Just as sure as day turns into night, life may be boring, exciting, frustrating, or enlightening. But unless you are comatose, it is never static. Doing a car project is no different. Stuff you outlined Saturday night over beers and BS might be old news by Monday afternoon. (Well, it might take a little longer than that-maybe months or even years-but unless you're doing a resto by-thenumbers snoozer, the car you just finished will probably not be the same one that you envisioned when you started.)
The venture often becomes an odyssey of epic proportions, sliding from one mindset many times before the journey is done. Monte Dinnell has just returned from his latest safari. A hot rod veteran ('70 Nova, '69 Chevelle, '75 Trans Am), the odds are he will do it again. Guys like Monte thrive on the unknown.
At first, his Chevelle was just a piece that he intended to turn for profit. Two months after he bought it, his brother Mike needed wheels, so he gave $800 for it, just what Monte paid for it in 1991. The interior was cherry, including factory bucket seats, and the frame and floors were perfect. But most of the sheetmetal was questionable. Ten months along, Mike didn't need the Chevelle anymore, so Monte bought it back-again for $800. That was in '92.
He drove it to his garage immediately and pulled the drivetrain. All the work he would do in the next two years amounted to upgrading it. He was going to build a drag racer, and do it until it snowed in hell. By late '94, he'd compiled a stout 355 and put a rebuilt Turbo 350 and a 12-bolt Posi behind it.
As time marched on, Monte pulled the small-block and fattened the pot with a 410hp 396. To match the higher grade of grunt, Alston poured the footings for the Chevelle's foundation with an eightpoint rollcage. Monte was still on tear to build his mythical drag car when he met David Cross of Hot Rod Haus in Trevor, Wis. (www.hotrodhaus. com). They became good friends and enjoyed a relationship based on mutual interests, trust, and loyalty. And in '01, Monte handed over the Chevelle for the sheetmetal work and paint.
"My parents divorced when I was 10, and I would spend weekends with my dad," Monte said. "One weekend, Mike, my friends and I were hanging out at a video arcade and saw a silver 1970 Chevelle SS with black stripes sitting outside of a muffl er shop. I knew from that day forward that I would have my own, and I told my brother Mike that. By the time I bought mine, all the Chevelles I saw were red with black stripes. Fast-forward to 1992, a car show in Wisconsin. There I saw my dream, a '70 Chevelle painted Cortez Silver with black stripes. That settled it."
During the process, Pro Touring was coming on the scene like a rampage. The thought of having a straight-line monster, as well as one that had superb road manners and the handling and stopping power to back it up, appealed all the more to him. In the back of his head, he still wanted more power than he could handle, so he began searching for a monster motor. He didn't find it.
Concurrently, his brother Mike had a line on a '70 Chevelle-minus the drivetrain. Mike found a replacement 454 four-bolt main block and put Monte's LS6 square-port heads on it. The dynamometer said it made 552 hp. All was good, right? unfortunately, the deal on the car fell through, so Monte put the 454 in his Chevelle, where it stayed for three and a half years.
"I was still looking for a motor of my own," he said.
The plot got thicker.
"In November of '05, a friend told me that his girlfriend's brother had passed away and that her parents had this 540 engine they wanted to get rid of. It was at a shop in Waukegan (Ill.) for a freshening up. On the motor, it had gone a 10-flat at 139 in an '82 Malibu. The price was $14,000 ... I waited a couple of weeks, and the figure went to $10,500.
"About a month later, the price was down to $6,500, so I told him I'd go and look at it. It was everything they said, with the best of everything-carb to oil pan. I told him to offer $4,500; they turned it down. A couple of days later, he called me again and said if I could get $4,500 by the end of the day, they'd accept it."
Monte's budget wouldn't allow anything more than that. But his perseverance paid off handsomely, getting a great deal and keeping that 10 grand in his pocket where it belonged. He wasn't done with the car, but didn't know it at the time. The dyno sheet indicated a peak output of 844.6 hp at 7,900 rpm and 779.2 ft-lb of torque at 8,000 rpm, as recorded by Fox Lake, Ill.-based Powersource Race Engines.
As this power influx was clearly maniacal in a street-pounder, Monte got busy with the rest of the car in an attempt to at least harness a portion of it. He installed lightweight frontend components to improve steering geometry and handling potential, along with bigger, wider rims and stickier ZR-rated tires. A large antisway bar in the rear, adjustable for pinion angle, and strengthened upper and lower control arms accommodating a 315-series rubber on 11-inch wide rims with a 6-inch backspace fit in there real slick without the hassle or added expense of minitubs.
Before he stuck the motor back in its hole, he had the heads and intake manifold ported by Total Flow Products and polished (exterior only) by Randy Richtmyre of Kenosha, Wis. Oh, and just to make sure there was enough zing in case some bloody badass drew down on him unexpectedly, he stuck a nitrous plate between the carb and intake manifold. So we're talking about 1,200 hp with the unit on full-flare and a compression ratio greater than 13:1. Can you say 110-octane race gas? Though we'd prefer pump octane, Monte didn't see a problem. It was, after all, his vision and his money, not ours.
Was the whole thing worth it? Who doesn't appreciate the adoration that comes with a job well done, or a car that appeals to all senses? Monte had been at local gatherings but yearned for a larger venue to see how his car would stand up next to ones prepared by big-buck builders. He dragged the car to a Super Chevy show in Joliet, Ill. A comedy of potentially serious errors got him to the confab too late to get a spot in the Chevelle marshalling area, and he wound up in the Monte Carlo pen. (Hey, his name is Monte, right?) The next day, though, he got his payback big time with a second-place plaque in an assembly of 20-30 high-quality Chevelles. At the '07 Good Guys in Madison, Wis., the car got him top honors in the Chevy Muscle category. yeah, it was worth it.
His wife Suzanne, brother Mike, as well as friends and confidantes Kris Durkin, Dan Tinkes, and Dave Cross, stood by him during the Chevelle's 17-year gestation. using his horse-trading acumen, common sense, patience, and allegiance to Summit and Jeg's, Monte was able to realize his project for just under $19K. In this highly evolved situation we call hot rodding, this is not unlike a small miracle.
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