Joe Medeiros had a goal when building his 1966 Chevelle. “I wanted to go anywhere,” he said. “I wanted to go hours down the road and come back and not worry about anything.”
Combining the Chevelle’s classic looks with the latest technology, he achieved his goal with this beautiful pro touring A-body.
Joe’s been hot rodding ever since he got his driver’s license. “I had five Fox bodies,” he told me, “1986 to 1991. I owned three 86 GTs. Then, you know, schooling, college… life takes over. I sold them.”
As much as he liked the Mustangs, there was one aspect of hot rodding that kept tugging at him.
“I always wanted to go back and build something from the mid to late 60s,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you see the older guys come through with their big shackle kits, rear ends raised up, and I thought, ‘Some day I have to build something like that.’”
Joe isn’t wed to just one brand. He likes so many of the 60s classics: Ford Galaxies and Plymouth GTXs are two of his favorites, but he said the Chevelle was “at the top of that list.”
So when he saw the Chevelle for sale in 2011, he sold the ‘86 Mustang he had at that time and acquired the Chevy. It seemed like a perfect fit.
“If I was going to build something it was going to be with a modern drivetrain, a pro touring type car,” he said, “but keeping it visually as factory as possible. The Chevelle offered me that.”
The other impetus for Joe starting the Chevelle project at that time was his long time friend, Steve Pontes. Steve was in the process of building a pro touring ‘69 Camaro. The Chevelle was a collaborative effort between the two friends. “My car spent the last 9 months in his garage,” Joe said.
The Chevelle was a 136 model, a sport coupe officially, that had been turned into a Super Sport tribute car. From the factory it had a 327, automatic, and was painted lemon wood yellow. When Joe got it, the small block had been replaced with a 454 and had been repainted the current white. Joe described the car as “tired, but for all intents and purposes everything was there.”
Joe said his experience with 80’s and 90’s technology in his Fox bodies influenced his approach on the Chevelle. He got his driver’s license in 1987, and was used to how the cars of that time drove. “Consistent, smooth, sure,” was how Joe described them.
The only 1960s car he’d ever driven was a friend’s 1969 big block Cobra Jet Mustang convertible. “It snapped your neck,” Joe recalled, “but you had to be sure no one was around and you were going in a straight line.”
To get his classic ‘66 Chevelle working like the later model cars he was used to, Joe started with upgrading the suspension. Joe went with a complete Track Time suspension package from Speedtech Performance. “Speedtech was the only company producing complete kits for A-bodies,” Joe told me. “I bought the last complete Track Time kit just before the boys moved the business down to Utah from British Columbia.”
The suspension upgrade covered everything, front and rear: springs, steering gear, hubs, spindles, sway bars, and upper and lower control arms. Joe even went to the point of getting a set of used wheels to put on the Chevy so that everything could be set up with the proper geometry.
The only exceptions to the Speedtech components are the Detroit Speed coilover mounts that were required for the Moser 12-bolt rear Joe installed. The Chevelle came with a pretty meager 7 ½” 10-bolt rear designed for Buicks and Oldsmobiles. Joe knew it was a weak link and had to be replaced. But the mounting points and shock mounts for the 12-bolt Moser were different, and the Detroit Speed components were necessary to complete the swap. The Moser has 3.90 gears on a Positraction differential.
Next up for the Chevelle’s suspension were late model GM power brakes and power steering. The brakes are from a C5 Corvette from Kore3. Joe’s planning to upgrade them even further with six-piston units next year. The steering is a quick 12:1 ratio unit, also from a Corvette. Forgeline GX3 wheels, 18” front and 19” rear, have Firestone Indy 500 tires on them.
With the suspension complete, Joe turned his attention to the drivetrain. With the goal of dependable horsepower from late model technology, there’s no better GM option than an LS engine.
The LS6 in Joe’s Chevelle consists largely of standard GM internals. The heads have been ported and polished, but otherwise it’s almost all GM. Joe has 1⅞” Hooker mid-length headers feeding into a 3″ straight through dual exhaust. A Griffin dual radiator, built specifically for LS engines in 1966 A-bodies, keeps everything operating at the correct temperature.
The engine was built by Bob Hilton, of Hilton’s Hot Rods. Bob sourced ten blocks and ten sets of heads to build three engines, and Joe’s got one of them in his Chevelle. Right now, it’s putting out 415 horsepower with 407 ft-lbs of torque.
That’s what the LS is putting out now, but it may not be in the future because the one exception to the standard GM components in the LS6 is the aftermarket cam that has been ground to be compatible with the LSA engine supercharger intake system. Joe already has the top end of the LS6 ready for an LSA factory supercharger.
He had Nick Kemp at AGP Speed & Custom out of Newmarket, Ontario prep the motor for a future LSA upgrade. The actual installation is on hold until probably the springtime.
