This is a story about a modest Chevelle project that started almost 30 years ago and was finished by someone else in a three-car home garage. RideTech headquarters has every resource needed to engineer and build competitive race cars and trophy-winning show cars. Company founder and president Bret Voelkel can pretty much head over to his business and conjure up anything from scratch. With that capability at your fingertips, would you then build a car in your three-car garage? That’s exactly what Bret Voelkel did with his latest project — the Happy Hot Rod Chevelle.
Bret’s home shop is anything but fancy. There are no shiny stainless-steel cabinets or surgically clean floors. It’s a three-car garage with a welder, a lift, media blasting cabinet and a small sheet metal brake. With all of the tools, workbenches and cabinets, there is just enough room for a daily driver and one project car — a 1970 Chevelle SS454 LS5 / 4 speed hard top.
Bret found this car online in California as an unfinished project. His friend Chad Reynolds from Bangshift.com checked out the car out before a deal was struck. The big block Chevelle was intact with great trim and a decent interior, but minus an engine and transmission. The prior owner repainted the Chevelle in its original shade of Black Cherry Metallic, then parked the car for a 28-year-long slumber. Over time, the paint became superficially damaged from exposure to dust, grit, and minor scratches. Regardless, this car has great bones with its original rust-free chassis and body panels.
The plan was simple: Update the ancient suspension, brakes and wiring, rebuild the existing four speed trans and drop in an LS3 engine that had been kicking around RideTech from a former project. Leave the body and frame alone. Resist the urge to get carried away.
- Goal: Keep it simple. Build a car that is easy to drive and easy to own.
- Deadline: No deadline.
- Budget: No budget but replace money with ingenuity whenever possible.
First and foremost, the Happy Hot Rod Chevelle has provided an opportunity for Bret to turn wrenches at home with his teenage son, Andy. Of course, Bret and the Chevelle had competition in the form of teenage girls, but every moment spent together is golden. This particular project has progressed for two and a half years. Seasons came and went, as did key events, but none of that mattered. The journey has been better than the destination. Some of us have stopped by Bret’s garage on occasion to share in the fun. Cars bring people together.
As far as build style is concerned, the Happy Hot Rod Chevelle is about moderation. The 430HP Chevrolet Performance Crate LS3 gets great gas mileage, has an easy Centerforce clutch and will idle in heavy traffic with the AC running. FiTech 1×4 EFI was installed on top of a Chevrolet Performance single plane intake manifold. Bret intends to get the cowl induction system working with the LS3/FiTech combo. An oversized PRC aluminum radiator with Spal dual fans provides excess cooling capacity.
Numerous homemade brackets can be seen throughout the engine bay including the battery hold down, slave cylinder mount and coil brackets. Bret installed a Turn One steering box with 12.7:1 ratio. It provides the perfect combination of leverage and feel in this application.
The list goes on. Stainless steel shorty headers provide plenty of ground clearance and will never rust. Baer SS4 disc brakes provide plenty of stopping power for street driving while hiding behind 15″ Super Sport wheels. Drum brakes are still mounted to the car’s original 12 bolt rear axle — for now. The only real splurge items on this car are the Vintage Air SureFit AC system and Frontrunner accessory drive, but Bret doesn’t see it that way. He insists on installing Vintage Air on every car he builds thanks to their rock-solid reliability and clean packaging.
The chassis consists of a factory frame with stock control arms and RideTech’s entry level StreetGRIP system. It’s the perfect budget setup for carving up back roads and pounding out highway miles. You can buy an A-body StreetGRIP kit complete for $2200 or step up in stages since all StreetGRIP components are available individually, as well. There is something special about the StreetGRIP A-body platform as these cars seemingly ride better than most new luxury cars. Best of all, the installation can be tackled in any home garage with basic tools.
Rebuilding the M21 4 speed transmission may have been the hardest part of the build as this was Bret’s first attempt at doing so. Speaking of the transmission, these old 4 speeds shift nicely. Of course, they are right at home within the original tunnel and shifter location. Overdrive is awesome, but the M21 turned out to be a fine budget transmission choice. Since the LS3 makes plenty of torque down low, it’s possible to get away with four gears and a tall final drive ratio.
Many of us spent quite a few nights hanging out in Bret’s garage as he slowly brought the Happy Hot Rod Chevelle back to life. Some evenings, Bret would connect just one wire or tighten just one bolt. We’d spent the rest of the evening B.S.’ing and listening to “Hair Nation” hard rock on Satellite radio. The place is full of old pictures, old magazines and interesting signs — many of them hand-painted by Bret’s buddy Tim Kreilein.
With the project, nearing completion one of the last tasks was to address the car’s time-worn paint job. As usual, Bret had a plan. We delivered the car to Adam’s Polishes at Goodguys’ PPG Nationals in Columbus. Adam Pitale’s crew rehabbed the paint to like new condition. That unusual color really pops in sunlight. A few remaining bumps and bruises will need further attention, but a perfect car is just an imperfect car waiting to happen. Flaws add character – same as with people.
The Happy Hot Rod Chevelle turned out as planned, the Cerullo seats are comfortable, the fuel- injected LS3 fires to life on the first try and Bret got a chance to spend some time with the boy. Like the Chevelle, son Andy has transformed. Well done.
Bret’s garage showcases decades of grassroots car building with proper hardware bins and storage mixed with mementos of prior builds and good times.
Chevelle A-Body StreetGRIP information and ordering, click HERE
Lead photo by Robert McGaffin McGaffin Photography
Article: How to Build a Happy Hot Rod
For more information on Adam’s Polishes, click HERE