The four headlights on the front of Mike Smith’s Chevrolet Chevelle may tell you it’s a 1970 model year, but behind that ’70 front clip is actually a 1971 Chevelle. But, more importantly, what really matters is what’s directly behind that ’70 front clip: an LS engine with an 80mm BorgWarner turbo smashing air through the intake, making this the Chevelle from Hell. Careful inspection of those four headlights will reveal the inside left front headlight isn’t a headlight at all — it’s a turbo!
Mike Smith, the madman who placed that turbo behind the headlight bezel, is a 26-year-old mechanic at Gateway Automotive in Thurmont, Maryland, where he has worked since he was in high school. When Mike isn’t fixing other people’s cars, he is putting the finishing touches on his beautiful LS-powered Chevelle.
“I call it a 70.5 Chevelle,” Mike says. “It has the ’70 front end on a ’71 body, so that makes it a ’70 and a half.” Mike admitted he had to replace the original ’71 front end after he slapped the LS engine package in the car and was showing off a bit. “It was when the car was still naturally-aspirated — it got away from me and I hit a pole,” Mike states. “It’s nothing I’m proud of. I was pulling out from a turn, some friends were with me, I got on it, went off the road, and there was the pole.” The nickname “Chevelle from Hell” may stick, as this car has proven difficult to keep on the road. Mike didn’t spend time feeling sorry for himself, though; he sourced a ’70 front clip and made the repairs. “I actually like the four headlights matching with the rear ’71 quad taillights.”
The four lights in front and four lights on the rear were a feature never offered together by Chevrolet, but after looking at Mike’s Chevelle, it seems like it should have been.
What Mike really likes about his Chevelle is what he calls, “an old-school look, with new-school power.” And he has power-a-plenty. The LS block is an LQ4 from a 2004 Denali, using a stock GM powertrain control module. The added power comes from an 80mm BorgWarner turbo, which has only been tuned up to 12-pounds of boost thus far. “There’s more tuning to come,” Mike assures us.
Mike decided on buying and building the Chevelle because he is a self-proclaimed, “huge Chevelle lover.” He also has a real 1964 Super Sport Chevelle in his garage. He found this 1971 Chevelle on Craigslist.
“It was a 350/350 Chevelle owned by a lady in Fredericksburg, Virginia,” Mike says. “I drove five hours to get this car in 2015, and I’ve been working on it ever since. To be honest, it’s an (expletive deleted) money pit!”
Mike didn’t initially plan to build it as a racecar, he was constructing it to be a nice Chevelle, but he found himself at a grudge race and realized he wanted more speed. He started with a naturally-aspirated engine on pump gas and threw nitrous at it. “I was just spraying,” Mike shares. “I love the adrenaline!” When that wasn’t enough juice, he decided to make the jump to LS power and drop a turbocharger on top of that. Then, the switch to E85 fuel was made.
Mike says even with over 800 horsepower, the car is very drivable. “My girlfriend, Bre, drives it,” said Mike. “It drives down the highway like a dream.” According to Mike, the only thing obviously noticeable about the build while driving the car on the street is the rate in which the gas gauge quickly moves while it is under E85 power. “That’s a problem,” Mike admits. The original 364 cubic-inch LQ4 block has been punched out to 408 cubic-inches. Rick Leggett at Leggett Engine Research in Boonsboro, Maryland, completed the build using Diamond pistons on a 4-inch stroke Callies crankshaft with a 10.5:1 compression ratio. The engine has a COMP Cam camshaft and Air Flow Research (AFR) 230cc heads.
The intake is a Holley Hi-Ram with a FAST 102mm throttle body. The fuel injectors are 1,200cc pumped by two separate Walbro 450 fuel pumps. The stock 2004 GM PCM has been tuned to run this Chevelle by Jeremy Formato from Fasterproms in Florida.
XS Power built the headers, while the piping for the turbo was fabricated by KML Performance. The hot side diameter of the pipes is 2.5-inches, the cold side is 4-inches, and the Chevelle uses a 4-inch downpipe and a TiAL Sport blow-off valve. The car also uses dual TiAL Sport 44mm wastegates.
Once the Hurst shifter goes into gear, all of this LS power goes through a TH400 automatic transmission with an FTI converter with a 3,800rpm stall speed. That leads to a bone-stock Chevelle driveshaft with a safety loop that terminates into a Ford 9-inch spool-filled rearend with 3.90 gears and Moser axles.
For safety, Mike added a six-point rollbar to the relatively stock Chevelle interior. Other than a small Dakota Digital display on the lower dash, a couple of switches near the Hurst shifter, and shift light on the steering column, this interior is that of a 1971 Chevrolet. “The interior is a full Chevelle interior,” Mike explains. He estimates there is at least a year and a half worth of work on his dark red Chevelle from Hell, and too many countless hours to keep track of. Now that the Chevelle is turbocharged, Mike has gotten rid of the nitrous bottle — no more “spraying and praying” for him.
Mike added the 4-inch raised Harwood fiberglass cowl hood for more clearance in the engine compartment. The chassis runs on QA1 shocks and uses stock front brakes. Mike has upgraded the rear drums to discs using a kit from Spraker Racing (which builds NASCAR parts). The rear upper and lower control arms are tubular units from UMI Performance, with coilovers in the rear. Anti-roll bars are from TRZ Motorsports. Currently, the steering rack is a factory manual box, but Mike wants to upgrade to a rack-and-pinion. He’s also planning on upgrading the factory front upper and lower control arms to TRZ Motorsports tubular parts.
Mike picked up his passion for building and tinkering on cars when he was just a kid, when his uncle, Steve, got him into working on cars. Mike has always enjoyed tearing stuff apart and working on it, and because of this passion, he started his high-school work experience program at Gateway Automotive and never left. Mike was into motocross for a while, but he enjoys his Chevelles, and the two of them keep him very busy (especially the dark red 70.5 Chevelle from Hell).
As far as a good hard solid 1/4-mile time, Mike doesn’t have one on paper to brag about. “I would like to say eights, but I don’t have the time-slip to back it up. I’ve gone 10s before while shutting the car down on the track due to an issue. I’ll get it to the track and sort it out soon enough.”
Racing is relatively new to Mike. In the past, he has always been a mechanic for friend’s cars. Now, with his Chevelle, he’s getting into racing more and more. With over 800 horsepower and 674 lb-ft of torque under the hood of his ride, Mike has a lot to work with.