Most people build their hot rods to please themselves and not the world at large. In theory at least, that’s the premise of the hobby. Trouble is, too many find themselves in lock-step with the popular notion, following the latest trend or some preset discipline and unwittingly define their work by those parameters. So eventually, they wind up with something not so special.
Ryan Sullivan saw into that with the logic of a chain saw. His ride looks like a ’66 Chevelle, but it isn’t. The body appears as stock and untouched. It isn’t. The suspension appears to be jostled on airbags. It isn’t. The chassis and engine appeared unmoved. They aren’t. Every facet of the build required major commitment, sweat, and the understanding that if a panel ever got wrinkled, the fix would be ungodly and time-consuming, at the very least, because what looks like virgin metal is a highly restructured composite, a tuck here, a stretch there, a complete re-curve further on down the line. The beauty is that all of it appears completely original and just as it should be.
“People walk by the car and give it a casual once-over,” Ryan says. “Then they come back and look some more. Even people with strategic knowledge have a tough time calling out the cues we’ve impressed and the changes we’ve made. The idea was to make a true hot rod all the while retaining the muscle car look and style.”
You should know that Ryan’s previous endeavors include a ProCharger-prodded C6 Corvette and a ’10 Caddy CTS-V vibrating with all the nice Lingenfelter upgrades, but the Chevelle is his first muscle car. While the big-block that powers it isn’t enabled by a forced-air power adder, its 562ci roar is unlike that of any small-block you ever heard.
The raw material for the project was scant. Cale Kern Hot Rods in Bedford, Indiana, was the progenitor. Kern’s a street rod builder of note, influenced from the cradle by his dad Claude (who operates Kern’s Speed Shop). Kern was quite able to apply changes and modifications that are indigenous to the street rod ethos. In truth, the Chevelle is more “panel car” than any other kind of restoration. Know that on several occasions Kern’s cars have won Hot Rod of the Year awards at Goodguys venues.
Truthfully, the hardtop Chevy was little more than a shell squandering space in Kern’s shop, so Ryan’s offer of stewardship wasn’t dismissed lightly. Soon, the scab became the sweetheart, assimilating a recognizable structure as each piece of the sheetmetal was reshaped and grafted to the revitalized chassis and body pod. This is what Ryan calls “buying”. Should that metal get bent, he’d be hard pressed to bolt on a repro replacement. He’d have to buy it back from one-off land with his sweat equity not his wallet. Despite its precious metalwork, the Chevelle stole only nine months of building time and since Kern’s shop was in the same town, Ryan was able to visit daily and chart its progress at will.
For a real good idea of what you must do to make your car look like it really isn’t, follow Ryan and Kern’s Chevrolet rendition and learn the secrets of everlasting life as well as where to hide gangly, clunky, un-streamlined stuff to maintain a smooth, of-a-piece appearance. But remember, this turning a car inside out business has all been done before and a long time ago.