Tom Monehan runs with a fast crowd. One of his best friends is Troy LaCrone, who has a passion for 9- and now 8-second cars ("Back in Black," Apr. '07). Another friend, Tom Oermann, owns a silver Nova that runs in the 9s. They are all pals who run together on the street and at the strip. So it's no surprise that Tom would have the burning desire to build a fast car, it just took the right set of circumstances.
In the beginning, some seven years ago, Tom found a tubbed Pro Street-style '66 Chevelle for sale but decided that original wheelwells were more his style. That's when he remembered his friend Mark Kemper, who had dismembered his high school car and then moved on to a different project. After much negotiation, Mark's Malibu went home with Tom to start the long road to rehabilitation.
"The car was in pretty good shape," Tom says. "It needed a trunk floor and a little patch work on the quarter-panels, but that was about it. Then I ran across a guy who was putting fiberglass doors on his '66 Chevelle. His doors were perfect, so I ended up paying as much for his doors as I did the entire car." Tom is a professional bodyman, so the sheetmetal work was not intimidating. It progressed slowly on the body side of things while he also worked on other friends' cars.
Among car guys, it seems that body-and-paint guys gravitate toward the visual side of things, building rolling works of art while at the same time being willing to accept a little less from the horsepower end. But Tom has spent way too much time around his pals LaCrone and Oermann, so nothing less than an aggressive big-block would be acceptable for this project.
"I had just finished a car for a friend of mine, and I had a wad of cash," Tom recalls. "I decided to spend it on a motor. At first, I was gonna buy a 496 and rev the crap out of it, but I wanted to run 10s, so we decided to build a bigger motor that would make more power. I got a deal on a 550ci engine package, and I bought it." As it turned out, the engine required much more work. After Tom got the Chevelle running, it was way down on power. "I ended up taking the heads to a friend, Larry Martin, who has a flow bench. The heads had a horrendous valve job with giant valves (from the engine builder). After Larry did a much better valve job and some bowl work, he was able to bring them back close to their advertised numbers."
The original big-block combination was also hogtied by a tiny cam, so Tom added a more aggressive Ultradyne cam. The combination of bigger lift and more duration and the better cylinder-head flow really lit a fire under this oversized big-block. "It's got a real tight 3,000-rpm-stall converter," Tom says. "But it's still run a 10.96 at 125 mph. If we'd put a looser converter in it and some 3.73 gears, it'd probably run a real 10.50. As it is, I like the driveability of the car. If you drop it into Second at 50 mph, it'll fry the tires. It just lays back and eats. It's the kind of car where you can whoop people's butts at the track and then take it to a cruise all in the same day." You can't ask for more than that.