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.
Kern: “We started by installing new floors, quarter-panels, a tailpanel, and adding 3 inches to the rocker panels, quarter-panels, and front fenders to hide the lower framerails. [A very large reason why the car appears to be lower than it really is.] We made the front fender openings lower and tighter to the tire and did it with pieces of old quarter-panels. We smoothed the front of the car by filling the cowl vent. We moved the rear wheelwells an 11/2 inches to accommodate the larger rollers we were going to use and finished the area by smoothing the inner wheelwells. We smoothed the nose of the hood, blended the taillights, and tucked the bumpers closer to the body. We made a custom front spoiler with side dust shields. We made a new firewall, completely clean and straight and stashed the Vintage Air stuff, the Wilwood brake equipment, and the fuel and electrical lines under the dash and inside the top of the fenders. We sent all the stainless trim to Jeff Smith Polishing in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and all the brightwork to S&H Plating in Nashville, Tennessee. Then we all fell back and cracked a cool one.” You’ve noticed by now that the theme is a ’67 Butternut Yellow from Matrix Systems.
Rollers & Binders
Those stretched wheelwells frame 18x7 and 20x9.5 Budnik Fontana hoops dressed with 225/25 and 305/35 Nitto rubber. Floating just beneath the surface we see 13-inch Wilwood discs all around tended by six- and four-piston calipers and a brake booster system that’s been situated under the dashboard.
Despite the overwhelming urge to insinuate an LS engine, Ryan could see no other way but a big fat Rat. Make that a modern Rat feeding off a FAST engine controller and electronic fuel injection. No boost. No juice. The power adder is simply lots of cubic inches. Hot Rods performed the machine work as well as the building process. They bored and stroked the block to 562 ci with Scat forged crank and rods and SRP 10:1 pistons fitted with Total Seal ring packs. The Erson hydraulic roller is in with Cloyes double-roller gear. The cam works Manley pushrods and 1.7:1 Erson rocker arms. Hot Rods capped the short-block with CNC-prepped Air Flow Research cylinder heads (Erson guideplates, Manley valves) and sealed the bottom end with a Milodon 6-quart sump. Ancillaries include an MSD ignition (34 degrees total timing) and handcrafted 2-inch primary pipe stainless steel headers feeding a 3-inch system. Hot Rods took inspiration from the Caddy CTS-V intake ducting for the funky dual-snorkel cold air system. Although there is no empirical data to confirm, a conservative at-the-wheel output of 600 units on both sides of the graph would seem logical. A 4L80E and an 11-inch Bowler Performance torque converter stalled at comfortable 2,000-rpm transfer this largesse to the Coleman aluminum driveshaft. At the end of the line, a narrowed Alston Fab9 housing carries 3.55 gears in a Detroit Truetrac differential that commands 31-spline axleshafts.
Hot Rods initiated construction with a solid foundation. They began with the frame modifications, narrowing the rear ’rails 1 inch per side. They boxed the frame completely, laid in a stronger upper rear shock mount, fabbed a tubular crossmember between the ’rails for the transmission mounting point, and relocated the Rat 11/2 inches to the rear. The plan here was to have everything under the car tucked out of sight and above the framerails. To literally seal that notion, Hot Rods built bellypans to close off the underside of the Chevelle completely. Hot stuff! Did they seek cleaner aerodynamics or just a cleaner car build? Though it appears to be riding on air, the Chevelle is equipped with a purely mechanical suspension system fitted with Hotchkis tubular control arms, hollow antisway bar, QA1 coilovers with 450 lb/in coil springs, ’66 Chevrolet spindles, and a 604 power steering box from Sweet Manufacturing in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The 9-inch axle is situated by Hotchkis control arms, QA1’s with 350 lb/in coilover springs, and matching antisway bar.
Before gliding over to the haberdashery, Hot Rods fitted the Chevelle with an American Autowire harness and assembled the audio schedule from a Kenwood head unit, surrounding it with JL Audio speakers and punctuating it with a couple of wicked amplifiers. “It’s a pounder,” Ryan says. Hot Rods smoothed the original dashboard and fitted it with Auto Meter gauges in a stainless steel engine-turned panel. This theme winds throughout, including the shift ring and door trim, laminating the remainder of the dash, and the custom-built console. That simple oasis collects the Vintage Air HVAC controls, a Lokar shifter, power window switches, a glovebox, and even a cupholder. Then the sled trucked over to Interior by Ed in Mitchell, Indiana. Those boys did up the stock-frame seats in faux leather, depicting the deluxe stripes from the ’67 models, and they continued with the door panels. The design is still quite evident in the fit and finish of the trunk, which has since become a detail magnet with amps and woofer encased in the engine-turned stuff. The two-tone steering wheel is a vintage item. CHP