1969 Chevy Chevelle - Baby Got Back!
The Massive Back Tires Are What First Grab You, But There's More To This Chevelle Than An Impressive Rear View.
From the April, 2009 issue of Popular Hot Rodding
By Stephen Kim
Photography by Robert McGaffin
You can't really say that the rest of this Chevelle's posterior proportions are anything out of the ordinary, but hot damn, check out those rear meats. They're 295/65-15 Mickey Thompsons, to be exact, or 30x12.5x15 for those who are metrically challenged. Unlike the big-buttocks fetish, which only infects a small percentage of the misguided male population, just about every hot rodder digs copious rear tread width. And Chris Borg's big-block beast makes the most of it, too, running 10.24 at 128 mph at the track. Dig a little deeper, and the persistence and attention to detail necessary to stuff those epic rollers back there surface throughout the entire car. So clean, so simple, so functional, so fast, and oh so pretty, it's the quintessential street machine. For anyone who's ever wanted to build a Chevelle, the car that stars in your fantasies probably looks a lot like this one.
Having owned both a '70 Cutlass and a '72 GS in the past, Chris has always been big into A-bodies. Looking for a productive way to stay amused during long Illinois winters, he picked up a '69 Chevelle in 1992. Not a big fan of performing tedious bodywork, his plan called for spending more up front for a solid foundation. He found exactly what he was looking for at, of all places, a local car museum. "The body and interior as you see them today are exactly like they were when I first bought the car 17 years ago," he says. "It still had the original 396 big-block and four-speed in it with only 60,000 miles on the clock. The more I dug into the car, the cleaner I realized it was. It sounds crazy now, but the $12,000 I paid for it was actually a lot of money back then."
Without any monotonous metalwork to deal with, Chris jumped right into the good stuff. He pulled the 396 and four-speed in favor of a mild 468 and a Richmond five-speed. Although Chris ripped the yoke off of the rearend on his very first run at the dragstrip, he eventually sorted out the combo and got it running in the high 11s. As is often the case, his drag racing buddies proved to be a bad influence. He bought a 502 from a friend, and took his Chevelle to the next level. The combination is essentially a GMPP 502 crate motor that has been bored 0.030-over and fitted with Eagle steel rods and 11.0:1 SRP pistons. The bottom end is topped with GM oval-port aluminum cylinder heads that have been heavily ported by Self Racing (www.selfracing.com), along with a Brodix single-plane intake manifold. Valve actuation is handled by a Comp 251/257-at-.050 solid roller cam that bumps Jesel shaft-mount rockers. An exact hp figure is not known, but weighing in at 3,755 pounds and running 128 mph in the quarter, it's safe to presume that the Chevelle packs a rather stout package.
Big power is just part of the drag formula, however, and Chris's knowledgeable pack of quarter-mile junkies helped reinforce the point. The first order of business in sorting out the driveline and suspension was ditching the stick. "Richmond five-speeds don't like speed-shifting very much, and manuals in general are just very hard on the driveline, so I switched over to a TH400 auto with a Gear Vendors overdrive," he explains. Moreover, working on the pit crew of his buddy John Cunningham--who campaigned an NHRA Comp Eliminator car--helped Chris understand the basics of suspension setup. "People think a drag car is supposed to squat off the line, but it's not. You want the tires and suspension to separate from the rest of the car, which drives the tires into the ground and gives you more bite."
To attain impressive 1.42-second 60-foot times, Chris makes the most of the factory four-link design. "On my 9-inch rearend, there are five adjustment holes on the ears where the upper control arms attach," he explains. "Along with the adjustable upper control arms, this allows me to set the preload exactly how I want, and tune the suspension almost like an aftermarket four-link. I made a Heim joint for the control arms on the axle side to reduce slop, and Del-a-lum-style bushings on the frame side. The car also has drag springs and double-adjustable shocks all around, which makes dialing in the suspension much easier." Of course, any mention of traction regarding this Chevelle isn't complete without giving due props to those monster rear meats. Surprisingly, although it took plenty of beating and banging with a hammer, they fit without the need of any cutting or welding. Chris says it was mostly just a matter of taking lots of measurements and sorting out the right wheel offset.