“Do I need a supercharger?” Joe said, “Probably not. Four hundred horse with a 3.90 gear is more than enough torque, but I’d like to do it just to be done. It’s a sophisticated unit, a modest 6 to 8 pounds of boost. The reliability is there. I like the idea of the engine being maxed out. Ballpark, it will produce 550-580 horsepower at the rear wheels. Then I’ll call it a day. There’s no more upgrading to be done to the motor.”
The LS works through a McLeod clutch and a T-56 six speed manual transmission. Joe picks his gears using a Hurst short throw shifter. Since the Chevy was originally an automatic car, Joe had to do a complete conversion, including a pedal, hydraulics, and crossmember work. The original crossmember is still in use, but it had to be flipped upside down and stiffened to stand up to the power the LS was putting out.
Joe’s approach of setting up the suspension first, then working on the drivetrain, proved to be a great idea. With the motor mounts from BPR Hot Rods, and the stock transmission crossmember, the final driveline installation produced a factory standard 3½ degree drive angle.
The Chevelle’s interior had been freshened up when Joe obtained it, but Joe’s put his touches on it as well, continuing his “less is more” approach to the build. He wanted a Talladega look, with nothing in the interior except the shifter and two bucket seats.
The T-56 required a new transmission tunnel. Sam Civello from Classic Car Resto, who also did a lot of metal work on Steve Pontes’ Camaro, fabricated the tunnel for the ‘66. Joe sold the sport coupe front seats and replaced them with Procar bucket seats.
Joe completely refinished the dash in the Chevelle, including installing a complete Dakota Digital gauge set. (shown in the picture on the right). The gauges also reflect the minimalist approach Joe took with the build. “I wanted to keep it as timeless and classic as possible,” he explained. “How did it look when it came from the factory?” With that approach in mind, he opted for the gauges with white text with red pins.
Looking at the dash, you’d think the Chevy has heat, AC, and a radio. It does not. Joe’s removed all the behind the dash components for those items, but carefully reinstalled the face plates to keep the factory look.
You can see from the photos that the Chevelle’s sheet metal looks great, but Joe says “it’s definitely a 10 footer.” There is a patch in the trunk, and a couple of areas in the body that need attention. But it’s pretty straight.
Once Joe’s done with the mechanical aspects of the car (like adding that supercharger maybe?) he’ll address the body and have the Chevelle painted. He might change to a dark charcoal color, but he sounds like he’s leaning towards keeping it white. As he said, “I haven’t yet heard anyone say they don’t like the white.”
No matter what color the Chevelle ends up being, it’s going to get a vinyl roof. “I’m a vinyl top guy,” Joe said. “It finishes the vehicle. A Charger without a vinyl top isn’t a complete Charger. Same with the A-bodies for me.” Joe’s got a black vinyl top in the works for the spring.
Given the components in it, and the care with which they were assembled, it wasn’t surprising when Joe told me the Chevelle is a pleasure to drive. “I can drive this car all day long,” he said. “It corners well, hugs the corners, and stays in its lane.”
One of Joe’s buddies describes the car as a “cruiser”. And Joe’s favorite cruises are with his family in the car. “That was the whole idea,” Joe said. “Getting everyone in the car.”
He also cruises around the very active hot rodding scene in Toronto. Joe’s been a regular attendee at the downtown car shows, even this year when the shows went virtual due to the pandemic. Joe and his good friend and builder Steve have been regulars at the Goodguys Nationals in Ohio since 2009.
The shows were and are a chance to see the other great hot rods, but what’s most important to Joe is the chance to interact with his fellow gearheads. “People in the hobby have been really good to me,” Joe said.
Tom Farrignton from Indiana and Chris Jacobs of Jacobs Motorsports are two people Joe always checks in with at Goodguys. Both of them have ‘66 Chevelles, and Joe likes to pick their brains, which proves to be very helpful when you’re hot rodding out of Canada like Joe does.
“They’re good people,” Joe told me. “They’re always willing to give advice. With the exchange rate and complication of living in Canada, you really have to take your time and do your research before you buy something online and have it shipped.”
Joe had his sights set on what he wanted his Chevelle to be. He wanted a classic car, with the latest technology to allow him to enjoy it with his family. Planning, preparation, the right components, and careful execution turned the Chevelle into everything he wanted it to be.
It was his dream and his project, but Joe knows and appreciates the help he got from folks like Tom, Chris, and especially Steve and Sam.
“Without my good friends Steve and Sam, I wouldn’t be talking to you now,” he said.
All photos courtesy of Joe Medeiros
Click here for more photos of Joe’s Chevelle
You can follow Joe on Instagram via @gedagrip66
Some of Joe’s friends are also on Instagram at:
Steve – @aany001
Sam – @samcivello
Tom F. – @tommy_comfort
Chris J. – @jacobsmotorsports
Nick K. – @agpspeedandcustom