Project cars often take on a life of their own, even when the person building the car has done their best to avoid problematic outcomes. Just when you think you know everything about a car before you buy it, there are little surprises that pop up and change how the build will go. TJ Johnson had no idea how many directions his 1967 Chevelle would take over the course of its build-up, or the secrets it kept, but the final product is a stunning machine that hides its nine-second intentions very well.
It’s really not that shocking that TJ is a diehard gearhead and enjoys racing as much as he does when you look at his amazing Chevelle. Spending time around cars was something that his father and brother did, so it was only natural for TJ to gravitate towards the car hobby.
“I was absent from the garage until I was about 13 years old. That’s when the bug bit me, and I joined them in turning wrenches,” TJ explains.
I was allowed to race my dad’s and brother’s cars as a teenager while not having my own hot rod to make passes in. TJ Johnson
TJ enjoyed his own mechanical mayhem before he was able to get behind the wheel of a full-size car. This came in the form of racing his own go-kart as a kid. After spending time beating on his kart and being exposed to turning wrenches with his family, he was pushed toward performance cars even more. “I was allowed to race my father and brother’s cars as a teenager while not having my own hot rod to make passes in. Once I finally had a worthwhile rig of my own, I started making it faster and faster as time and funds allowed,” TJ says.
As TJ grew up, he spent even more time around racing through his circle of friends who also were into the hobby. “Many of my friends raced. Whether drag racing or stock car racing, they were all into cars, so I’ve always been around racing in some form. My first job out of college was with Holley Performance Products as a research engineer with a focus on nitrous in the NOS brand, so you can imagine how that accelerated my personal racing program,” TJ explains.
TJ’s list of rides he has owned explains a lot about where his interests lie, and it’s all GM. In high school, his daily driver was a 1968 four-door Caprice, and then in college, he rode around in a classic 1967 Camaro. Then, there’s his love for the Chevelle body style, the model of vehicle that he’s owned the most. TJ has previously owned four different 1967 Chevelles and a 1965 Chevelle SS convertible. Needless to say, TJ knows the A-body platform almost as good as the engineers who designed the cars.
The 1967 Chevelle that TJ currently wheels at the racetrack and on the streets might be his most interesting project for a lot of different reasons. This motorized adventure first started for TJ back in 2002 when he was looking for his next car to build, and that led to an ad in the newspaper by a sweet old lady selling a car in Defiance, Iowa. “I bought the car because it was cheap. I had a couple other 1967 Chevelle projects already brewing, but the $700 or so I paid for this one was too cheap to leave behind, even though it was pretty rough. I recall that we bought this car, a TH400 transmission, and one double hump head for $1,000, so it’s unclear how much was paid for the car and how much for the other items,” TJ says about the origins of his car.
That nice lady that TJ’s dad and brother purchased the car from had a little surprise of her own that makes the history of the car even more interesting. “The gal they bought it from was named Dixie Shanahan, and as it turns out, she murdered her abusive husband and sold all of his cars. Her story was actually made into a True Crime novel, no joke,” TJ says.
When TJ finally got his hands on the car, it was pretty well complete except for the driveline. With all of the extra parts he had at his disposal from previous projects, it was easy to get the new car running with an engine and transmission he had laying around. Soon, the car was on the road, so it became his daily driver during his senior year of college and into his first professional job working at Holley as a Research Engineer. This new job would be the driving force that turned TJ’s Chevelle from a mild street cruiser to a classic Chevy with some serious teeth.
While working at Holley, TJ began upgrading parts on the Chevelle, including some better suspension components and sticky tires to chip away at his elapsed times. It was a co-worker that helped push the Chevelle down the path of power adder fun and single-digit passes at the track.
“My boss tossed me a pair of solenoids and a cheater plate out of his desk and encouraged me to put nitrous on the car. It was on from there,” TJ says.
