Next Tuesday, Feb 21!

Hi all – no new pictures to share this time around but some great news!   Next Tuesday, Feb 21, Kelly at Level 10 will be done with the Chevelle!

I will be driving down to Mesa to the shop so Kelly can walk me through all of the electronics we’ve installed in the beastie… the biggest one for me is the VIPER alarm, not for the obvious “alarm” functionality, rather for it’s GPS tracking and fully remote, cellphone app based remote start abilities!   Living in Arizona in the summer you really do want to leave the A/C turned on then remote start your car and let it run for 10 minutes before you head out.  No problem on a modern car… but now also in my 1971 Chevelle!

Once Kelly finishes the walk-thru (I will be snagging pics and videos for posting here later in the day), we will load her up on the trailer and take her back to Sean at Top Gear Motorsports.  Sean only had a few minor things to work though with the drivetrain (the ECU isn’t seeing the RPM signal for some reason so it never triggers the transmission to shift, plus a faulty starter motor and a few other minor adjustments)… then she will be ready for her final dyno engine tune, emissions test and her 3-day temp registration so I can DRIVE HER HOME!

Stay tuned!


For The First Time Since 2012…

Check out this YouTube video… it will explain the heading for this post.  🙂

(Note – YouTube has a nasty habit of finishing your requested video then showing you random videos afterward… please close the browser tab to shut YouTube up if that happens!)

Click Me To See The YouTube Video!

Dashing Through The…


well, it’s certainly not snow… at least not here in Phoenix, Arizona in April!

BUT.. on the Chevelle project we are “dashing” about but in a slightly different way!

Remember all of those tasty Dakota Digital goodies I purchased many months ago?

Casey-Dash-001 Casey-Dash-002

Casey-Dash-003 Casey-Dash-004

So … yeah!   We’re not quite live yet (no start-up) but we’re close…  still some final connections for the electric fans but that should be soon.

And here’s a last shot of the engine bay with a shiny new addition


This Has Been Exhausting…

Hi all,

I know… it’s been a LONG time since my last post about the Chevelle.  Sean and AJ @ Top Gear have been making progress but they had a project car in their queue ahead of mine so it took priority.   That said the Jeep project (yep, an LS swap into a Jeep!) is now done and they are back to the Chevelle.

So, what’s so news-worthy to demand an actual blog post?  Ah…  some exhaust work!   Sean and AJ started with a 2.5″ stainless steel exhaust kit and custom assembled a setup including headers.  It’s been a long process but as you can see from the pictures below it looks great (as usual, click on the images below to see higher-resolution versions)

Casey-Exhaust-003 Casey-Exhaust-004

Casey-Exhaust-001 Casey-Exhaust-002


Sean and AJ have to  finish wiring up the electrical connections for the front fans (had to undo the wiring when we upgraded the radiator and fan awhile back).  A few minor items after that and Sean is telling me we might be getting close to a video of a running engine!  Stay tuned… things will get better from here!

Weekend Update

I dropped by Sean’s place after work on Friday for a quick chat with him about next steps.  Imagine my surprise when I learned they had been making more progress than they were initially letting on about.

Specifically, the picture below is of the new Holley oil plan.  In the last post I talked about the engine location being too low and there being interference with the pan.  That was true, but the fix wasn’t to change the motor mounts… it was to switch to a new Holley oil pan.  This design should eliminate the interference with the Chevelle’s front steering linkage.


Next up, Sean and AJ have made significant progress on the electrical setup!  This was the part Sean was sandbagging me about… I had no idea they had jumped into the electrical installation yet, to say anything about how far along they are!


Yes, I know this looks like a big ol’ plate of spaghetti for dinner but there is a a reason for every wire danging below the dash, and AJ was able to walk me thru every single wire.  I was very impressed.   Sean is tackling the full wiring of the car, including the main chassis harness, the front and rear light harnesses, the cabin wiring (lights, electric windows, etc.) as well as the obvious… the main engine and fuel injection harness.  In short, this is NO small job.

In fact, take a look at the picture below!


