They say that true passion runs deep and is often times shared between family members and close friends. Bryan and Donnie Wenger of Cheyenne, Wyoming are both brothers and best friends, and the passion they share is deeply rooted in the automotive world, or more specifically, around their 1971 Chevelles.
Where It All Began
Many automotive enthusiasts think of themselves as having been born into the community and having the gearhead blood since their earliest days. Bryan Wenger was literally born into the Chevy world!
“I have been into Chevys since birth,” Bryan told us. “I was born in the backseat of my grandparents’ ’56 Chevy. At 15, I mowed lawns all summer to buy my first car–a 1972 Chevelle. I even worked at the local Chevrolet dealer for six years after I got out of the Air Force.”
With Bryan driving his ’72 Chevelle throughout high school, younger brother (by a little over a year) Donnie was always right there next to him in the passenger seat. The Wenger brothers truly were enthusiasts from birth.
Years went by and the Wenger brothers and the ’72 Chevelle went their separate ways. But that wasn’t the last time the Wengers would be involved with classic Chevy muscle cars.
Of course, life sometimes takes you for a ride before you can fulfill your passions to the fullest as an adult, and it was years after high school that Donnie finally purchased the car of his dreams–a ’71 Chevelle from a guy in Cheyenne that had been storing the car in his backyard.
“During a family outing, I saw the car for sale,” Donnie told us.
“As a family we purchased the car that same day, but only after a highly detailed body man and good friend took a look at the car. Then came 14 years of ‘labor-of-love,’ the most memorable though were the times with my son Tod. Now as a family, we enjoy touring and autocrossing.”
Bryan’s current car joined the family a number of years after Donnie’s. In fact, it was 2008 before all the stars aligned and Bryan found his car, a similar ’71 Chevelle in Greeley, Colorado.
Ironically though, the brothers bought their cars eight years apart, and they were nearly identical from the factory.
“Mine and my brother’s car started out almost identical,” Bryan explained. “They were both a cream color, his with a white painted top and mine with a black vinyl top. Both cars had 350 engines, TH350 transmissions, 2.56 rear gears, power steering and power brakes. Mine had disc brakes and his had drum brakes.”
Though nearly the same from the factory, both cars have been significantly changed and modified over the years. Still, the brothers remain closely tied in the automotive community, from being members of the same car club, Cheyenne Rods & Customs, to participating in cruises, shows, and even the annual Goodguys Colorado Nationals AutoCross competition together.
Bought some 14 years ago, Donnie’s Chevelle was the first of the brother’s cars to be welcomed into the family–bone stock, and inevitably, with a bent frame. A lot has changed since then, transforming the classic muscle car into the autocross beast it is today.
The first thing that Donnie did to his Chevelle was rebuild the 350 ci Chevy small-block engine.
Rebuilt and pulsing with power, the 350 ci engine now features Vortec heads, a .455 lift camshaft from COMP Cams, 9.5:1 compression ratio hypereutectic pistons, an HEI distributor system, and a powder coated Edelbrock performer intake. A Rochester Quadra Jet carburetor modified by Sean Murray Industries takes care of the engine’s fueling needs while Sanderson mid-length headers expel spent fuel through a 2 ½-inch Flowmaster-equipped exhaust.
Next came the paint and body work, which was performed by Donnie with the help of a number of friends and family members along the way. The Chevelle now boasts a PPG Bright White paint scheme with Metallic Tangerine SS stripes.
Following the paint job, it was discovered that the car’s frame was bent when Donnie couldn’t get a proper alignment for the wheels. This resulted in the old frame being pulled and a fresh smoothed and powder-coated unit put in its place.
Following the frame replacement, the Chevelle received its current transmission and rearend gears.
Shifting the Chevelle is a Bowtie Overdrives 2004R Stage 2 transmission with a 2400-stall converter synced up to a 3 ½-inch aluminum driveshaft. Out back, Donnie went with a GM 10-bolt rearend with 3.73 gears and Moser axles.
Suspension upgrades were next, which were inspired by Cheryl Herrick and her autocross ’67 Nova sponsored by Jet-Hot Ceramic Coatings.
“My brother and I were at the Colorado Goodguys show a couple years ago and Cheryl Herrick from Jet-Hot talked us into trying the AutoCross,” Bryan explained. “We did not have overflow bottles for the radiator so we had to make some out of water bottles to pass tech. We got to race and have been hooked ever since, doing multiple suspension, brake and engine upgrades every season to make the cars faster.”
For Donnie’s Chevelle, the new suspension upgrades made a huge difference in the car on and off the autocross course. Up front, the Chevelle is running Global West upper and lower control arms, Hotchkis lowering arms and a Hotchkis sway bar. Out back are Hotchkis arms with adjustable uppers, and Hotchkis springs. QA1 adjustable shocks have their place on every corner.
Giving Donnie’s Chevelle the pavement gripping power it needs are 18×7-inch and 18×9.5-inch Intro Twisted Matrix wheels wrapped in BFGoodrich KDW 225/45/18 and 255/45/18 shoes in the front and rear respectively. Stopping power for the muscle car is provided by GM power brakes with drilled and slotted rotors and SSBC calipers in the front, and stock drum brakes in the rear.
Rounding out Donnie’s Chevelle are the modifications made to the car’s interior. Inside, you’ll find a recovered front bench seat crafted by Stitch Headz featuring a custom upholstery design. The Tangerine SS stripe-matched upholstery color of the seats is then carried over to the custom door panels and wrapped Zoops steering wheel.
