockpit are ’07 Ford 500 front and rear seats. “I modified them to look a little more like something that would’ve come in a Chevelle,” Hall says. He called upon the shape created between the gauge and glovebox to fabricate a new dash-wide insert. He eliminated the glovebox entirely as the Vintage Air climate-control system consumed whatever space it offered. To preserve the interior’s distinctive GM flavor and to avoid the cliché look of cars built with aftermarket parts, Hall replaced the knobs on the Vintage Air climate-control system with Chevelle knobs that he modified to fit. Below those he fabricated a center console that mirrors the dash insert’s shape and cleaves the area between the buckets. They look the part of aftermarket pieces but the vents in that console and dash came from an ’04-08 Ford pickup. He drew from the GM parts pile for the power-window switches and the reproduction rosewood steering wheel on the GM-inspired Flaming River tilt column. Beyond that wheel and between its spokes is a set of Dolphin gauges. Jay Cleveland wired the car with a Painless Performance kit. Finally Vanhouten Upholstery and Apparel trimmed the seats, panels, dash, and doorsills in a combination of black and charcoal Canyon Grain from Nassimi’s Symphony Collection and the floors in gray square-weave carpet. Hall explained the moment owner Frank sat in the finished car. “A lot of what I’d been telling him over the past five years suddenly made sense to him,” he says. “He can catch the shifter by barely moving his hand. He has plenty of headroom. The seat angles are right.” CHP