So this picture needs a bit of description for you to fully appreciate what’s going on.  Behind the dash, up toward the right side of the picture you will see a dull gray aluminum-looking box that says “DELCO”.  That is the engine ECM, or the electronic brain required to run the new LS engine in the Chevelle.   Now, in about the middle of the picture you will see the glove box.  Above that you will notice that AJ has already started installing some of the Dakota Digital add-on modules I purchased.  He also has laid out the installation for the Viper GPS / Remote Start alarm system, the full electronic cruise control and the appropriate routing of all the A/C ducting that also must fit behind the dash.   Yeah, there won’t be much space back there once AJ gets everything installed!

Anyway, just wanted to share yet another batch of pictures!   Once the oil pan gets swapped and the firewall smoothed out a bit and painted (both should be next week hopefully) then the engine and trans will be headed back under the hood.  Progress!

We’re Moving Again!

Hi everyone!   So, the last post I made a while back was pretty dark.  I had just experienced my first issue with a shop and it cost me financially to the point where I wasn’t sure when the project would continue… or even if it would.

Push aside the dark clouds!   Due to some situations happening in my life outside the automotive realm I was able to secure some additional funds (not as much as I lost in the shop dispute, but still…) and we are back making progress!

The car is back with Sean at Top Gear Motorsports in Mesa, AZ.  He has been shepherding the drivetrain portion of this project.  Sean was willing to tackle the core electrical work required to get the car into running condition.  This means all my fun additions such as the GPS-enabled, remote start Viper alarm and all my Dakota Digital additional goodies won’t make installation at this time but the core electrical harness (body, engine, interior) and all the wiring required for the LS engine will be there, and as will the connections to the base Dakota Digital instrument cluster to power the base set of gauges.  The goal is to get her into road-legal condition so I can drive her home.

With all of that “catch up” stuff done… what’s going on right now, you ask?   Sean and his team has pulled the engine and trans back out of the car so we can do some additional measurements on the exact location of the engine in the bay.  The first install was good but Sean noticed the engine itself was sitting a bit low… a bit too low when we were looking at the location of the oil pan.  We also had a few other small items to take a look at so Sean decided to do it right and pull the engine out.

Which gave us the perfect opportunity to fix something that I absolutely, positively WHIFFED on when I was having the body work done by Tony at Full Circle Auto Body.  The firewall.  Tony was rebuilding the entire thing for silly sake… why didn’t I have him fix the firewall?  I’m not talking a show-car quality smoothed and filled firewall, rather just a new panel that got rid of the factory one that had been punctured and perforated so many times.

Click on the images below…    🙂

Casey-Firewall-001 Casey-Firewall-002 Casey-Firewall-003

So, with a brand new panel in place Sean will have a friend of his do the final smoothing of the welds and then will shoot GM Black on the entire firewall.  Now we can make brand new holes in it!

Last update for today… we replaced the stock steering column several months back with a new Ididit GM tilt column unit.  Great stuff compared to the 40+ year old original!  When I was down in Mesa a while back I sat down in the car and realized the new column was inches longer than the stock unit we pulled.  It was to the point where I felt like a NASCAR driver, with the steering wheel in my chest.   This next picture shows where we ended up after AJ (from Sean’s team) found the adjustable sleeve and pulled the column back.   It’s a minor bit compared to everything else going on but I tell you it makes a big difference sitting in the driver’s seat.


So, that’s it for this episode my friends… I’m just happy to get some real progress happening once again.  Next post should have the finished firewall and we might be ready to plop the engine and trans back between the fenders for it’s final resting place.  Until next time remember… when you’re driving your baby, be it a Chevelle or just your funky old daily driver, drive safe and keep the shiny side up!      -john



Hi everyone,

An update… with pictures even!  Talk about Shock -n Awe!   🙂

Sean @ Top Gear called me up and said that he was getting pretty close to completion on the engine work but what was remaining to be done requires the electrical side to now be finished.  I knew this was coming.  The Good News?   There is an awesome electrician in the same commercial complex as Sean!   Casey Murphy @!   He runs a retail / web storefront for selling high-end electrical goods (OEM-quality electrical connectors, etc.) but he also does real wiring jobs.  We rolled the Chevelle down to Casey and had him take a look at the Chevelle, to assess where we were and what needs to happen next.   Here’s two quick pictures to give you an idea of what we gave Casey to work with…

Dash 1 Trunk 1

Yeah…  go figure.  Nothing easy on THIS project!