With the stock dash and gauges still in place, Donnie focused more of his customization efforts on the stereo system, which now features a Kenwood deck, as well as speakers, an amp, and subwoofer from JL Audio.
Since the Chevelle’s completion (well, at least as complete as any car ever is), it has won dozens of awards including the Best Ride on Intro Wheels Award at the 2011 Goodguys Colorado Nationals show.
With Bryan’s Chevelle taking its place in the Wenger family a number of years after Donnie’s, Bryan had a bit of time to make up to bring his virtually stock ’71 Chevelle up to par with his brother’s when it came to performance upgrades. This started off with suspension and brake upgrades, followed by body and paint upgrades. Then came another round of brake and suspension upgrades, and most recently, an engine upgrade to keep the car’s performance capabilities moving in an onward and upward direction.
Now as potent as ever, Bryan’s Chevelle features a GM Performance Parts ZZ383 engine with a GM roller camshaft featuring a .509 intake/.528 exhaust and a 222/230 duration at .50, a GM forged crank, GM PM rods, 9.6:1 compression ratio hypereutectic pistons, and aluminum GM Fast Burn heads.
The engine also boasts an Edelbrock RPM Air Gap intake, Holley Terminator EFI system with a Holley regulator and filter, Be Cool aluminum radiator, and an MSD small cap HEI ignition with a 6AL-2 ignition box controlled by the Holley Terminator.
The engine is fueled by a Tanks Inc. fuel tank and pump while spent exhaust is collected in Doug’s mid-length headers and dumped into a 2 ½-inch Flowmaster-equipped exhaust. With all these components combined, the engine is good for 425 horsepower and 449 lb-ft of torque.
Backing the fuel-injected power plant is a Bowtie Overdrives 2004R Stage 2 transmission with a 2400 rpm stall converter.
Power from the engine is then pushed to a 3 ½-inch Denny’s Driveshafts aluminum driveshaft and through a GM 12-bolt rearend with an Eaton Posi, 3.73 gears, and hardened axles.
As far as chassis modifications go, Bryan’s Chevelle features Global West upper and lower control arms, a Classic Performance Products (CPP) swaybar, two-inch dropped spindles and QA1 coilover shocks with 450-pound springs in the front, Global West arms with adjustable uppers, and QA1 coilover shocks with 170-pound springs in the rear.
These modifications are backed by a CPP 600 Series steering box.
While Bryan’s Chevelle is certainly performance packed, it’s also quite the looker with custom body work, like a smoothed firewall, and a Dupont Mineral Gray and Viper Blue paint scheme with Dark Carbon Effect laid by Gary’s Paint and Restoration.
“Most people are amazed we drive these cars as hard as we do, then drive them home and back the next day.” -Bryan Wenger
Stopping power for the car is supplied by Wilwood 12.88-inch rotors and six-piston calipers in the front and Wilwood 12.25-inch rotors and four-piston calipers in the rear tied to a CPP adjustable master cylinder with built-in Hydro-boost. Planting the car to the pavement are 18×7.5-inch front and 18×9.5-inch rear Rushforth Super Spoke wheels wrapped in BFGoodrich KDW 245/40R18 and 285/35R18 rubber respectively.
Adding some creature comfort to the interior is a Vintage Air AC and heater unit. The interior also features an Alpine stereo system complete with Alpine deck, 6 ½-inch speakers in the front, 6×9-inch speakers in the rear, a 10-inch subwoofer, and an Alpine PDX five-channel amp.
Just like Donnie’s car, Bryan’s Chevelle has also won dozens of awards at local shows, including the Best Ride on BFG’s Award at the 2010 Goodguys Colorado Nationals, a Super Chevy Editors Top Five Award earlier this year, and the Super Chevy ’68 and Up Modified Chevelle award at the same show.
“Most people are amazed we drive these cars as hard as we do, then drive them home and back the next day,” Bryan told us. “Both of these cars get driven a lot. We drive them to Golden, Colorado from Cheyenne, Wyoming (120 miles each way) several times each summer to go to a monthly cruise night and then drive them back the same night. Last year we drove my car to Kool Deadwood Nights in South Dakota.”
If you’re ever at a car show in the Rocky Mountain region, chances are you’ll run into the Wenger brothers and their Chevelles there. With more and more automotive adventures being added to the list each year, you might even see them elsewhere as well. But one thing is for certain–no matter where you see one, you’ll almost certainly see the other and that’s exactly how the brothers prefer to keep their shared automotive passion.
This winter, both Bryan and Donnie will be changing up their cars a bit; Bryan with an upgraded interior and Donnie with an immense project of his own to reconstruct his Chevelle.
Unfortunately after we saw the brothers at the Goodguys Colorado Nationals event and the Super Chevy Show earlier this year, Donnie’s car got sideswiped on the interstate actually coming home from the Chevy show.
Though the damage to the car is pretty major, Donnie’s passion for his Chevelle hasn’t faltered one bit and he hopes to rebuild the car bigger and better for next season. Either way, we’ll be cheering both him and his brother on the next time either one of them hits an autocross course with their amazing Chevy muscle cars!
For more photos of the Wenger brothers’ Chevelles in action at the Goodguys Colorado Nationals event this Summer, be sure to check out our Mega Chevy Hardcore Gallery below!