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This 1969 Big-Block-Powered Chevelle is an East Coast Powerhouse

School Boy Crush: This 1969 Chevelle has the power to break the hearts of most any big-block lover

Scotty Lachenauer Aug 25, 2016
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Growing up during the ’80s in suburban New Jersey, Chris Gruber was surrounded by Bow Tie products of all shapes and sizes. In high school, first-gen Camaros were the big-ticket cars in the area, while IROCs and SS Monte Carlos seemed to be lurking around every street corner. But Chris had another idea for what his first car should be, and it was a local ride that he couldn’t get off his mind.

A young lady friend had a brother with a choice 1970 Chevelle SS that he was putting up for sale. With its red skin, white stripes and interior, and a potent 396 under the hood, the power-packed Chevy was one beauty to look at and was a top performer on the street, and it was only $3,500. But Chris’ dad just couldn’t see his son commuting to college in a 14-year-old gas-guzzler. So to keep peace in the family, Chris made due with a used 1979 Malibu 1500 as a college commuter. The steadfast base-model Chevy was no hot rod, but it was dependable and did pretty well on gas.


Time marched on and Chris finished college, starting work in the construction field, and got married. Two daughters followed, then puppies, and a mortgage. By the time Chris realized it, he was 47 and had yet to own anything close to that sweet Chevelle he craved back in high school.

The bug bit him good; he now needed to get himself a choice ride to call his own. But Chris had to come to terms with the obvious truth: he just didn’t have a good budget to start with, so he battened down, got the missus’ approval, then started to work out the numbers to jibe with his bank account.


With the details ironed out, he was confident he could pull this build off. He just needed a suitable donor to start the build. He was looking for that ever-elusive 1970 Chevelle with three pedals under the dash. Unfortunately, his Internet search didn’t land on any manual ’70s, but he did locate an interesting ’69 not far from his home. The color was the first thing that grabbed his attention, and the car also had all the bases covered as a starting point. So he made an offer on the Chevelle, and without hesitation, the owner accepted.

Chris was excited to dig into his new ride and start the process of making this A-body his own creation. He was looking to build a big-horsepower, manual-shift, touring car, complete with modern suspension and looks to die for. With only some basic car-building skills to call on, Chris realized he needed help. Enter Mike Horner and BAM Performance Automotive.


Chris got together with Mike and hashed out the basic build scheme for this high-power restomod. From there, the ’69 was brought to BAM in West Milford, New Jersey, for its transition. Chris’ goal: build the ride with the modern conveniences of a daily driver and the looks and feel of a full-on classic muscle car.

First to go was the drivetrain, which was quickly discarded for something a little different … and bigger. The duo sourced out a 540ci Dart big-block and stuffed it with SRP forged pistons to give it a healthy 10.0:1 compression. Dart aluminum heads and intake were added to help the big dog breathe. A serpentine setup was procured from Eddie Motorsports—A/C compressor included. A custom-grind hydraulic cam gets the valves jumping in time and a FAST EZ EFI 2.0 fuel-injection system helps keep this beast fed. An MSD ignition supplies the spark.


To give the engine bay a racy look with a touch of style, Chris picked out a custom-designed power steering reservoir and overflow tank from All Star Performance. American Racing supplied the stainless steel headers, which lead into a custom 3-inch exhaust featuring a fabbed X-pipe and Pypes Race Pro mufflers. Mike also hand-built the stainless tailpipes and finished them in black powdercoat for an extra bump in style. To aid in cooling, a DeWitts aluminum radiator along with a set of Derale electric fans get it done.

A TREMEC TKO 600 five-speed transmission handles shifting, while the RAM clutch, flywheel, and pressure plate are surrounded by a Quicktime scattershield. To bring the power to the rear, Mike picked an aluminum driveshaft from Precision Shaft Technologies. A 12-bolt Moser Truetrac differential stuffed with 4.30 gears gets the power to the pavement. A set of Boze Alloys wheels (18x8 front and 18x10 rear), are shod with Nitto NT555 rubber.