Casey is a very talented guy and extremely professional in his approach to projects like this.  Since he has access to OEM quality (or better!) connectors we made a plan to essentially re-wire the entire car.  He is gong to keep the American AutoWire wiring kit I had installed years ago but Casey will re-terminate every connector using higher quality items.  Everything will be isolated.  If I want to unplug an entire harness, each connector will have a weatherpak pig-tail that I simply disconnect.  He has some awesome ideas on how to isolate the items that usually give troubles to muscle cars (c’mon… who’s been in a 40-year old car whose headlights dim when the brake pedal is pressed!)

Anyway…  Casey is focusing on the basic wiring harness to allow Sean to get back to completing the engine install.  Once the basic harness is done Sean really has just the exhaust system to hang and then the final tune on the ECM… everything else is just about finished!   In the end Casey will also wire all of my Dakota Digital hardware into the system, plus the wiring stubs for my complete upgrade to electric windows, the connectors for my full power front bucket seats, the speaker wiring terminated where I want my speakers, etc.  OH, and he will also completely wire and install my entire Viper alarm / GPS / SmartPhone Remote start system.

I’ll give you a few more pictures to flip through while you’re digesting all of that.  🙂

EngineBay 1 EngineBay 2 EngineBay 3 EngineBay 4

And some glamour shots of the Dakota Digital hardware.

Electronics 1 Electronics 2

SO there you have it… progress is being made.   I will be updating my Supporters page to include Casey’s contact information.  If you need electrical components hit him up at, or go see him at his storefront in Mesa, AZ!

Until next time…

A Small Update

Hi everyone,

As you probably have noticed it’s been a while since my last update (March to July?  Yeah, a while!).  That doesn’t mean we’ve stopped work on the car, but it does mean we’ve had some challenges.  One of my primary shops on the project lost a very critical resource back in April and it has been extremely difficult to replace this person.  It really has hampered progress significantly.  We haven’t ground to a halt… but close.  Some of the small items we have completed since April:

1) The new valve covers are on and they look great with the coil packs!
2) Engine is pretty much sealed up, transmission is on and the driveshaft has been ordered
3) The engine was cranked over dry a few times to ensure there were no issues on the rotating assembly, cam/rockers/lifters/etc.
4) Some more progress on the Dakota Digital expansion modules but we’ve decided to keep our focus for now on the core items needed to actually get the engine running, so PCM/OBD interfaces, etc.

One challenge we still have is with the intake… we ordered that sexy Spectre dual-intake setup for the Chevelle way back months ago just after SEMA.  Guess what?  Spectre hasn’t shipped it yet… engineering backlog, shipping delays, etc.  I’m guessing they showed a prototype at SEMA and weren’t truly ready to start accepting orders.   If we don’t get the Spectre gear by the time the rest of the drivetrain is ready we will go with a simple cone filter on the intake to get things running and we’ll install the Spectre when it shows up (eventually!)

SO…. there you have it.  Apologies for not having any new pictures but I am hoping that our resource challenge mentioned earlier will soon be behind us and we’ll be getting the car running and back on the road in short order.   Cross your fingers for us!

-john and dina

Making Progress

Hope everyone is having a great weekend!

So I dropped by Top Gear Motorsports yesterday afternoon and got an eyeful of sweet, sweet… PROGRESS!   Now that Sean nailed the transmission crossmemeber issue he and the team have had time to really grind down on the To Do list.  Take a look!

So let’s just dive into the good stuff:   The LQ4 now has an intake manifold and fuel rails.  Looking good, huh?  We’ve got Holley valve covers on order that will allow us to install LS2 coil packs (instead of the LS1 coils you see on the engine right now).   Sean mounted the PCM on the firewall behind the dash, all nice and safe.  The Dakota Digital modules are going in next and those have to connect to the PCM so they will get mounted above the glove compartment under the dash pad.

Casey-EngineBay-001 Casey-EngineBay-002 Casey-EngineBay-003 Casey-EngineBay-004

The fuel system is done… tank to fuel rails…

Casey-FuelLines-001 Casey-FuelLines-002

Also, the Kooks headers are in… good fit, huh?


Here’s the LS swap radiator setup…   the Vintage Air A/C condenser and transmission cooler are also installed but not visible here…

Casey-Radiator-001 Casey-Radiator-002

And the rest of the Vintage Air system is already in as well…  the hoses behind the dash aren’t in yet because they are still doing the wiring work but the system is even loaded with coolant… everything works!

