What: '68 Chevelle SS396
Owner: Eddie Esacu
Hometown: Canyon Country, California
Crate: The Deluxe version of the GM ZZ502 is shipped complete with everything except headers. It makes 502 hp at 5,200 (hence the name) and 567 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. Rydell Chevrolet at Devonshire Street and Reseda Boulevard in Northridge, California, replaced the oil pan because the crate version does not clear the Chevelle or Camaro chassis. If you order a crate from a GM dealer, just tell them what you are driving and they will set you up.
Exhaust: When we first met Eddie, he had a set of side dumps that was nearly a deal-breaker for the feature shoot. Lucky for us, he had scheduled a date to have a set of 2.5-inch pipes connected to the Hooker Competition headers. The muffler guy at Midas did a pro job with a set of Flowmaster Super 40 mufflers and a mandrel-bent tailpipe kit. We later learned that he developed his skill building race cars on weekends.
Shifter: Since the factory stuff was missing, Eddie built his own console plate and installed the B&M MegaShifter.
Interior: This is mostly an original, stock-appearing car with SS396 badges. The only giveaways that the car is modified are the Auto Meter Sport Comp tach and 15-inch Grant walnut steering wheel. That is, of course, if you don't hear it.
Rearend: It's nothing more than a streetable 12-bolt and a 3.55:1 ratio with a limited slip on stock axles. He added a set of Edelbrock shocks for daily stuff.
Cooling: It didn't overheat while we were shooting, even though the fan was kinda small and unshrouded. That might have something to do with the massive Be Cool radiator.
Transmission: It had a 375, which, depending on how you look at it, is mostly a TH400 with TH350 bits-or the other way around. This one's bits were all over the ground thanks to more than 500 lb-ft and sticky tires. Eddie went to Mike's Transmissions in Lancaster, California, for a TH400 and a Continental 10-inch converter. No problems now.
Big Meats: The 295/50-15 BFGoodrich meats were the first thing we noticed, having owned and operated several Chevelles and El Caminos with 255 and 275 tires that rubbed and smashed into suspension parts. To get them to fit, a shop in central California welded a new, lower, shock-mounting plate a couple of inches inboard from the original location to get the 15x10 Stockton rally sport wheel to fit. Wish we'd thought of that.
Little Meats: Nothing fits like 15x5s and Futura 165x15 skinnies.
Other Stuff: If Americans can do anything, it's build V-8s that belch torque and thunder. This is essentially a bolt-together street machine with new-car manners and old-car timbre. It cruises happily at 3,000 rpm at freeway speed, and Eddie shifts it at 5,500-5,800 rpm, even when he is being serious. The big-block way is to move it without being all wound up like a clock spring.
Did you know? The 502 is the smaller sibling of the 572 without being the redhead. It has a 224/234-duration roller cam with 0.527/0.544 lift, a forged-steel crank, and aluminum oval port heads. The 572 makes about 120 more horsepower, but it will cost you $5,000 more to own it.