Mike McDonald waited until he turned 68 years old to build his first muscle car. Sure, he had some hot cars along the way, including a ’67 Corvette Sting Ray and some street rods here and there, but the demands of working as a major player in the textile trade didn’t leave him much time to build a car from scratch. Upon retiring five years ago, he wasted no time doing what he always wanted to do: build a hot rod. And my, oh my, what a whale of a first effort it is, a crimson red ’70 Chevelle packing big-block heat and cutting-edge Pro Touring underpinnings.
At 73 years of age, Mike has owned 70 cars over the years, but not a single proper hot rod. Getting in the game late is better than never getting in the game at all, and as such, he started searching for a project car after selling his cotton business in 2005. “I always wanted to build a hot rod, but work kept me so busy that I never had the time to do it. I’ve always been a Chevy guy, so building anything else was out of the question,” he explains. The aggressive lines and bold presence of the ’70 Chevelle had always made an impression on Mike, and he tracked down a good restoration candidate in 2007. “I found a ’70 Chevelle small-block car with a solid body and a torn-up interior. I didn’t care about winning any trophies. I just wanted to build a nice street cruiser with lots of power and good handling to match.”
Having the means to dish out a few extra bucks got Mike a very clean A-body that still had its original sheetmetal. Packing a cowl-induction hood and fresh paint, the Chevelle oozed potential. Unfortunately, the shop Mike originally commissioned to do the work went under, so he shipped the car off to Dooley and Sons (www.dooleyandsons.com) in Magnolia, Texas. Once there, the crew ripped out the tired small-block and dropped a Chevrolet Performance 502 Rat motor in its place. Straight from GM, the crate big-block has all the right stuff, including a forged rotating assembly, aluminum oval-port cylinder heads, a Ram Jet EFI intake manifold, and a 224/234 at 0.050 hydraulic roller cam. The result is a very street-worthy package, rated at 502 hp and 565 lb-ft. Considering that the big-block exhales through a set of custom Dooley long-tube headers and Borla mufflers, chances are that those figures are a bit conservative. Rounding out the powertrain is a Phoenix 700-R4 overdrive trans and a Chevrolet Performance 12-bolt rearend with 3.73:1 gears.
Although Mike had no intentions of going road racing, he deemed the factory suspension inadequate since modern handling and ride quality were part of the Chevelle’s mission statement. As such, the stock bits got yanked and replaced with a complete RideTech suspension. Up front are RideTech control arms and drop spindles, and the stock four-link got replaced with RideTech hardware as well. The air springs, adjustable shocks, and sway bars also come courtesy of RideTech. Moreover, Chevrolet Performance 12-inch disc brakes slow the big A-body down, and Schott I-Force wheels—measuring 19x8 up front and 20x10 out back—complement the aggressive stance.
While the finished product is nothing groundbreaking or a machine destined to set blistering lap times on a road course, it represents a refreshing departure from the thinly disguised race cars that garner most of the Pro Touring spotlight. Make no mistake, we love track stars as much as the next guy, but a sometimes forgotten component of the Pro Touring formula is the ability to drive a car anywhere in comfort and lay some patch with a twitch of the right foot. Mike’s Chevelle manages to strike a sweet balance of performance and streetability, and it looks damn good in the process.
Bucking the LS small-block trend, Mike’s Chevelle packs some good old-fashioned big-block power. The Chevrolet Performance crate motor is based on a big 4.470-inch bore block, which nets 502 ci when combined with a 4.00-inch forged crankshaft. Steel rods and 9.6:1 forged pistons complete the bottom end, while a 224/234 at 0.050 hydraulic roller cam with 0.527/0.544-inch lift bumps open the valves. The short-block is topped with a set of Chevrolet Performance aluminum oval-port heads with 2.25/1.88-inch valves, which breathe through a Ram Jet EFI intake manifold. A Walbro fuel pump residing inside a Rick’s Hot Rod Shop stainless tank provides the fuel supply, while a Stewart water pump and Be Cool radiator and fan keep the Rat from overheating. The sweet big-block rumble pulsates through custom Dooley and Sons stainless steel headers, and dual 3-inch Borla mufflers. Chevrolet Performance rates the setup at 502 hp and 565 lb-ft of torque. Transferring all that grunt to the ground is a Phoenix Transmission Products 700-R4 overdrive, and a factory GM 12-bolt rearend with 3.73:1 gears and Posi.
The A-body’s underpinnings are all RideTech. The company’s full Chevelle package includes upper and lower front control arms, drop spindles, front and rear sway bars, a four-link, and air springs and adjustable shocks at each corner. Ride height can be adjusted in seconds with an integrated electronic controller.
Wheels, Tires, Brakes
In lieu of crazy body modifications, the Chevelle relies on subtle tricks to stand out from the pack. The most noticeable are a set of Schott I-Force wheels, measuring 19x8 in the front and 20x10 out back. They’re wrapped in Continental 235/35 front, and 285/35 rear tires. Since the Chevelle is a street cruiser and not a track star, it sports appropriately sized 12-inch disc brakes at each corner.
When it comes to the sheetmetal, subtlety is the order of the day. There are no distracting wings or a chin spoiler, but simply straight panels and eye-popping paint that let the Chevelle’s original body lines do all the talking. David Horner in Marble Falls, Texas, gets credit for laying down the GM Bright Red paint and clear.
In contrast to the low-key exterior, the cockpit has been given a complete custom overhaul by the Dooley and Sons crew. The front and rear seats, center console, and headliner are all custom built. Black leather upholstery and door panels feature red accents and stitching to tie it into the exterior. From the driver seat, a Billet Specialties steering wheel frames Dakota Digital gauges. The tunes come courtesy of a JVC head unit, and a Vintage Air A/C system keeps the cabin comfy.