When it comes to meeting people at car shows and cruise nights, I have to admit, that really is one of the best aspects of my job. I have made an untold number of lifelong friends this way. Many times, I even get to meet father and son teams who have given blood, sweat, and tears to build the car that both of them feel is the car of their dreams. Such is the case with Justin Gannon’s unbelievably cool ’71 Chevelle. But, before we get into Justin’s portion of the story, we need to iterate what his father, Tom Gannon, relayed to me about the impetus to start the project.
“I was 16 years old when I built my first Chevelle,” says Tom. “That was 36 years ago. The car ended up being a Super Chevy show winner. That car was obviously nice, but I never had the opportunity to build the car I really wanted to build. When my son, Justin, turned 16, I felt it was time to build a show stopper, a one-of-a-kind SS Chevelle.” To say the duo accomplished that goal is a huge understatement.
The project began when a suitable foundation was located. In Tom’s words, that meant finding a car in really good shape, to begin with. With that said, the Gannon team wanted to make sure this project became the kind of car that could be considered legendary. I’m told it took many, many—did I say many—hours of metalwork to make the shell paint ready. That includes adding 2-inch-wider wheel tubs.
“We wanted to fit as large a tire as possible and retain the rear seat,” Tom iterates. Other body mods include raising the transmission and driveshaft tunnel to accommodate a lowered stance and smoothing the firewall and underside of the hood and trunk lid. The Gannon team relied on the capable guys at Rust To Riches in Honesdale, PA. Once the shell was deemed ready for paint, it was covered with 18 coats of smooth-as-silk House of Kolor Candy Apple Red. However, as great as the outer shell looks, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the out-of-sight chassis.
From the very beginning, this car was not meant to be a one-to-one-scale die cast. No sir, it was going to a get-in-and-drive hot rod. To make it the best driver it could be, a Roadster Shop Fast Track Chassis was ordered. While the chassis utilizes Woodward Racing C6 Corvette spindles, the TIG-welded control arms are based on Roadster Shop’s revised geometry numbers. Supporting the rear are parallel four bars, and coilovers control the ride fore and aft. Since all good hot rods need to eventually stop, Baer brakes can stop the 14-inch rotor from moving.
Since this was always destined to be a street car, a comfortable interior is a must-have. So, the inside features the handiwork of Ray’s Upholstering in Forest City, PA. The factory seat frames were covered with premium leather accented with what is called DiModa faux-gator skin accents. The look is truly different than any Chevelle I have seen. As one would imagine, any great driver car needs a great sound system. To that end, an Alpine head unit and JL Audio speakers belt out the requisite tunes as needed. Even with modifications like the custom dash panel, tilt column, billet steering wheel, and red accents, the interior still retains the basic appearance as “stock,” but the small deviations really bring it into the realm of awesome.
When it came time to motivate the car, a run-of-the-mill small block just wasn’t going to cut it. The Gannon gentlemen decided to work with a true professional—Scott Shafiroff. Looks can be deceiving, and if you didn’t realize this mill is displacing 632 cubic inches, I understand. The large-by-huge motivator is based on a Dart Big M block with a Callies crankshaft and 6.6-inch Oliver rods supporting Diamond Racing pistons. Deep within the heart of the block is a COMP Cams solid-roller that raises each lifter a total of .773/.773-inch and holds it there for 276/282 degrees of rotation. It’s a stout valve mover for sure. Up top are a set of Dart aluminum heads, and a 10-71 huffer is fed by twin 1150 carbs.
Finishing up the driveline is an Animal Transmission’s-built Turbo 400 featuring a transbrake and a 3,500-rpm stall converter. Wrinkling the rear tires is a Strange Engineering-built 9-inch with 3.70 gears and 35-spline axles.
While this ’71 Chevelle might be overkill for some, seeing it drive around at the Carlisle Chevrolet Nationals definitely garnered the attention of many. The end result of the project is definitely a hot rod that the Gannon duo can call their own. With that in mind and the fact the father and son team built what they feel is the ultimate Chevelle, they get all the kudos from me.