Do you remember your first muscle car? Not just your first beater, but the very first project that ignited your passion for hot rods? This is typically a fond memory for gearheads. Although we can’t all keep our first modified cruiser, some people do. Most, however, end up selling their first hot ride hastily or to the wrong buyer.

We’ve spoken with muscle car enthusiasts in the past who claim they would pay anything to get their first hot rod back. If there was a hypothetical warehouse that held what people would give to still own their first muscle car, it would probably store some property titles and severed limbs because that’s how much people adore their first burnout machine.

However, young Chevy enthusiasts like 18-year-old Jake Rozelle of La Palma, California, for example, doesn’t have to worry about the fate of his first muscle car; he still gets to drive it every single day.

Savvy CHP fans may recognize Jake’s ’72 El Camino from the August issue’s inset cover image, and after some Internet buzz about the hefty ride carving the corners at this year’s Run to the Coast event at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Base in Southern California, we tracked it down to shoot a spread. The coolest thing about this car is it’s Jake’s only mode of transportation—an all-steel ’72 Elco that gets driven all over the place with 430 hp and 22 mpg. It’s not just cruised on the nice days during weekends or to and from the track on test ’n’ tune nights, it’s literally Jake’s only wheels. Rain or shine, he races it at various Pro Touring events in California, hauls motorcycles, home improvement projects, carts groceries, everything a truck can do just much cooler. Having a 4L70E transmission allows Jake to blaze down the highway at comfortable rpm, and the LS2 underhood provides the power and torque needed to pull the Elco around the cones at meets. Jake is even known to cruise it out to Lake Havasu with his family, who are also hard-core Chevy fans. His father, Roy, owns a 550hp ’69 Camaro done in the Pro Touring flavor and his mother, Dora, also drives a handling Chevy, an ’06 C6 Corvette.

We caught up with Jake the week of his high school graduation, just before he went off to University of California, San Diego, where he plans to focus on his electrical engineering degree. And after cruising around in his driver, reminiscing about our own first muscle cars, and hearing how he planned on keeping it as long as he could (although he confessed of plans of building a Trans Am possibly one day), we felt glad that there are some who can appreciate what they have when they have it, because sometimes you don’t even know what you have until it’s gone.

Power

A wrecked ’08 Chevy Trailblazer SS was the source for the 6.0L LS2 powertrain. Outfitted with an Autokraft oil pan, Jake, with the help of his father, lowered the new mill into the engine bay. When it came to the engine management, a Speartech-flashed computer and wiring harness was used in order to keep the factory fuel injection functional. While the LS2 mill is factory stock, it offers reliability and ample power to make the ’72 respond on the street as well as the track. The fuel system was upgraded to cater to the high pressures of the fuel injectors, and the spent exhaust fumes are routed through a set of Edelbrock 17/8-inch-long tube headers with 21/2-inch Flowmaster mufflers. One of the reasons why Jake opted for the LS2 engine is its aluminum construction. Although the full-framed muscle car weighs upwards of 3,600 pounds, Jake still had weight bias in mind, shedding 90 pounds off the front of the Elco, ultimately giving it a 54/46 front to rear weight ratio.

Wheels & Brakes

We’re big fans of modern-looking five-spoke wheels, which seem to be getting popular on old muscle cars these days, and we thought Jake got it right with his particular wheel choice. For the front, Jake chose of a pair of 18x8 Booster wheels from Rocket Racing Wheels and 18x9 for the rear in the same Hyper Silver style. Nitto’s NT555 tires are mounted at each corner, 245s in front, 285s in the rear, and ’06 Corvette brakes with Hawk brake pads are what stops this beast on a daily basis. DOT4 brake fluid is regularly used in the Elco, but Jake admitted even it gets boiled after too much abuse on track days.

Interior

When you drive an old car every day, having a comfortable interior is a plus. A pair of Scat Procar Sportsman seats and factory seatbelts (although harnesses are planned for the future) keep Jake planted when going around curves or just driving around town. The dash was upgraded with Dakota Digital instruments, including an A-pillar mount with Auto Meter gauges to keep the voltage and oil pressure in check. The sound system in the El Camino is composed of a Kenwood head unit, a pair of upgraded front speakers, and a subwoofer mounted behind the passenger seat. Since the cabin of an Elco is so small, Jake says it really gives a balanced sound. Another thing that is more effective because of the two-seater is the air conditioning system. Jake often takes his ride to the desert, so he installed a complete Vintage Air system to keep the temperature at bay.

Chassis & Suspension

With handling in mind, Jake installed a set of Currie Enterprises adjustable front control arms with billet lower control arms out back, along with QA1 single-adjustable shocks at each corner. The springs are from SPC and rated at 150 pounds in the rear, while the fronts are spec’d to 550 pounds; the sway bars were upgraded Hellwig pieces. Jake also went with a modified steering box that features a 12:1 ratio from Lee Power Steering. Complementing the improved steering is a heavy-duty power steering cooler and tank, which keep the fluid from boiling from steering wheel thrashes.

Exterior

Black Super Sport stripes across the hood and the blacked tailgate were put there before the Rozelles purchased the car back in 2009. Jake admits that some of the “graphics” are body filler cracks, but hey, it’s a daily driver. Jake also chose to keep the cowl induction vent on the steel SS hood functional by using the LS2’s factory vacuum ports. We noticed the induction vent working while cruising on the boulevard and while it isn’t feeding a carburetor anymore, seeing the panel smack open in your peripheral upon acceleration is still pretty cool. chp

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