The magazine staff didn't award a single Best of Show trophy at the Car Craft Spring Nats, but if we had, it would have gone to Mike Christ's '66 Bel Air. We four staffers aren't afraid to shout each other down when it comes to automotive opinions, but this lumbering barge had four thumbs high--and that was before we found out that it runs mid 12s, or that it got 12 mpg on the 800-mile road trip from Mike's hometown of Cincinnati to the Nats in Florida. Mike claims he built the car in three months for a total investment of $8,500, but we're almost going to have to call B.S. on that one. The car just looks too good.
Mike's the third owner of this todious family hauler, which was straight and rust-free when he got it. A fresh layer of PPG Artesian Turquoise basecoat/clearcoat by Mark's Auto Body in Cincinnati enhanced the sedan's pulchritude, and there was just no way to go wrong with American Torq-Thrust IIs (15x6 up front and 15x8 aft) with BFG T/As in P225/70R15 and P275/60R15 sizes. The suspension is stock with the exception of a power-steering conversion with an '80 Camaro box and a front-disc-brake swap using '70 Impala parts. The front sway bar is also a '70 graft.
Inside, we were impressed by the three-across accommodations reskinned in vinyl and fabric by Joe Durham. The pillar-mounted Auto Meter Ultra-Lite gauges seemed a bit odd to us in this otherwise retro-righteous ride, but the custom execution was fantastic. We liked the in-dash Auto Meter tach even better. Long drives are more tolerable thanks to a JVC AM/FM/cassette, a 12-disc changer, an Eclipse amp, Rockford Fosgate 6x9s, Polk Audio tweeters, and a 10-inch Bazooka tube. When building the car to cruise with his buddies in the Recyclers Car Club, Mike wanted it to be "fairly quiet, have a smooth ride, be big enough to haul the entire family, and fast enough to haul ass." If you ask us, he scored.
Underhood growls a 468-inch Rat motor carved by Trident Specialty Machine in Cincinnati. The Speed Pro slugs squeeze 9.5:1 compression into mildly hogged rectangle-port heads, and the Crane cam lifts the valves 0.553/0.573 inch with 296/306 advertised duration. The intake is a cool double-quad Weiand low-rise with a pair of 500-cfm Carter AFBs under the Billet Specialties air cleaner to match the valve covers. Mike pumps the smog through Hookers with 2-1/8-inch primaries and a set of 3-inch Flowmasters. With a B&M-beefed TH350 and 3.73:1 gears in the 12-bolt, this thing roasts the hides with pride. Trust us.