Chevelle From Hell: Mike Smith’s LS Turbo-Powered Chevelle

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.

Smith’s 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle is a beautiful and straight specimen hiding a massive turbocharged LS engine under the hood. Photos By: Lethal Shutter Productions LLC

“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.

Mike enjoys cruising his very streetable 800 horsepower Chevelle around town and hooking up for no-prep and grudge-match events.

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.

This LQ4 block, donated from a 2004 GMC Denali, is cranking out over 800 horsepower on 12-pounds of boost, thanks to an 80mm BorgWarner turbo and AFR heads. A 4-inch lift Harwood cowl fiberglass hood helps clear the Holley Hi-Ram intake.

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.

The ’70 front clip on the ’71 Chevelle adds the popular four headlight motif, and hidden behind one headlight bezel is the BorgWarner turbo pulling clean air right from out front of the car. This is one of the most ingenious turbo locations ever installed on a custom car.

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.

When Mike replaced the damaged ’71 front clip with the four headlight ’70 front clip, he liked the way it matched with the stock ’71 quad taillight rear bumper.

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.

Aside from a six-point rollbar and a Hurst shifter, the interior of this 800 horsepower beast from hell is stock Chevrolet Chevelle.

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.

The rear of the Chevelle rides on 15-inch Jegs wheels wrapped in sticky Hoosier bias-ply drag tires. The front has skinnies with Weld Racing wheels and Mickey Thompson Pro donuts.

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).

What lies ahead for the 70.5 Chevelle from Hell? More boost, more tuning, and a lot more racing.

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.

 

About the author

Rob Krider

Rob Krider will race absolutely anything. He is a multi-national champion racing driver and is also the author of the novel, Cadet Blues.
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