Here’s a shot of the Flaming River steering box.  On the top end (in the engine bay pics) you should be able to see the new steering linkage/shaft leading to the new Flaming River steering column (I’ll get pics of the interior work next visit)


And let’s be honest.. this is about the only vantage point where you can still see the Chevy Orange engine block!


Overall Sean and the team at Top Gear are making great progress.  They’ve already done a test crank of the engine to ensure oil pressure and everything was great.  We are not that far away from actually turning this beast over!

OH, and as a last tease…  here is the cold air setup I’m going with…  click the link below and check it out!

Spectre Performance SEMA Product Announcement

Is this going to look good under the hood of the Chevelle or what?   It’s on order and should arrive in a few weeks.  More pictures then!

Crossmember Conundrum

Hi all,

Yep, it’s been a while since my last update.  Sean has been battling an issue I had considered but never thought it was going to be a challenge… the transmission crossmemeber.   Remember while my car is a coupe, I have a boxed convertible frame underneath.  Something about the combination of the 4L60E that we picked up and the boxed convertible frame rendered all of the crossmembers on the market useless.

Sean worked with one company to fab up a specific one for our install and here it is, fresh out of the box and mocked up on the car:

So while we have a bit more “force-fit engineering” to accomplish (the driveshaft might not have the clearance required right now), we’re pretty confident we have something we can work with.

SO… hopefully that means we hit the ground running.  Sean set a tentative target for the end of March to get the car running and back to me.  This crossmember conundrum might add some time but now that the engine/trans will be in their final position, it’s really all about the hundreds of small items required to get the beast running.  The fuel system has been completed so no issue there.  We’re ready to feed the beast!

Next possible challenge in the back of my mind?  Exhaust.  I want to downsize from the 3″ system I had in the old setup to a more manageable 2.5″ setup, but I want stainless steel and I have decided to move to headers, but now we’ll have to find some that fit.  This could get fun. Time to hit again.  🙂

So About That Dakota Digital Dash

A quick picture update from Top Gear Motorsports….

This is the brand new SS dash carrier I bought from Original Parts Group.  Looking pretty good, eh?
Yep… much better than the old Malibu sweep-style dash
Wait… that looks suspiciously like a powered-up instrument cluster!?!?

SO…  what does this mean?  Not a whole lot, to be honest.  The engine was test fitted this week but it and the trans are not installed yet.  Top Gear is handling all of the electrical stuff now so making the connections to the engine, PCM, etc. is easier.

Oh, and we’re waiting for the delivery of a brand new Vintage Air Gen IV SureFit A/C system!  I had an old Gen II system from Vintage Air and while I’m sure it would have been great for most cities, it couldn’t handle Phoenix in the summertime (119 degrees F earlier this summer!)

That’s it for now…  Sean and his crew are definitely pounding away on the beast!

Stopped By Top Gear This Weekend…

Hey all,
So, you know what happens when you’re a Good Hot Rodder?   The UPS guy shows up on time!  That’s right, it was Christmas in August for me last week!

Casey-DakotaDigital-001  …and a little closer look at the boxes reveals…


Yep, most of my Dakota Digital order arrived!  There are a few items on backorder but they are not critical modules (cylinder head temperature modules and sensors, stuff like that).  The dash cluster itself and many of the modules (including the electronic cruise control!) all arrived last Friday.   Here’s a quick shot of the dash cluster itself, still wrapped in protective covering:

Casey-DakotaDigital-003 Casey-DakotaDigital-004

Sean at Top Gear was just reaching the point where they needed this stuff so the timing was perfect.  Dina and I drove to Mesa on Saturday (about 95 miles round-trip from where we live) to drop off the goodies.  Of course, if I was going to make that drive I was sure going to bring my iPad to take some more pictures of the car!


They have the front-end covered in protective blue cling-wrap to help prevent paint damage…


And a good look into a very empty spot… but not empty for long!


There’s the beast that will fill that engine bay!   Once the engine is in it will be topped with an LS6 factory intake and upgrade fuel injectors, fuel rails, etc.

Sean said they are hoping to do a test install this week to get the exact engine/trans location worked out, the engine mounts set up, etc.  He promised me a pictures as they go, which I will post ASAP for you to see.

