Who would you trust to build your hot rod? For most of his life, James McGarity’s answer was straightforward. “Nobody put their hands on my car but me,” he said.
Unfortunately, cancer made it too difficult for James to keep doing his own work. But he really wanted to finish the 1968 Chevy II his family owned for 30 years. The car was going to be a tribute to his late father. So James called Jacob and Josh Russell.
Three years later, the McGarity’s Chevy II was sitting at the Caffeine and Octane car show with a blown small block Chevy sitting between the fenders.
It was James who got the Russell brothers hooked on cars. “I met James when I was a teenager working at an auto parts store,” Jacob told me. “At that time he had a 1969 Nova with a big block in it. He lived just up the street from us, and my brother and I would ask if we could come and see what he was working on.”
James would show them his latest projects, but he’d also take them for rides. “He’d just put the pedal to the floor,” Jacob said, “and do whatever it took to get a scream out of us.”
“It was fun,” James recalled, with a slightly mischievous smile on his face. His car philosophy back then was, “All motor. Steering and suspension were optional.” No wonder the Russells screamed.
The Chevy II was originally owned by a neighbor of the McGarity’s. That neighbor let the car sit for years after his son blew the transmission. “I used to ride by that car when I was 5 years old,” James told me. “I was about 18 when Dad bought it.”
But buying the Chevy was no easy task. James’ brother Eddie went by the neighbor’s house countless times inquiring about the car. “The man said he had over a hundred people over the years come by and he refused to sell it,” James recalled. “But my brother did not quit. The last time we stopped by he sold it to us, but he was very angry and told us to buy it or never come back!”
Once the car was in the McGarity’s garage, James replaced the engine, transmission, and rear end, and his mom drove the car for several years with a mild 350 in it.
After that, the car sat for a while but about three years ago James wanted to build it out as a tribute to his father. That’s when he called Jacob, about whom James said, “I really trust this guy.”
The original build plan was, as Jacob’s succinctly described it, “Nothing like this.” But as these things do, the plan started to grow.
James had a 454 big block that was targeted for the Chevy. But then he had the opportunity to purchase a blown alcohol motor from a drag racer. The motor had very few passes on it and seemed like too good of a deal to pass up. With budget constraints and the usual ups and downs of a build, it took about two years to complete the car with that engine.
James described the night they were going to fire the engine for the first time: “We had about 50 people over to the garage. We hit the key, and Boom!” The motor blew up.
It was a serious emotional and financial set back. James wasn’t exactly sure where he’d go from there, but he made some sacrifices to come up with more cash. Family members pitched in to help get some new parts. A friend had a short block he donated to the project. And Jacob and Josh were ready and willing, so the project started anew.
One year later, Chevy II v2 was complete.
That friend’s block was slightly bored out with a 400 crank, resulting in 383 cubic inches. Jacob put Dart Iron Eagle heads on top with 2.08’ intake and 1.65” exhaust valves.
The B&M blower on top puts out 8 pounds of boost and uses every bit of the fuel the two Holley 750 double pumper carbs feed it. A FAST HI-6 ignition provides the spark, and adjusts the ignition timing according to the boost put out by the blower. Jacob estimates they’re getting about 700 horsepower at the flywheel.
A Turbo 400 trans with a full manual valve body is connected to the engine by a 10” Summit Racing torque converter with a 3500 stall speed. The trans currently turns the original 10-bolt rear with 3.08 gears and a Motive Gear mini spool “to stop those puny one wheel burnouts,” Jacob explained. But a 12-bolt with 3.73 gears is coming soon.
The suspension is still stock with the exception of disk brakes up front. Jacob installed a new master cylinder and power booster from The Right Stuff. The brakes caused a late night thrash the night before the Caffeine and Octane show because the rear brakes wouldn’t bleed. Turns out the brake lines were clogged. Jacob hunted around and found brake hoses he purchased 18 years ago for an old pickup truck. They fit perfectly.
The interior is original except for the 1969 Camaro bucket seats that replaced the stock bench seat. Jacob has tucked all of the wiring away to give the car a clean look, including putting all the electronics in the glove box. The car’s original power steering is still there, but it required some machining on pulleys and bracket modifications to fit it in with the supercharged engine.
Despite sitting for so many years, the body is in very good shape. There was one small rust spot on the floor that has been fixed. Otherwise it’s all the same sheet metal Chevy sent to the dealership 50 years ago – except for a hole in the hood for the carbs to poke through. It’s never been wrecked and the odometer shows the car’s 96,000 original miles. James’ future plans include restoring the black paint to how it looked when his Dad owned the car.
The Chevy II is intended to be a cruiser, and it is already doing its job very well. “It pulls hard,” James told me, “but the power comes on smooth. It has excellent throttle response and rides great.”
Including the costs of that drag racing engine, Jacob and James estimate there’s been about $13,000 invested in the car so far. Had that engine not been defective, they feel that the entire build would have been completed for less than $10k. Pretty amazing.
James couldn’t be happier with how this tribute to his Dad has worked out. “Jacob knocked it out of the ballpark,” he said. “I wish my Dad could have seen it. We always talked about building a blown car. He’d love it.”
And that nod to the past has also provided a spark for the future for Jacob and Josh. “I was tired of working for the man,” Jacob told me. “I decided I’ve got to start doing what I love to do – build cars.”
So the Russell brothers formed JR2 Performance. JR2 specializes in GM Performance, EFI tuning, and turbo work. They’ve got some C7 Corvette projects in the works, along with Jacob’s Dad’s 1988 S10 that Jacob is putting an LS2 in.
The entire Russell family is involved, including Jacob’s six year-old daughter. “She said she wants to become a mechanic,” Jacob said, “and work with Daddy.”
From James’ dad, to James, to Jacob and Josh, and now to their children, this 1968 Chevy II has impacted four generations of family and friends. “This car is more like a family member than an object anymore,” James told me.
It really has nothing to do with the blown small block Chevy sticking out of the hood, but in a way it has everything to do with it.
And as James told me, “It’s not over yet.”
Photos by GHR and courtesy of James McGarity