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.
What: '66 Chevrolet Chevelle
Owner: Tom Monehan
Home Town: Villa Ridge, Missouri, a thriving megalopolis of 2,400 residents west of St. Louis
Short-Block: Here is the heart of the matter. The whole engine process started with a World Products iron Merlin block machined to a 4.530-inch bore and stroked with an Eagle 4340 steel crankshaft moving the pistons a total of 4.25 inches. This makes for a 548ci package using 9.5:1-compression SRP forged-alloy pistons and Total Seal rings. A set of Eagle steel H-beam 6.385-inch rods make the connection between the pistons and the crank. Tom also uses a Milodon oil pan and stock-type pump to keep everything well lubed.
Cam: The cam that turned this whole package around is an Ultradyne solid roller from Bullet Racing Cams that specs out with 255/264 degrees of duration at 0.050-inch tappet lift and 0.686/0.680-inch valve lift based on a rocker ratio of 1.7:1. Bullet also supplied the roller valvesprings to keep everything happy at speed, while a Cloyes timing set spins the cam using Comp pushrods.
Heads: Big ports are necessary to feed a hungry 548ci Rat motor, so the nod went to World Products for a set of Merlin 320cc iron castings. After friend Larry Martin revived the castings with some judicious port work and a solid valve job, the 2.30/1.88-inch stainless steel valves improved the flow dramatically.
Induction: World Products also supplied the 4150-style Merlin single-plane intake manifold that mounts a Pro Systems- modified Holley that now flows right around 1,000 cfm of air filtered by a K&N air-cleaner assembly. All that cfm is really necessary when you're making in excess of 750 hp. The 2-inch open plenum spacer also helps the air and fuel transition between the carburetor and the heads. As for spark, Tom relies on an MSD Digital 6 with total timing set at 36 degrees.
Exhaust: Jet Hot coated a set of 211/48-inch headers for the Chevelle, and they are hooked to stainless steel pipes that lead to a pair of Flowmaster mufflers
Trans: When you're packing 548 cubes, you also need the strength of a Turbo 400 built by buddy Tom Oermann, who added some extra clutches, beefed the internals, and added a complete reverse-pattern manual valvebody. Tom then added a Trans Specialties 9-inch converter with a 3,000-rpm stall speed, just to make the car a little more streetable. Tom controls the trans with a B&M Pro Ratchet shifter.
Rearend: "I wanted a 9-inch no matter what," Tom says. He found a housing out of a '70 Mustang that was the same width as the original 10-bolt. Tom did his own conversion, welding the original lower control arm mounts off the old 10-bolt onto the 9-inch and fabricating his own upper mounts using a jig he made himself. Then he had a local shop assemble the 3.50 gears with a spool and Dutchman 31-spline axles. Driveshafts Unlimited in Arnold, Missouri, built the chrome-moly steel driveshaft. Tom also added rear shocks from Summit along with Air Lift airbags inside the coil springs to help the launch with a little preload.
Brakes: Here's where a basic '70 Chevelle front disc-brake conversion is simple and easy for the front. At the rear, Tom went with a pair of discs from an '88 Mercury Grand Marquis that offer a streetable parking-brake setup with a mini-drum inside the rear rotors similar to the Ford Explorer rear disc-brake system.
Wheels/Tires: Tom really liked the look of the American Racing Hopster wheels with 16x9-inchers at the rear and 16x5s in front mounting a pair of Mickey Thompson DOT-legal stickies measuring 255/60R16 at the rear with smaller 205/50R16 street tires up front.
Body: After welding in a new trunk floor and repairing the small rust holes in the quarter-panels, Tom bought a new trunk lid from Goodmark, a fiberglass hood from Glasstech, and then painted the entire car PPG '02 Ford Sonic Blue using paint from Cooper Color in Arnold, Missouri.
Interior: Like many street enthusiasts, Tom retained much of the stock interior look by re-covering the stock seats in black vinyl with stock door panels but adding an eight-point rollcage to satisfy the dragstrip safety enforcers. The only other additions included "filling in a few holes in the dash" and adding an Auto Meter tach and gauges to keep track of the spin cycle under the hood.
Crew: Few cars are built completely by their owners, and the fun is having friends like Troy LaCrone, Mark Winistoerfer, Rich Cordry, Dan Kemper, John Hamer, Tom Oermann, and Chris Nowack to help along with Tom's family, including wife, Sheri, and kids Alex, Jeremy, and Jena.