It is appropriate that Jesse Nelson lives in Mountain Iron, Minnesota, because there is a mountain-motored lump of iron under the hood of his Chevelle that makes excellent use of that ferrous metal when it comes to stoking the fires of horsepower. The car itself is somewhat unremarkable in that with the hood closed, it looks much like any other '70 Chevelle that has fallen under the spell of a crafty car builder. In fact, Jesse says that's exactly the kind of car he was looking to build. "I wanted a fast, streetable car that looked pretty stock."
Let's cut to the chase, shall we? After all, the stock body panels and Harwood hood are not why we're here. At this year's Car Craft Nationals, the chassis dyno guys backed the Chevelle up on the rollers, strapped it down, and spun this silver seducer up to 1,105 rear-wheel horsepower at a sedate 6,300 rpm. And the crowd went wild. Andy Warhol was the one who said, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." If that's true, then Jesse's quarter-hour started when the dyno wheels quit spinning. Anyone within earshot wanted to see what was under the hood of this unassuming Chevelle-us included.
So for the benefit of those of you who weren't there, it was electric. The run was also necessary to qualify for the DynoMax Performance Exhaust Dyno Challenge. You would think that 1,100-plus horsepower would be enough to put Jesse and the Chevelle at the top of the list-but no. There's a small-block, single-hair-dryer, Chevy-powered Rambler that is top dog. What's truly surprising is that this is Jesse's first attempt at any kind of abnormal aspiration. He bought the short-block from New York's Rat-motor king Scott Shafiroff, bolted on a set of AFR heads, and then found the room for a pair of turbochargers. When we asked Jesse how he picked the turbos, he said with classic midwestern understatement, "I just talked to Brian at B&G Custom Turbo and went with their recommendation for the Master Power turbos. I guess they worked pretty well."
A DynoMax Challenge rule says that these street cars have to make power on pump gas. With E85 such a big part of Minnesota's homegrown agrarian economy, it was a simple decision to choose E85 as his go-to fuel. "I just stopped off at the local pump right before coming here today," Jesse says. That corn-based liquid sports a solid 105 octane and also does a killer job of cooling the heated air that exits the turbochargers. Just to be safe, Jesse added a Snow water/methanol-injection system that pumps in a measured amount of water and wood-derived alcohol, not only to reduce the inlet air temperature, but also to knock the peak off of any detonation that might try to rear its ugly head. "The rules say you can't have methanol injection, so I just turned the whole thing off for that run."
"We didn't really push it," Jesse said when we asked about the tune-up. "We ran 19 psi. I'd like to see 24 or 25 psi, but we haven't had a chance to test it. There isn't a chassis dyno within 200 miles of where I live, so we've just been testing it out on the street!" The Rambler that has the top spot recently appeared in Hot Rod magazine. So the battle lines have been drawn and you know which car we're pulling for come November and the DynoMax final for the $25,000 top prize. Jesse will be the one with the iron fist.
Who: Jesse Nelson
What: '70 Chevy Chevelle
Where: Mountain Iron, Minnesota, where Jesse can probably lay claim to half the town's total horsepower.
Short-block: We're going to break this engine down into little bite-size pieces because it's so simple and cool. The block is a lump of very special Dart Big M iron with extrathick cylinder walls and billet steel splayed main caps. Spinning within those cavernous walls is a Shafiroff-machined and -assembled short-block employing a Callies Magnum Pro 4340 steel crank and covetable Oliver billet steel connecting rods along with a set of gently compressioned 8.4:1, JE forged 2618 alloy aluminum pistons.
Camshaft: When you're building a Rat motor to make power, you turn right to the catalog page with the solid roller cams. Jesse went with Cam Motion from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which offers a roller with 254/248 degrees at 0.050 and 0.714/0.706-inch lift. A Cloyes chain connects it to the crankshaft, while Isky Red Zone roller lifters keep in contact with the lobes.
Heads: Breathing is still important even with a couple of turbos, so the call went out for a pair of AFR fully CNC-ported, 345cc, rectangle port heads with 2.300/1.88-inch stainless steel valves. These heads tease the flow bench at almost 400 cfm. Cometic MLS gaskets help seal all the cylinder pressure.
Induction: It doesn't get much simpler than a Weiand Team G intake bolted to an 850-cfm Holley that has been heavily modified by Carburetor Solutions Unlimited. The pressure is created by a pair of Master Power GT45 turbos making over 20 psi of boost. Feeding all this power is the responsibility of a pair of Aeromotive A1000 fuel pumps that push that E85 fuel through several fuel lines. The air/fuel ratio is closely monitored by an Innovate LM-1 meter.
Exhaust: This is where friend Matt Anderson earned his gold stars. Matt built the entire mandrel-bent exhaust system, starting with the 2-inch primary pipe headers that lead to the turbos. The turbo exits are connected with 3.5-inch mandrel-bent tubing that Matt pulled off of hopped-up diesel Chevy trucks. Turbos do a great job of suppressing noise, but Matt added a pair of DynoMax Ultra Flo mufflers just to be sure.
Transmission: You might think that shoving close to 1,000 lb-ft of torque through a Turbo 400 trans could cause drama, but Jesse says his reverse-pattern, manual valvebody trans works great. One important point is the 9.5-inch Performance Torque Converters converter that stalls somewhere around 4,000 rpm (that depends on boost, dontcha know). "We're tightening up the converter because it drove through it on the dyno. That's why the torque wasn't higher." Jesse did all the trans work himself and relies on a Driveline Specialists driveshaft.
The guys at Auto Weld Chassis assembled the Ford 9-inch. When you're making massive torque you don't need a lot of gear, so a set of Ford 3.25 gears twist inside a Moser centersection and assign power to each wheel split by a Detroit Locker differential.
Suspension: If you're expecting a highly modified suspension to manage all this power, you're missing the point. Jesse uses Competition Engineering shocks up front, Rancho RS9000 hydraulics in the rear, a homebuilt rear antiroll bar to help control the torque, and a pair of adjustable upper control arms to set the pinion angle and tubular lowers. Otherwise it's close to stock, right down to the rubber suspension bushings.
Brakes: Those are '78 Monte Carlo 10.5-inch discs with metric calipers up front. The rears are no more than a set of homebrewed parts clamped to a pair of 10.5-inch discs with an adjustable proportioning valve. That's it.
Wheels/Tires: Those tiny front wheels are 15x3.5-inch Weld Draglites that complement the 15x10-inch rears mounted with a pair of 325/50R15 M/T ET Street radials, which seem frighteningly inadequate when you contemplate the engine's power curve.
Body: This '70 Chevelle could best be described as an H&H special-Harwood and Hydakovich. Harwood supplied the 4-inch fiberglass cowl hood while the rest of the car is stock Chevrolet sheetmetal. Dave Hydakovich is the man responsible for the bodywork, along with Jesse's help, which included Dodge PS2 silver and a pair of SS stripes. The only other addition was a 16-gallon RCI fuel cell in the trunk.
Interior: You don't run 153 mph in the quarter-mile without the track demanding a few additions to the interior. Jesse re-covered the back seat himself, adding a rollcage, a window net, and a set of Crow harnesses atop a pair of Summit Racing sport seats. There's a Pioneer stereo that you can actually hear over the engine (at idle) along with a full complement of Auto Meter gauges, including that all-important boost gauge.
Performance: His best run so far is a tire-spinning 9.19 at 153.2 mph at Brainerd International Raceway on radials through the tailpipes, at over 4,000 pounds race-ready. On the engine dyno at 9 psi, the engine made 984 hp. Jesse says the skidpad numbers are "really bad." We say, "Who cares?"