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Feature: Project Chevelle

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Speedway Motors has long been famous for street rods and circle track racing, and we will always have a lot of love (and parts) for these cars. Lately, we've also grown to love muscle cars and have added enough parts to modify and restore many of Detroit's finest from the 60's and 70's.

A year ago, we went in search of a project car that could be used to showcase these parts and serve as a testbed to help us gain some firsthand experience with our products. What we came up with was this mind-blowingly nice, one-owner '72 Chevelle.

Our starting point. A ridiculously well cared for, one-owner '72 Chevelle Malibu.

For many, the '68-'72 Chevelle is the image that comes to mind when someone mentions "muscle car." Odds are, that image is of a striped, big-block, four-speed SS car engulfed in tire smoke. As you can see, our car was optioned out to be far more pedestrian. The vinyl top, column shift, and 307 made it more of a responsible daily commuter than vehicle of youthful rebellion. Top it all off with some skinny whitewalls on 14-inch steelies and it was the perfect, buttoned-up citizen.

We assembled a team of our in-house experts and all-around car nuts who were willing to give up some nights and weekends to overhaul the Chevelle.

That also made it the perfect starting point for us. Our mission was to upgrade the appearance and performance of the old Chevelle without ruining the character that the original owner worked so hard to maintain for 46 long years. So SS emblems and stripes were out. In was a selection of goodies from the Speedway Motors shelves to make the car steer, stop, and most importantly go even better than its more rambunctious striped siblings.

The Omega accessory gauges and Hurst floor shifter look just right in the Chevelle's otherwise stock interior.

So how did we do it? First, we installed a set of our Omega gauges, hose clamping a tach to the column just as all good high school hot rodders have been doing since the invention of the wheel. Once we could keep our finger on the vitals of the old 307, we took the rational next step: flog it mercilessly. This included a quick trip to the chassis dyno where it put 130 blistering horsepower to the rollers. We also sent it careening through a funhouse of cones to try out the handling (or lack thereof). Clearly, there was some room for improvement.

Stance is everything.

The first of these improvements was a much-needed power steering upgrade. Next, we got serious with tubular front control arms, our G-Comp 2" dropped spindles, and disc brakes. These upgrades went a long way, but the car still felt a bit sloppy. QA1 coilovers front and rear not only tightened up the handling, they gave us the ability to dial in the perfect stance.

And how about those wheels and tires? It's almost a foregone conclusion these days that a lowered muscle car is going to wear some huge diameter wheels on brake rotors the size of a large pizza. We love the pro-touring look too, but this car didn't want to go there. Instead, we chose to take a trip back in time with Rocket Racing Fuel wheels. Add those 225/70 fronts and big 275/60 rear tires and the Chevelle looks like it should be cruising through some long-vanished drive-in, looking for a street race.

The lowered stance and big tires give the Chevelle a much more sinister appearance. So long little whitewalls.

Needless to say, that 307 was not going to fare very well should such a street race occur. To avoid that embarrassment, we pulled a 383 from BluePrint Engines off the shelf. These are rated at 420 horsepower, and topped with a Holley 770 Street Avenger and MSD E-Curve distributor this engine actually put 430 ponies to our engine dyno. Some Holley finned valve covers, a reproduction air cleaner housing, and those white headers give the modern crate the look of an old LT-1, right at home under the hood of a 70's street fighter.

The BluePrint 383 crate makes 430 horsepower. To give you some perspective, that's about 150 more than an SS 454 from 1972.

The old 3-speed and wet noodle column shifter were definitely not going to cut it with this new bullet under the hood. It was very important to us that the car keep all three of its pedals, so we bolted up one of our Tremec transmission kits. These come complete with a bellhousing, flywheel, clutch, throwout bearing, and a TKO 600 transmission. We can now bang gears on the floor, just as it should be in a muscle car.

The Rocket Racing Fuel wheels also come in chrome and polished, but the gray really gives the Chevelle a vintage vibe.

So what do all these changes feel like? We've logged quite a few miles on the upgraded suspension and brakes and can tell you that it's a night and day difference. As delivered, the Chevelle went down the road like a comfy couch, as did so many of its 70's brethren. The frontend components and particularly the adjustable coilovers firmed up the ride into new Camaro territory. Firm, but not harsh, it makes on-ramps a full-throttle in second gear joyride. The weak-link in this configuration was the 307 and sloppy shifter.

The BluePrint crate engine has only been in the car for a week or so, but we can tell you that almost tripling the horsepower dramatically alters the character of the car. And shifting on the floor as nature intended is an absolute joy. It's now pretty easy to feel like an extra in _Two-Lane Blacktop _ whenever we drive to the gas station for a Coke.

Project Chevelle went from squishy 70's barge to fun street cruiser with a few well-chosen bolt-on's.

As of this writing, the 383 is breathing very musically through open headers and spinning one tire at a time through the stock 10-bolt rear. We have plans for a 9-inch rear and will reluctantly bolt up an exhaust system. Then we're going to drive the wheels off of it, with plans already in place for cross-country road-trips and maybe even a pass or two down the dragstrip.

To see more, be sure to check out The Toolbox at There you can keep up with our adventures on Project Chevelle as well as other projects from our in-house band of automotive experts.

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