Editor’s note: If there is one part of this job that I can never get enough of, it’s hearing car owners talk about the experiences they have encountered or endured with their cars. While perusing the Carlisle Chevrolet Nationals, I ran into Jesse Halfacre and his amazing ’66 Chevelle. Not only is the Chevelle a great looking car, but Jesse’s story about how he acquired it and the road blocks he overcame to complete it is equally impressive. I was so enamored, that I decided to let Jesse give you all the details in his own words.
I have always been into old cars because my dad was always fixing them and working on them, and I obtained the car when I was 15-years-old. Dad was an upholstery guy by trade, but he worked on everything when it came to cars. He actually found this car in a field in 1997, and bought it for $2,000. Before he even got it out of the field, he gave it a tune-up and put new gas in it, and then drove it home. He drove it around town for about six months, then gave me the option of owning this one or a ‘68 Chevelle that he had. The ‘68 had the engine and chassis already rebuilt, but I like the body style of the ‘66 better, so that is why I chose the ‘66.
The First Attempt
I didn’t have my license yet, so I decided to paint it and get rid of the multi-colored body panels that were on it. I worked on the body to make it look better, and then stapled plastic sheets to the ceiling of the garage at my mom’s, and painted it Sapphire Blue. The paint job looked beautiful, except for one big run that ran down the side of the car from the back window to the rocker panel.
…the rearend started howling really loud, and then BANG, the rear wheels locked up. – Jesse Halfacre
In 1998, I decided to rebuild the 327 small-block that was in it, but when I took the block to the machine shop, they told me it had four cracks in it and was no good. They sold me the 350 block that is in it now. One of my friends sold me a crankshaft and rods for a 400 small-block so I could build a 383 cubic-inch stroker.
When I assembled the engine, I never rotated the assembly with the camshaft installed to check clearances, and when I fired it up the first time, the bolts on the connecting rods hit the camshaft. With the damage already done, the engine came back out and went to the machine shop to make sure there was nothing else wrong.
When I got the engine back together and was driving the car again, something was not right. The engine didn’t seem to have much power, and no matter what I did, it just would not run right – it was extremely frustrating. I struggled with it for more than a year until it finally blew up. I had the engine in and out of the car so many time the summer between my Junior and Senior year of high school, that I drove around with no hood. I got so used to taking it out, that I was able to have the engine removed in 50 minutes flat!
During the winter of 1999-2000, I paid to have the car repainted a Fire-Pepper Red Pearl. It was the closest thing I could get to Candy Apple Red that I could afford on my minimum wage job pumping gas at the local gas station. When I was working at the station, I remember my car was always parked out front. The ignition switch was messed up, so you could start the car with almost anything. One night, a couple of my friends snuck in, stole the car, and took it for a joy ride. When they came back, the brakes went out and they had to circle the gas station until they coasted to a stop. I imagine the looks on their faces was priceless when they realized they couldn’t stop.
I installed a Posi from another car during this time, but did not install a new crush sleeve during reassembly. That set up lasted about 20 miles until the rearend started howling really loud and then BANG, the rear wheels locked up. This was caused by the pinion gear being sucked into the ring gear, and the driveline dropped to the ground. It was roughly 2:00 a.m., and it was pouring down rain. I had to run about a mile back to my girlfriend’s house to call the tow truck. Although I worked at the service station that operated the tow truck and was friends with the owner’s sons, do you think he gave me a break on the tow bill? Nope, it cost me $115.00 for the tow because it was after hours and total of 15 miles.
The ignition switch was messed up, so you could start the car with almost anything. – Jesse Halfacre
Once I graduated, I got a summer job working at the lumber mill, and I took the engine to Britco Machine Shop in Centralia, Washington, and had them bore it .040-inch-over and assemble the short-block. Once I picked up the short-block, I took the car to a friend’s house (Jerry Redfield), and he helped me build the rest of the engine. Remember how I said the engine had never ran correctly before? Well, Jerry showed me where I previously screwed up.
I didn’t realize when I built the first stroker assembly that a 400 crankshaft is externally balanced, so this time I bought the correct harmonic damper and flywheel. Once we got the engine back together it ran better than ever.
Soon after, I joined the Navy, and after my first deployment in 2001, I came home and bought a new truck. That’s when the Chevelle became my second vehicle. I would drive it during sunny days, but it had to sit outside in the weather during my two deployments, and it started to rust.
One More Time
By 2005, I was married and had a son and I decided to redo the car again. The original plan was to just take it apart, repair the rust, and repaint it. I told my wife it should not cost more than $10,000. Well, that idea didn’t last long. The more I tore into the needed work, the more issues I found. That’s when I decided to do a complete frame-off rebuild, and put together something that was clean and different than every other ‘66 Chevelle.
The rebuild process took 11 years and way more than $10,000 dollars to complete, but the end product is much better than ever before. The process took so long, because I when I started I was only an E-5 in the military and had a family to support – money was tight. Then, I broke my back in a dirt bike accident and was in a body cast for six months. I was able to do some welding on the floorboards while in my body cast, it just took me much longer. But, the cast couldn’t keep me out of the garage. Then I had three more deployments, and I was eating Ramen noodles and saving money so I could finish the car.
For the most part, the car is done, but I am still making changes and redoing small things that I don’t like. For instance, last summer, in the middle of car show season, I did not like the way my dash looked, so I ripped it out and redid it. I sunk the gauges into the dash, filled in all the old holes, and smoothed and repainted it to match the silver on the outside of the car. This spring, before the car show season, I did not like the way my center console looked and thought I could do a better job … so I built a new center console and it turned out way better than the first. I am going to tackle the trunk next, and I am also looking into fuel injection.
As you can see, this car and I have been through a lot together. I’ve given it multiple paint jobs, multiple engine rebuilds, multiple events of trial and error, but they were all good memories!