Although the fat rear tires stand out the most, they're just one of a multitude of subtle visual tricks that reflect the painstaking measures taken to achieve the brilliant overall execution of this machine. From the rear profile, you won't see the clutter of a fuel system hanging down, and that's not just a convenient coincidence. Chris had Rock Valley build him a custom fuel tank with bungs positioned higher up than normal. This enabled tucking the pump and filter above the gas tank. Along with a custom panel he built into the trunk, Chris now has easy access to the fuel pump just in case anything goes wrong. "When you have a big pump and filter hanging underneath the car, I just think it looks like crap," he opines. The near-perfect stance, which tucks the tires just a smidgen inside the wheel openings, transpired as a combination of dumb luck and some adaptive engineering. "After a few years of racing and street driving, the Moroso drag springs I installed started sagging, and now they sit about 1.5 inches lower in the front than they're supposed to. This really messed up the front suspension geometry, so I built some custom extensions into the control arms to give them some more travel. I will soon be installing some new Detroit Speed & Engineering drop spindles, which are 1.5 inches taller, so hopefully that will take care of the issue."
With the lengths Chris has gone through to fine-tune every aspect of his Chevelle to his exacting standards, he's obviously spent more than a few hours working on it. He attributes his dedication to the nature of his day job and the Midwest car culture. Chris and his dad own a construction company, and says that their weekdays are quite stressful. "We have a shop with a couple of lifts on our facility, and we go over there on the weekends, have fun, and forget about all of the stuff we had to deal with during the week," he explains. "It's like therapy. Since we can't drive our cars when it's cold outside, we're forced to work on them indoors all winter, and that really helps keep us on schedule. We spend way too much money on these cars during the winter, so they have to be done by spring if we're going to get our money's worth out of them."
Considering the brief number of temperate months during the year Chris has at his disposal, the 3,000 miles he logs each summer is indicative of a muscle car that's driven quite often. As such, the Chevelle has all the earmarks of a true street machine. Chris refuses to put a rollbar in it, and the car still maintains power brakes thanks to an electric vacuum assist pump installed underhood. Not an ounce of weight has been removed, and future plans include upgrading the front brakes and installing a new DSE front suspension system in an effort to improve ride quality. "I've always wanted a car that's not only fast, but one that handles and stops well also," he says. "The ride is a little stiff right now, and I hope to tame that down with the new DSE components."
By now, we've established that there's much more to this Chevelle than fat rear rubber. It's fast, clean, well-sorted, damn good looking, and an original big-block four-speed car to boot. However, we still can't get the sight of that seductive rear end out of our silly heads. Maybe that's because whatever car we imagine we're driving in our fantasies, the only view we're going to catch of a bottom-10-second car is the rear end. And in this instance, that certainly isn't a bad thing.
How To Fit Monster Meats
Not only do the massive rear tires on Chris Borg's Chevelle look ultra aggressive, they maximize every last millimeter of real estate available in the wheelwells. Like most readers, we were very intrigued about how he pulled it off. Fortunately, Chris is willing to divulge what he learned for the rest of us to strive to emulate. Here's how he did it in his own words:
"At first, I didn't think I could fit tires this big in my Chevelle without mini-tubbing it, but I sure am glad that I gave it a try. It all started when one of my friends got a set of 295/65-15 Mickey Thompson ET Street radials for his car. I really liked the way they looked, so I asked him to give them to me after they were worn out. I put my car on the lift to test fit the tires, and much to my surprise, they fit in the wheelwells very nicely. I took a few measurements, and realized that they would fit just fine as long as I moved a few things around and got the wheel offset just right. I've always liked the look of the American Racing Torq-Thrust IIs, so I ordered up a set of 15x8-inch wheels on a custom 4 -inch backspacing. I decided to go with an 8-inch-wide wheel instead of a 10-inch-wide wheel for two reasons. First off, it allowed me to pull the tire in closer to the center of the car. Secondly, the smaller wheel narrowed the section width of the tire a bit. Pulling the tire in so far meant that I had to beat the snot out of the inner fenderwells with a two-pound sledge hammer. I then folded in any metal that was in or around the wheelwell to prevent it from catching on the tires.