Ron Schmidt of Mountainside Rod and Custom did the chassis prep. The frame was blasted clean, and an HPI kit installed to stiffen up the ride. He epoxy-primed the frame, then hit it with finishing coats of underbody black, then doused it with two helpings of rubberized undercoating.

To get the performance ride he craved, Chris went with Global West tubular control arms front and rear along with sway bars to control body roll. Adjustable coilovers are courtesy of QA1. Up front, Speedtech spindles were used so Mike could mount a C6 front brake setup featuring 14-inch rotors. Six-piston binders reside up front, and four-piston out back. A Delphi 600 close-ratio steering box helps keep this Chevy pointed in the right direction in quick fashion.


The interior was set up like muscle cars Chris had driven in the past. Mike first installed a Covans dash complete with an assortment of Auto Meter gauges. Classic Auto Air adds the necessary creature comforts on those muggy New Jersey nights. A center handbrake out of a C3 Vette looks right at home in the business quarters. A six-point, bolt-in Tiger Cage keeps Chris safe at the track. Recaro bucket seats add comfort and a sporty look to the Chevy’s interior, and a Hurst handle was custom-matched to the modern transmission shifter.

With the paint being completed by the previous owner and still looking fresh, Chris left the original sheetmetal intact. Even the hood is OEM, though it might get a taste of Mike and Ron’s creative hands when a fresh-air system is installed later on.

Future projects include finishing off the cold-air induction and other performance upgrades. But for now, Chris is the proud pilot of this startling Chevy, and he’s been overwhelmed by the reaction this ride gets at the local shows and meets.

Chris’ car represents a high school crush that carried on well past graduation, so it’s safe to say he’ll be holding on to this 1969 Chevelle for a very long time.


Tech Check
Owner: Chris Gruber, West Milford, New Jersey
Vehicle: 1969 Chevelle SS
Type: Dart big-block Chevy
Displacement: 540 ci
Bore: 4.500 inches
Stroke: 4.250 inches
Compression Ratio: 10.0:1
Cylinder Heads: Custom Dart Pro1
Rotating Assembly: JE SRP forged pistons, Liberty Performance Components 4340 forged steel crank and H-beam rods
Valvetrain: Liberty Performance Components valves, springs, and retainers; Comp Cams Pro Magnum roller rocker arms
Camshaft: Camcraft custom-grind hydraulic roller
Induction: FAST EZ EFI 2.0 fuel injection, Rick’s Tanks Vaporworks SS tank
Ignition: FAST distributor with MSD control box, Taylor wires, Autolite plugs
Exhaust: American Racing headers, custom X-pipe, 3-inch exhaust, Pypes Race Pro mufflers
Ancillaries: DeWitts radiator, Derale dual fans, Eddie Motorsports accessory drive
Output: 720 hp at 6,000 rpm, 660 lb-ft at 4,600 rpm
Machine Work/Assembly: A & A Engine Dynamics
Tuner: Mike Horner at BAM Performance
Transmission: TREMEC Tranzilla TKO 600 five-speed, 11-inch RAM clutch assembly
Rear Axle: Moser 12-bolt, 4.30:1 gearset, Truetrac differential, 33-spline axles
Front Suspension: Speedtech spindles with big bearings, double-adjustable QA1 coilover shocks, Global West control arms
Rear Suspension: Global West control arms, single-adjustable QA1 coilovers
Brakes: Wilwood vented 14-inch rotors, six-piston calipers front; 14-inch rotors, four-piston calipers rear; Wilwood manual master cylinder
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Boze Lateral G 18x8 front, 18x10 rear
Tires: Nitto NT555 245/40 front, 285/40 rear
Upholstery: Billy Topps
Material: Leather
Seats: Recaro buckets
Steering: Delphi 600 box, stock tilt column, Momo wheel
Shifter: Hurst
Dash: Covans
Instrumentation: Auto Meter with GT series Carbon Fiber
Audio: Custom Pioneer system
HVAC: Classic Auto Air
Bodywork: Completed by previous owner
Hood: OE
Grille: OE
Bumpers: OE



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