With the addition of the nitrous and a few other items, TJ got his Chevelle to crack the 12-second zone on motor and deep into the 11s on the bottle, which isn’t bad for a 317 horsepower motor. Soon after the addition of the nitrous, he left Holley to take a job with Boeing and began another adventure with the car in Wichita, Kansas. “I decided it was time to tear it down and repair some of the rust. What I found was much more rust than expected, so I briefly took a break to search for another ’67 candidate to build. Unfortunately, the Barrett-Jackson craze had just hit and pricing for these cars was absurd, so I commenced full blown rust-o-ration,” TJ explains.
So began the task of trying to repair decades worth of rust damage on the Chevelle. TJ enlisted the help of Bruce Philbrook to get all the crusty metal removed and replaced with useable parts. After the process began, the floors, trunk, quarter panels, wheelwells, rockers, fenders, doors and areas all around the glass needed to be repaired or replaced. The car also got a six-point rollbar added while it was torn down for the future elapsed times it would see.
When the repairs were done, TJ stuffed a healthy 383 cubic-inch stroker motor into the Chevelle and made his first passes down the track in over three years. The new combination netted a best of 11.79 at 114 mph on motor and 10.88 at 124 mph with a conservative tune in the fogger system. TJ was even able to win a 12.00 index race that weekend on the car’s maiden voyage, so needless to say he was very happy about the car’s performance.
Not long after, TJ had a slight setback with the Chevelle after participating in a Pinks All Out event.
“The winter of 2010-2011 was unkind to the car as my replacement of straight water with an antifreeze blend was insufficient. Pinks required coolant to be straight water in case of engine failure to expedite track cleaning, and an abnormally cold weather streak cracked my engine block in the lifter valley,” TJ explains.
TJ turned this negative into a positive by swapping a 6.0-liter LSX engine into the car and making the required upgrades to handle the fuel injection system. His first time out with the new driveline earned him an 11.68 at 115 mph and a 10.34 at 131 mph on the bottle. After some additional tweaks in the offseason, the car ripped off a 9.82 at 136 mph with the .091-inch jet in the plate … which isn’t bad for a street car.
My boss tossed me a pair of solenoids and a cheater plate out of his desk and encouraged me to put nitrous on the car. It was on from there – TJ Johnson
The current LS3 between the framerails of TJ’s Chevelle is a 417 cubic-inch beast that he assembled himself after Sibert Performance did the machine work. Inside the motor is a Callies Dragonslayer crank, Wiseco nitrous pistons, and Callies Ultra I-Beam connecting rods. Feeding the oil to the short block is a Melling oil pump via a modified Holley oil pan.
TJ went with a set of Trick Flow Specialties TFS245 nitrous heads that were worked over by Brian Tooley Racing and finished off with PAC valve springs, retainers, and Ferrea valves. Brian Tooley also supplied the custom grind nitrous camshaft that measures 251/266 and has .632/.596 lift with a healthy 112 LSA. Bringing the air into the top end of the motor is an Edelbrock Super Victor intake and Accufab 4150 throttle body. Fuel is supplied via a set of 60 lb/hr injectors and a Walbro 450 fuel pump. TJ tunes the car himself through the Holley Dominator EFI system.
The nitrous oxide system on the Chevelle is based on a Nitrous Outlet Puck that’s mounted to the bottom of the intake. TJ uses NOS brand solenoids to supply the giggle juice to the puck and purge, while the entire system is controlled by the Holley Dominator ECU. Currently, the dry shot is just a single kit with a .093-inch jet. The Chevelle has seen a best pass of 10.44 at 129 mph on motor, and a stout 9.13 at 148 mph on the bottle with this setup.
To help maximize the power the Chevelle produces, TJ added a slew of suspension upgrades. Up front, a set of TRZ chrome-moly upper and lower control arms got the nod, along with a full set of Viking shocks and springs. In the rear, a set of UMI double-adjustable lower control arms with roto-joints, Viking shocks, and Hypercoil springs help keep the Hoosier tires planted.
Every project car has a story. Some are just a little more involved than others. TJ’s car almost looks like every other 1967 Chevelle you might see at a local cruise-in until you hear about its past, or see the low nine-second time slips. His car has proven that not every project will start out or finish the same, but will still provide an amazing automotive journey.