Still Making Progress on the Chevelle

Okay, so I wouldn’t blame you if you thought I had fallen off the face of the planet.  It’s been quite a while since my last blog post about my Chevelle.  Suffice to say my family had a LOT going on in 2016 so while progress was continuing on the car, my free time required to do things like this was… well, cut short.   That said 2017 is looking to be a better year and I thought I would try to kick it off on a good note with a blog update!

So, what IS going on…  well, the car has been with Kelly at his shop in Mesa (Level 10 Performance).  He has been working on the electrical systems for me since we had the “unfortunately incident” with an electrical shop whose name I shall never mention again (yeah, it was a bad experience!).   Kelly, on the other hand, has been awesome!   He has the Viper alarm / remote start / GPS system installed, the full electric window upgrade (all four windows!) and all of the various Dakota Digital components.

He has also been working endlessly to fabricate custom brackets and such to get my new front seats mounted.  I opted for modern (fully adjustable electric) seats but had to search high and low (pun intended, as you will see in a moment!) to find the right ones.

Kelly’s first attempt to mount the seats met with a stunning realization… even though these seats were physically pretty compact, the mounting base used on the seat was NOT small.  As you can see in the pictures below the seats were sitting so high inside the cabin that when I sat down my head was literally touching the roof skin (no headline) and my neck was bent to the side.   Yeah, that ain’t gonna work!  (as always, click on the pictures to load higher-resolution versions!)

casey-frontseats-901 casey-frontseats-900

The seats themselves felt great so I asked Kelly to rethink the mounting situation.  That has taken quite a bit of time…  new brackets to fab, some “floorpan massaging” with the sledgehammer (I mean the Persuader!)… and now we have this:

casey-frontseats-002 casey-frontseats-001

I was down at their shop last Saturday (Jan 21, 2017) to test-fit the seat locations.  SO MUCH BETTER!    The seat leather is scuffed in places but no worries as they will be completely recovered in new tan colored leather when the car heads to the interior shop!

SO, we are on the right path with the front seats.  Remember, this car is intended to be a daily driver so comfort is a requirement and Kelly has nailed it!

What else has been going on?  Well, before the seat work Kelly went through the entire interior with some sound deadener… think DynaMat but without the price.  🙂

casey-soundbarrier-002 casey-soundbarrier-003 casey-soundbarrier-004 casey-soundbarrier-001

And here are some pics of the new glass, freshly installed (you can’t see the hardware but trust me, the conversion to all electric windows is there..

casey-newglass-002 casey-newglass-001

With the front seat locations approved, Kelly is wrapping up the final fabrication plus electrical hookups for the front seats, plus a few minor final electrical connections here and there.  After that the car will go back to Sean at Top Gear Motorsports to troubleshoot a transmission that won’t shift (looks like the ECM isn’t seeing the RPM signal so it isn’t triggering the transmission to shift) plus a few small items.   After that the car is COMING HOME…  complete with registration as she will be street legal!   More to come soon…


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


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…

More Pictures!

Hi everyone!

So Sean & Team are making great progress.  Here’s another quick picture update before Christmas arrives!

Fuel Tank
And here’s where we are on the tank.  Looking Good!

TankCompleted-001 TankCompleted-002 TankCompleted-004 TankCompleted-003

Engine Accessory Drive Install
Here’s the latest picture of the front of the engine, with the accessory drive installed.  Some clearance issues still remain but for the most part we’re pretty close to done on the front engine assembly.


So here’s a sneak peak of the new GenIV Vintage Air system that’s about to get installed…


Spaghetti Anyone?
And with so many electronics packages getting installed, plus the new Vintage Air system, here’s a shot of the Chevelle cabin.  Fun, huh?



This might be the final update for 2013…  if so, I’d like to thank all of you for visitng this blog… I am truly stunned at how many countries are represented by you all…   !

-john and dina


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!

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




The Search for My Interior Shop

Afternoon everyone… thought I’d do a quick post to update you on my quest to find an interior shop here in Phoenix to handle the Chevelle.  I’ve now met with three shops (no names will be used since I haven’t decided yet)… one (Shop #2) was rejected fairly quickly because they essentially said “no” to just about everything I asked.  Not a great way to start with a prospective new client, wouldn’t you say?

Of the two other shops, I am presented with a challenge… namely, what value do I assign to quality craftsmanship and quality materials?

Both shops could do the work from a technical know-how perspective, but Shop #1 gave me a ball-park estimate of $4,000 to $5,000 for my interior.  Shop #3 gave me an estimate of $12,000 to $18,000.  Keep in mind this is pretty much all-inclusive…  leather seat recovers, custom center console (leather wrapped), new customer headliner, new carpet, door panels, etc.  Right now the Chevelle has virtually NO interior so these prices include everything.

Now, at first glance those prices seem wildly out of whack.  That’s what I first thought, too.  Then I started asking questions.  Shop #3 only uses leather hides that conform to the standards once set by Connolly, the UK leather producer that supplied the likes of Rolls Royce, Bentley, Ferrari and Aston Martin (Connolly stopped producing leather back in 2002 but their standards were maintained).  Click here to learn more.  This essentially means the coloring process goes all the way through the leather material, unlike cheaper hides where the color is a dye that is applied only to the surface of the hide (and thus wears out quicker), and Connolly standard hides are simply higher quality from the onset.

Shop #3 also has more experience with custom interiors, like what I have envisioned for the Chevelle.  That is not to say Shop #1 can’t do the work… I’ve personally seen examples of prior projects and they are top-notch as well, but Shop #3 has more years of experience doing custom work.  For example, I am looking to use 2004-2006 Pontiac GTO front bucket seats in the Chevelle.  That’s no problem for either company, but Shop #3 said the first thing he would do is replace the weak factory seat foam with new material since the factory stuff simply doesn’t last that long.  Shop #1 didn’t say anything about replacing the foam with new (not to mention custom) stuff.  These component costs start to fill in the gap between Shop #1’s estimate and Shop #3’s.

If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time you know that I am looking for true partners to help me complete this car.  Tony (Full Circle), John (M&M) and Sean (Top Gear) are exactly what I am looking for from an interior vendor.  Shop #3 impressed me with not only with the questions they asked, but the ideas they had on how to solve some of the tricky ideas I have, such as the stereo / navigation install I’m envisioning.  So… how do I value quality workmanship and quality material?  Is it worth it (to me) to pay an additional $10,000?  Perhaps.  I’ve waited more than 25 years for this project…. as Dina said to me this afternoon, “Why take the compromise route now”?   Sounds good, but an additional $10k?  Gulp.

So… the car is getting ready to head down to Mesa next Friday (3/22) so Sean can start the engine and transmission install.  I have approximately two months to contemplate my issue about the interior.  I have other companies to visit so perhaps I”ll find a clear-cut winner there.  My gut is telling me that I’m going to come down to “Shop #1”, which is quoting a cheaper price tag but is probably using an inferior leather product, or Shop #3, which has the higher price tag, but they bring the better material and the know-how to do it right the first time… and most importantly… craft an interior that will last my lifetime and then some.

I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts….   any feelings one way or the other?  If so, leave a reply below.  Thanks!!