Something just isn't adding up. Centrifugal superchargers are notorious for being dogs at low rpm; they require the patience of a ricer waiting for his VTEC to kick in. The ProCharged small-block in Beverly Pangrac's '68 Chevelle, however, doesn't care about supposed limitations in step-up ratios and parasitic crankshaft losses. The itty-bitty 383 does such a good big-block impersonation that seeing anything other than a KFC-sized Rat under the hood seems terribly out of place. What's even more out of place is the person sitting in the driver seat: a woman-and she's a real-deal hot rodder, too.
Cruising through the streets of Kansas City, Missouri, a pair of late-model Mustangs traveling in our pack suddenly go wide open. Before their boosted motors have a chance to put any car lengths between us, Beverly instinctively drops the five-speed down a few gears, and then pulls off a mean 2-3 shift. As she modulates the throttle and nonchalantly executes the minor steering corrections necessary to keep the rearend in line, any doubts regarding how sincere an enthusiast she really is are completely eradicated. Once coasting back down to the speed limit, Beverly yells, "I can keep up with the big boys!" Yeah, no kidding. Witnessing this surreal sequence of events is like spotting Gandhi in a strip club, only to realize he's brandished his fair share of dollar bills before.
Unlike most car gals, Beverly's fascination with speed wasn't passed down from an influential male figure. Her dad wasn't a car guy, and while her sisters were playing "House," Beverly was watching someone work on cars. When driving age rolled around, she went from observer to participant, splitting time between her parents' '70 Impala and her own '72 Mercury Capri. "I got into a lot of trouble with that Impala, and went street racing from time to time," she admits. Her favorite car with which to stomp male egos was a '70 Chevelle she didn't even own. "A very dear friend of mine in high school worked at a service station and had a big-block Chevelle. I used to pull up and say, 'There's something wrong with my car, can I borrow yours?' He knew all along that there really wasn't anything wrong, but he tossed me the keys anyway."
That's where this '68 Chevelle comes into the picture: it's a throwback to her youth. The coconspirator in the buildup is her husband, Cary, who as a ProCharger employee felt obligated to assemble a potent forced-induction engine combo. Cary's first choice was to build an early C3 Corvette for himself, but as is the case with most successful marriages, the woman of the household got her way. "I knew that if he started building his Corvette, my car would never get finished," Beverly explains. So how did Cary convince his wife that she needed 654 rear-wheel horsepower? He didn't. "I'm a guy and she's a gal, so I don't always ask her permission for certain things, since I might not like the answer," says Cary.
To find a suitable project car, Cary turned to a racer buddy to help him comb through the arid regions of the country. "I specifically wanted a rust-free car from the desert, since I didn't want to go broke on bodywork," he explains. The Chevelle turned up in New Mexico, with a tantalizing price tag of $2,500. A plebian 300 coupe with a straight body and no A/C or power steering, it was the perfect foundation for building a non-original 600hp street machine. After spending two weeks driving around car lots, the Pangracs finally agreed on a white-and-blue color scheme. Then it was off to the body shop to fix a few minor dings and get a fresh coat of paint. "It's not perfect, but for the $2,800 we spent on the bodywork, it's perfect to us."
Like most hot rodders on a budget, the engine combo doesn't necessarily have the best components for the application, but rather the best components they could afford. The short-block is a basic yet venerable 383 with a budget rotating assembly and a factory block. The Dart iron heads aren't ideally suited for a forced-induction motor, but the price was right. "Obviously, iron doesn't dissipate heat as well as aluminum-which is very important on a supercharged engine-but I got a really good deal on the heads from a friend, so I couldn't pass them up," says Cary. Nonetheless, the combo flat out works, converting 12 psi of boost to much more than 750 flywheel horsepower on pump gas.
After just one romp of the throttle from a standstill, it becomes quite clear that the centrifugal blower is every bit the equal of a roots blower when it comes to low-end grunt. "People say centrifugals don't make torque, but they make gobs of torque," Cary opines. "It's a combination of having the right step-up ratio, pulley diameter, and impeller design. Street tires can only handle so much power before they break loose, and any decently built motor will make 400 hp. That's plenty of grunt to get you moving off the line, and the blower in this car starts making boost at 2,500 rpm. So when you stab the gas, you feel the motor first and then the boost kicks in almost immediately. If the blower made boost any sooner, you'd just spin the tires and you wouldn't go anywhere."
Even more surprising than the blower's low-rpm performance is that it's teamed up with a carburetor, not EFI. Granted, it has a slight hiccup under light freeway loads from time to time, but it drives far better than many EFI cars whose tunes are out of whack. "There's a misconception out there that blow-through induction setups don't work," says Cary. "Sure, guys had limited success with them in the '60s, but we've learned a few things in the decades since then, and we're much smarter than we used to be. Centrifugal superchargers have become so mainstream that the increased demand for blow-through systems has forced carb tuners to dramatically improve driveability." According to Cary, Holley and Barry Grant both offer carbs that will work with a carb hat out-of-the-box. Furthermore, any carb can be modified to work by removing the choke and replacing the brass floats with nitrophyl units. "Old timers don't like removing the choke, but you're probably not going to drive a 700hp car when it's cold anyway."
Ultimately, there's a lot to like about this Chevelle: its obscene power output, its unorthodox induction system, and the real-world budget from which it was built. Perhaps the most outstanding thing, though, is the teamwork of this husband and wife, which made it all happen. While there's way too much unjustified media attention on women even remotely involved with cars or racing these days, we think Beverly's an exception. On the way home from our photo shoot, she apologized up front that she wouldn't be much for conversation during the trip. "I don't like to talk while I'm driving the Chevelle, because I'd rather listen to the car." Like we said, she's the real deal.
Beverly tore out the interior and did most of the restoration work herself. The front buck
A big benefit of a blow-through arrangement over EFI is that the fuel dramatically lowers
The '70 Chevelle from Beverly's youth was blue with white stripes. As a tribute to that ca