Michael Corleone ran a very tight ship. Fredo would vouch for it, but he’s at the bottom of Lake Tahoe. While Tom Farrington isn’t quite as ruthless, the man certainly has a way of getting some serious results out of the family business. From afar, all bystanders see is a slick, homebuilt, LS-powered ’66 Chevelle on the autocross embarrassing high-profile Pro Touring machines that cost three times as much to build. Nevertheless, there’s much more to the story. What’s really going on behind the scenes is a carefully executed battle plan in which dad, mom, and the kids all turn wrenches and contribute equally to the cone-slicing cause. Throw in the car’s distinctly pleasant blue-collar flavor, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a Chevelle and an even cooler pit crew to match.
Like most working stiffs, Tom’s day job keeps him plenty busy. On top of fighting fires, he serves our country proudly in the Army National Guard. When many hot rodders are letting off some steam in the garage after work, Tom is dodging RPGs in Afghanistan. It’s an arduous lifestyle that can seriously stifle forward progress on project cars, so he has come to depend upon a tightly knit support network all within the family. “It’s slave labor, plain and simple,” he quips. “There aren’t a lot of hot rodders near us, so to get anything done we have to work as a family. Whether it’s pulling a motor or a trailer, there isn’t much that my wife can’t do. Until our kids were old enough to wrench, she did all the work. My son and daughter are now old enough to help, and they have hundreds of hours of experience working on the car and fixing things in emergency situations.”
Currently scattered around the Farrington yard is a total of 22 Chevelles, most of which have been pirated for parts. Not too long ago, however, the joys of rolling around town in an A-body were merely a distant memory. “When Debbie and I dated in high school, my first car was a ’66 Malibu, which was soon replaced by a ’67 SS350 Chevelle. Sadly, after high school I thought I would do the mature thing by selling my muscle car and buying something more dependable,” Tom says. “We always thought we’d own another Chevelle someday, but the years clicked away. Finally in 2002, while I was with the National Guard in California, we decided that if we were ever going to get back into the hobby our best bet was picking up a car while we were stationed out West. After a weekend of searching, we finally found a very solid ’66 Chevelle shell with no interior, motor, or trans along with several boxes of parts. Since we had no way of getting it back home to Indiana, we bought a 16-foot trailer and loaded everything up.”
The L92 small-block was plucked...
The L92 small-block was plucked out of an ’08 Cadillac Escalade, but by swapping out the intake manifold for a lower-profile LS3 unit, it’s essentially an L99. Tom opted to retain the factory variable valve-timing system with a VVT-compatible cam from Mast Motorsports. The stand-alone M90 computer, which came pre-programmed for the cam, is also from Mast.
Once back home, the Chevelle was completely disassembled and the restoration process began. The original plan was to build a small-block–powered cruiser, but Tom got greedy and dropped in a 454 instead. Tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan meant that the build would ultimately span eight years, so Tom bought a ’64 Chevelle wagon that the family could enjoy in the meantime. As fate would have it, a trip to the Chevellebration event in Nashville changed the direction of the project entirely. “While I was there, the guys at Detroit Speed and Engineering convinced me to run the wagon through the autocross, and I just fell in love with the experience. Back in the ’80s, my first Chevelle had big sway bars and torched springs, so I’ve always enjoyed muscle cars that handle even before it was called Pro Touring,” he says. Afterward, Tom and Debbie decided to set the car up for autocross and road racing duty, and the stock suspension just wouldn’t cut it. Since time wasn’t on their side, the Farringtons opted for stiffer springs and cobbled together the balance of the suspension components. To stick it all to the pavement, the Chevelle got a set of 18-inch Vintage Wheel Works rollers wrapped in BFGoodrich rubber, and to bring things to a halt, Baer 13-inch disc brakes were bolted up at each corner. With lots of help from Debbie and the kids, the Chevelle was finally finished just in time for the Midwest Muscle Car Challenge in 2010.
Subtle clues help distinguish...
Subtle clues help distinguish the posers from the true players. A Canton Accusump accumulator system mounted in the trunk keeps three quarts of oil on standby should oil pressure ever drop dangerously low while cornering.
Although the Chevelle forged through the road course and autocross portions of the MMC just fine, the big-block started knocking during the brake test portion of the competition. The big Rat motor had smoked a rod bearing, and the Farringtons had to hit the road for the Chevellebration event in Tennessee in just nine days. “Despite a three-day National Guard training drill that was thrown in-between, my family and I were able to get the motor pulled, rebuilt, and reinstalled in time to make the show. Just in case, I had Debbie follow behind me with a truck and trailer that was hauling the wagon as a backup car if needed, but the ’66 Chevelle made the round-trip drive without any major problems,” Tom says. “That was just the beginning of last year’s road-trips. Despite getting rear-ended the night before the Motor State Challenge, we ran the car hard during the entire event. Later in the year, we attended the Goodguys PPG Nationals in Ohio, the Run Thru the Hills in Tennessee, and the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational in Las Vegas. One of the biggest challenges was getting the cooling system sorted out, and we went through three different radiators and several electric fans before getting it right.”
