It’s no secret that many of us get into the car hobby via a feeling of nostalgia. Memories of “better” times fuel the need for us to replicate a first car, a first ride, or a first memory. For others, it could be nostalgia combined with a need for survival — both figuratively and literally. Take for instance, Russ Panneton of Nederland, Colorado, and his ’66 Chevelle.
“In 2013, my main “fun vehicle” was a sport bike,” says Russ. “My wife hated it. After having a friendly conversation with a state trooper during a ride one morning, I decided to make my wife happy and quit riding sport bikes. Plus, I knew she’d give me carte blanche about building a car if I sold my bike.”
Back in 1967, Russ was a young lad of 17 years old who fell in love with a Marina Blue 1967 Chevelle 396 Super Sport. “I still remember the first time I saw that car,” Russ quips. “A new car was way out of my budget at the time, but it fostered a lifelong dream. Eventually, I realized I actually liked the look of the ’66 Chevelle better than the ’67. From the side, the ’66 Chevelle front fenders impart a suggestion of speed that’s lacking on the ’67s.”
With the sport bike sold, Russ started his look for a ’66 Chevelle. He wanted to build a “sleeper” muscle car and decided to find a good Malibu as a basis for the build. “It took a year and several disappointing looks at cars that were rusty wrecks,” Russ says. “I can build engines, but I can’t do bodywork. The car needed to look good and be (mostly) rust-free.”
One day, while browsing an online auction site, he stumbled upon what he felt was a nice looking candidate. It had a 350 small-block and a 700R4 transmission in it. “I contacted the seller for more pictures and made an offer that he accepted,” Russ states with a huge grin. “This was a leap of faith on my part, and I hoped the car was as described.” With the deal made, Russ had the car shipped from Chicago to Colorado.
Luckily, the Chicago owner stored the car indoors during the winter months, so the body was in good shape. “The sheetmetal is all original,” Russ affirms. “It was repainted while in Phoenix and we guess the color is a 1970 GM Bright Blue Metallic. It’s a bit bluer than Marina Blue but is gorgeous. Up close, you can see a few nicks since this car gets driven. It is no garage queen.
The engine and transmission in the car when it arrived in Colorado were not in the plan for Russ, so a change was made. “I started with a new GM LSA block from Summit Racing,” Russ says. “Custom CP pistons give me a 9.5:1 compression ratio, and they connect to the GM LSA crank (forged steel, 8-bolt crank flange) with Carrillo 6.125-inch connecting rods. Up top are a pair of GM LSA heads. The cam is a Lingenfelter GT9 turned by a Cloyes timing set and YellaTerra Ultralite roller rockers open and close the valves. Finally, an Edelbrock E-Force supercharger was bolted to the heads. Madcap Racing Engines in Denver did the machine work. I did all the other work and assembled it myself.”
The supercharger’s heat exchanger also required some creative plumbing. Russ was happy to report that the GMPP wiring harness and ECU made the electrical work a snap. Unfortunately, the fuel system turned out to be another story.
“Rick’s Tanks built a really nice stainless-steel tank using an in-tank pump from a vendor I met at the PRI show,” states Russ. The pump used an intelligent fuel pressure regulator to modulate how hard the pump worked. That was a great design, but it turned out to be unreliable. It was good enough for me to start the engine and break it in, but it left me stranded on the road a few times. Eventually, Hector at Rick’s Tanks, hooked me up with VaporWorx and a redesign so we ditched the problematic pumps and switched to using a Cadillac CTS-V pump module along with a VaporWorx PWM controller. This system is awesome.”
When it was time to install the engine and new TREMEC transmission, Russ says he had a few reservations. “It was kind of scary cutting up the floor pan with a plasma cutter to make room for the TREMEC transmission.” Finally, Russ replaced the original 10-bolt rear with a GearFX Driveline 9-inch filled with 3.60 gears.
Like many classic car owners, Russ felt the interior could use some updating. “I removed the dash by myself to replace the OEM instrument cluster with Autometer gauges, and that was more difficult than it should have been,” says Russ. “I also replaced the original bench seat with ProCar Elite buckets. I added shoulder belts and Clear Shot mirrors from Morris Classics, and a noise and heat insulation kit from QuietRide Solutions”. The small deviations from stock enhance the look of this restomod.
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