Oh, and I did receive the 2004 Pontiac GTO front seats from my recent eBay purchase.  They are awesome!   The shop I bought them from had disassembled them to make shipping easier so once I get them bolted back together I’ll take a few pictures.   I can’t wait to see them in two-tone grey leather!

Have a safe and fun week everyone!

Renovatio Is Getting Her Powertrain

Hi all,

As mentioned earlier, we took the Chevelle down to Top Gear Motorsports on Friday, starting our next critical phase of the project.   Here’s the car on the trailer before we left Full Circle:


Gotta say she is looking pretty good, even if she’s sitting pretty high upfront with no engine or transmission!

Here are some final shots of the car once we arrived at Top Gear and dropped her off:

Casey-AtTopGear-001 Casey-AtTopGear-002 Casey-AtTopGear-004 Casey-AtTopGear-003

So, at this point we start the next steps… Sean at Top Gear will be handling all aspects of the powertrain install…  engine, transmission, fuel system, cooling, etc.  On top of that I also purchased the full suite of Dakota Digital VHX gauge cluster and support modules…  Top Gear will be installing all of those electronics into a new SS dash carrier.

In fact, the goal I set for Sean is pretty steep… I said this would be the last time she is towed…  when Top Gear is done, I’m driving her home.  That’s a pretty tall order so I’m expecting them to have the car for between two and three months.   Hard to believe that just last week (week of July 4th), it was one year ago that I was in the paint booth with Tony laying out the stripes.  How time flies.

Oh.. and with us moving to the powertrain install with Sean, I’ve started to step up the planning for the interior.  On Saturday I purchased two front seat assemblies off eBay from a 2004 Pontiac GTO… these seats make great swap options for muscle cars, as they are sized appropriately, have easy-to-reach seat fold mechanisms, and this particular set is full-power for both driver and passenger.   I’ll post some pics when they arrive in a few weeks but in the meantime here’s a stock picture of the GTO seats… the ones I bought are black but of course they will be completely re-covered when I do the full interior.


So, that’s about it for now…. in case you’re curious I’ve provided some links below to the Dakota Digital hardware that I purchased last week.   It’s going to be awesome!


Dash Cluster

OBD II Diagnostics Module

Cylinder Head Temperature Module

Pressure Module (Fuel and Vacuum Sensors)

Electronic Cruise Control

Support Modules that Work with the VHX System

Compass and Outside Temp

Retained Power / Lights




So, about that new engine plan…

Since making the decision back in December, 2011 that I wanted to go the LS engine route for the Chevelle, I have been locked into a seemingly constant stream of information, opinions, suggestions and recommendations.   I spent HOURS on the forums, reading about as many Chevelle LS engine transplants as I could find, learning more and more with each example.

My first plan was to go with a GenIV 5.3 liter truck engine… most likely a LY5 or L33 engine.  Over the past few years, with the price of the 6.0 and 6.2 liter engines rising in the used market, the 5.3’s started ending up in more and more muscle cars.  I was going to back this thing with a 4L65E 4-speed transmission.

Then enter four or five WEEKS of constant back-and-forth…   GenIV or GenIII?  Do I keep the truck intake to save some money but suffer the less-than-appealing looks under the hood?  Should I abandon the 5.3 liter route and step up to a 6.0?  Back and forth.   Several times over.

So at this point (4/6) I now own a used 6.0 liter LQ4 iron block / aluminum head truck engine.  Top Gear will be slamming an LS6 cam and intake setup on the engine and we’re going with the GMPP Corvette accessory drive kit, augmented with a Kwik A/C compressor mounting bracket and Sanden 508 compressor.  The compressor swap-out (the GMPP kit comes with the Corvette compressor) is required because the Corvette compressor is NOT compatible with my Vintage Air aftermarket A/C kit.  My thanks to Wayne at Kwik and the folks and Pace Performance for helping me locate some crazy GM (and non-GM) part #’s!  Slam on a Holley LS conversion oil pan, a set of 2012 Camaro exhaust manifolds (don’t want to go down the header route right now)… and you will have (more or less) the engine / trans plan.  Since I did buy the engine, I guess I can’t change my mind, right?   🙂

Top Gear will also assemble my 4L60E transmission and they will be handling all of the installation work, wiring harnesses and ECM programming.  Our target is 415-425 flywheel HP in an attempt to keep gas mileage reasonable (Renovatio will be my daily driver, after all!)