A quintessential West Coast...
A quintessential West Coast gem, the Chevelle needed no sheetmetal repairs whatsoever. Elite Body Shop in Clermont, Indiana, sprayed the car in ’04 Audi Silver.
With the winter months approaching, Tom started scheming up new ways to get some more power out of the old big-block. He contemplated installing a bigger cam and swapping out the heads, but decided on an LS swap instead. “The 454 was a lot of fun, and it ran great the first year, but it was just too heavy. With the big-block, the car understeered so badly on the autocross that I had to jam the brakes to transfer the weight forward and keep it pointed in the right direction,” Tom says. After doing the math—which ended up being wrong—Tom figured he could swap in an LS motor for less than the cost of upgrading the big-block.
A testament to his military...
A testament to his military background, the Chevelle’s four-point harnesses are surplus items out of an Army UH-1 helicopter. Well-bolstered Corbeau GTS II seats hold occupants in place, and the instrument panel is from Dakota Digital. The Farringtons made the custom rollbar themselves, and a Vintage Air A/C system keeps them comfy on long trips.
The Farringtons pulled a 6.2L L92 small-block out of an ’08 Escalade, bolted up an LS3 intake for extra hood clearance, then dropped the new motor in. To boost the power, the stock cam was replaced with a Mast Motorsports 224/238-at-.050 hydraulic roller, and a Tremec T56 transmission was bolted behind the all-aluminum mill. Furthermore, the suspension was given an entire revamp with DSE control arms, coilovers, and sway bars in the front and rear. Tom figures the new engine combo is good for roughly 535 hp, but what he enjoys even more than the added grunt is how the much lighter small-block has changed the A-body’s handing dynamics. “The LS motor probably took a solid 250 pounds off the front end, and the car now goes exactly where I want it,” he says. “If anything, it oversteers a bit. My driving is still the biggest weak link, but we managed to finish 10th out of 65 cars at the Run to Music City event in Nashville this year, and we pulled off the win at the Chevellabration autocross two weeks later.”
As is often the case with cool cars like the Farringtons’ ’66 Chevelle, the story behind it is even more interesting. “Our family has been to 29 states chasing down parts cars, and we have some awesome road-trip memories from our adventures,” Tom says. “I wish we could afford to build a $200,000 car, but I’m happy with what we’ve got and building the car together as a family has been a very rewarding experience. Debbie is busy running her wagon at as many events as possible, my son, Sam, is on fire with his ’67 Chevelle project, and my daughter, Kaytlin, has plans to build a ’65 El Camino.”
So here we have one family with four project cars, one of which has already garnered its share of national spotlight, all built on a workingman’s budget. Like we said, Tom knows how to get some serious results out of the family business. That business just happens to be building sweet rides with sweat and willpower rather than through outsourcing and check writing. Unlike the “Don,” he doesn’t have to resort to a life of crime to get the job done, either.
The stock wheeltubs swallow...
The stock wheeltubs swallow up 295mm-wide tires without much fuss. They’re squeezed onto 18x9.5 wheels, which seem a bit narrow on paper, but Tom says the combo works just fine.
Tom, Debbie, Sam, and Kaytlin Farrington
Type: GM L92 Gen IV small-block
Block: factory 4.065-inch bore
Oiling: stock pump, Mast Motorsports pan
Cylinder heads: factory rectangle-port aluminum castings
Camshaft: Mast 224/238-at-.050 hydraulic roller; .578/.593-inch lift; 115-degree LSA
Induction: GM LS3 intake manifold and L92 throttle body
Ignition: stock coil packs, Mast Motorsports plug wires
Cooling system: factory water pump, Allstar radiator, Derale dual electric fans
Exhaust: Hooker 1.75-inch long-tube headers, custom H-pipe, dual 2.5-inch Flowmaster mufflers
Transmission: Tremec T56 six-speed manual, Centerforce dual-friction clutch
Rear axle: GM 12-bolt rearend with 3.73:1 gears and Eaton Posi
Front suspension: Detroit Speed and Engineering drop spindles, control arms, coilovers, and sway bar
Rear suspension: Detroit Speed and Engineering control arms, coilovers, and sway bar
Brakes: Baer 13-inch rotors and two-piston calipers, front; Baer 13-inch rotors and single-piston calipers, rear
Wheels: Vintage Wheel Works V40 18x9.5, front and rear
Tires: BFGoodrich 275/35R18, front; 295/35R18, rear