"The final challenge was getting the tailpipes to clear the tires. To accomplish this, I had Rock Valley custom modify my gas tank by cutting off the front corners of the tank and re-angling them inward. Next, I cut up the exhaust system and shoved the mufflers up as high in the car as I could. I then used some 180-degree U-bends to reposition the tailpipes inward, farther away from the tires and closer to the gas tank. After all that, the tires fit perfectly and don't rub at all even if I take a corner very hard. I've never cut a tire on the street or at the track. After all the mods, I sprayed the wheelwells with some fresh undercoating. Now, if the tires rub for any reason, I'll know exactly where and clearance it accordingly. There's really nothing special about the work required to get these tires to fit. It just takes time and patience. I wish I could fit 315s underneath there!"-Chris Borg
While doing a burnout at the...
While doing a burnout at the track one day, the front snout of the water pump broke, bounced off the fan, and poked a hole through the original steel hood. Chris used this as an excuse to swap in a tall single-plane intake, and a Glasstek cowl-induction hood.
The Brodix single-plane intake...
The Brodix single-plane intake manifold was cut in half by Self Racing, ported, then welded back together. It was originally designed for a Dominator carb, but Self welded on a 4150-series adapter pad. The attractive accessory drive setup is from March.
The only rust that needed...
The only rust that needed repair on the entire car was located below the rear windshield. On this car, the "SS396" badges denote the real thing, not a clone.
By relocating the bungs, Chris...
By relocating the bungs, Chris was able to move the fuel pump and filter above the gas tank. Not only does this de-clutter the area around the tank, it makes for easy access to the pump from the trunk. When the fuel pump seized up during a long weekend cruise, it allowed Chris to rebuild it on the side of the road and get rolling again within an hour.
Despite the big cam, the CPP...
Despite the big cam, the CPP master cylinder gets power assist from a SSBC electric vacuum pump. Chris plans on installing a Hydroboost system next winter.
By The Numbers
|’69 CHEVY CHEVELLE |
|Chris Borg, 43 • Palatine, IL |
|Type: ||Chevy 509 big-block |
|Block: ||factory 502 Chevy bored to 4.500 inches |
|Oiling: ||Melling oil pump, Milodon pan |
|Rotating assembly: ||GM 4.000-inch steel crank, Eagle H-beam rods, forged 11.0:1 SRP pistons |
|Cylinder heads: ||GM oval-port aluminum castings with 2.25/1.88-inch Manley valves and 110cc chambers ported by Self Racing |
|Camshaft: ||Comp Cams 251/257-at-.050 solid roller, .648/.619-inch lift, 112-degree LSA |
|Valvetrain: ||Jesel 1.7:1 shaft-mount rockers, K-Motion springs, Comp lifters and pushrods |
|Induction: ||Ported Brodix single-plane intake manifold, Holley 900-cfm 4150 carb tuned by Willy’s Carburetor and Dyno Shop |
|Ignition: ||MSD 6AL box, billet distributor, HVC coil, and plug wires |
|Fuel system: ||Rock Valley stainless steel tank, Magnaflow pump and regulator |
|Exhaust: ||Lemons stepped 2 1/8- to 2 ¼-inch long-tube headers with four-inch collectors, dual three-inch Flowmaster mufflers |
|Cooling: ||Meziere electric water pump, Be Cool radiator and electric fans |
|Built by: ||owner |
|Transmission: || |
TSI TH400 auto,
Gear Vendors overdrive,
Coan 4,300-stall converter, Hurst shifter
|Rear axle: ||Ford 9-inch rearend with |
Lenco 35-spline axles and
locker differential; 4.30:1 gears
|Front suspension: ||Global West upper and lower control arms, Moroso drag springs, Afco double-adjustable shocks |
|Rear suspension: ||Gazen Racing upper control arms, Global West lower control arms, Moroso drag springs, double-adjustable VariShocks |
|Brakes: ||stock discs, front; Mark Williams four-piston calipers and 11 ¾-inch rotors, rear |
|Wheels & Tires |
|Wheels: ||American Racing 15x7 Torq-Thrust II, front; 15x8, rear |
|Tires: ||Pirelli P600 235/60R15 radials, front; Mickey Thompson 295/65R15 ET Street radials, rear |