At 82 years young, California Jerry Kolby is having the time of his life campaigning a no-expense-spared 1966 Chevy II, which is the end product of a life spent tinkering with cars…and particularly this one, which he’s held onto through thick and thin for the last 31 years. Never did he intend nor think it would become the track-warrior that it is today — or that he could even afford to have such a car — but his unparalleled passion for the sport made it a reality.
“I’ve been interested in cars since I was 13, 14…I think I got my first car when I was 15 and I’ve had a lot of cars ever since. I’ve been on and off drag racing, I’ve tried street-rodding, I just enjoy cars,” Kolby says.
Originally from Wisconsin, Kolby attended drag races at Union Grove and witnessed some of the early gassers and their high-RPM engines. He was so impressed by it all that he decided he was going to race himself. Admitting he was a bit naive, he stuck a junk-yard 401 cubic-inch Buick engine in a ’51 Chevy and went racing. “It wasn’t very fast,” he says, “but you learn…you’re always learning.” Kolby has been racing on and off ever since, occasionally dabbling in other arenas of the car hobby, but always returning to the sport of drag racing.
He ran B and C/Gas for a number of years, switching back and forth between the two. Among his rides was a ‘40 Willys that he says, “did nothing but wheelstands for a year.” He moved to California in 1969 and with a partner, put together a C/Modified Production car. It was then in 1990 that he acquired the Chevy II.
“I had a buddy that moved to California — Northern California — at the same time I did, and started a body shop. I kept in touch with him, and through my work, I ended up getting a job up that way. He actually found the car for me — I was looking for a Chevy II. A high school kid owned it, had lost his license, and it was sitting for a while, and then one of his brothers convinced the dad that it shouldn’t sit there and the brother should be driving it. So the kid that owned it sold the engine and transmission out of it so his brother couldn’t take it over, and I later ended up buying it from the high school kid,” Kolby explains.
I’m not a big budget guy, and I’ve always had to compromise with what I was doing and use used parts, so there was always a weak link. So this time around, everything is first-class so there are no weak links. – Jerry Kolby
Originally intended to be a daily-driven work-commute vehicle, it navigated the usual path from humble to hardcore, going through a handful of transformations. Prior to this, it had a naturally-aspirated 632 cubic-inch big-block for power, with a manually-shifted Lenco five-speed, which was good enough for low eights in the quarter.
Like the young kid that owned it previously, Kolby entertained letting it go to a new home during these 31 years, but ultimately couldn’t envision himself without it.
“I had a chance to sell out at one point, and probably triple my money, but after thinking about it, I loved the body style. I think it’s a classic that will never get old. I didn’t know what I would get if I sold it, so I decided to keep it.”
The shoebox was in stock form when he bought it — an original SS car, yellow with a black interior, and it had been sitting long enough that it was filled with field-mites. “They’d eaten up all of the wiring, I found all kinds of secrets up in the dash inside the gauges, but it was still a California car, so it was in good shape otherwise,” he says.
“I wanted a fun car to drive every day, so I put a junkyard 350 and a T-5 five-speed in it, and my buddy with the body shop helped me fix it and paint it and make it look nice. We put some five-spoke Weld wheels on it and I drove it to work. A few of my friends went to car shows, and I spent a few years doing that, I took the wife along and we traveled the coast to car shows, but sitting around got old and I got to thinking about making it fast. I needed a project, and so I started working on it,” he continues.
Kolby retired a few years back and had the time to invest in another iteration of his prized Chevy II. He had seen from afar the things chassis builder and accomplished racer Larry Larson had done with this own Chevy II. He initially called Larson about procuring a rear spoiler like the one on his car, but one conversation led to another (and many others to follow) and Kolby was, in due time, headed down the rabbit hole. “I decided if I was ever going to do the twin-turbo thing, the time would be now, not when I’m 100 years old.” Larson took on the project, and among Kolby’s requirements was that it retain the stock look, right down to the factory trim. He still wanted it to look like a car.
Larson installed a 598-inch cast big-block Chevy, with a Brodix block, Bryant crankshaft, Ross pistons, and Oliver billet rods, topped with 12-degree Pro-Filer 12-degree heads and a Hogan’s intake manifold. sporting A COMP camshaft drives the valvetrain, and it’s fueled by an Aeromotive mechanical fuel pump and cooled by a Meziere water pump. A pair of 94mm Precision turbos feed the beast, and a Rossler three-speed Turbo 400 with a two-piece ProTorque converter transfers to the power back to a Mark Williams full floater rearend with a 9.5-inch ring and pinion and M-W brakes, via a PST carbon-fiber driveshaft. Kolby utilizes a FuelTech FT600 ECU to manage his beautiful ride, with much of the tuning support provided remotely by Larson. FuelTech’s FTSpark with eight individual coils provide the spark for ignition.
Strange Engineering Pro front struts and disc brakes are paired with Penske nitrogen-filled, coilover rear shocks with canisters to put the power down.
“Larry’s car is an all-steel car, so it’s heavy. I said, ‘you don’t want to cut up that car.’ He actually owned that car when he was in high school. So I told him, ‘take my car, and cut it up and make it what you would want it to be. Put all the good stuff in it, and build it like it’s yours.’ The only thing I wanted was for it to be red again and look like a car. I was limited on the engine stuff, because I had to use what I already owned. So I turned him loose, and I haven’t found anything wrong with it — the car is perfect. He did a fantastic job,” Kolby says.
Kolby had Larson put stock Chevy II door panels back in the car, along with the factory dash and Jaz aluminum seats, and then worked with a local upholstery shop to trim down circa-1967 seat covers to fit. An original headliner was also put in to continue the close-to-factory theme in the cockpit.
Larson spent 13 months applying his craftsmanship to Kolby’s machine, and once complete, in order to prove to Kolby just how out-of-the-box capable it was, got behind the wheel and almost immediately went 6.64 at 218 mph to the 1/4-mile.
I had a chance to sell out at one point, and probably triple my money, but after thinking about it, I loved the body style…I think it’s a classic that will never get old. I didn’t know what I would get if I sold it, so I decided to keep it. – Jeff Kolby
The car has gotten so quick — and Kolby says he’s had “so many birthdays” — that he’s had Larson and, more recently, a local Californian, Chris Bates, drive the car. They’ve been concentrating on 1/8-mile West Coast outlaws and other heads-up events, and it’s thus far clocked a best of 4.20 at 180 mph.
“It does cost money, so sometimes you’re limited by how much money you can put together to do what you want to do, and then you sometimes have to recover,” he says. “Back in the ‘60s, it was pretty much shadetree stuff, and now there’s a lot of technology involved, so if you want to be competitive, you’ve got to have the good parts, and that costs money.”
Kolby adds that it’s, “a state-of-the-art car, and now I’ve got to work on making it as fast as everybody else. I’m not a big budget guy, and I’ve always had to compromise with what I was doing and use used parts, so there was always a weak link. So this time around, everything is first-class so there are no weak links. This is the first car I’ve ever had that was really quality. I have no excuses now.”
For Kolby, it’s the culmination of a life spent tinkering with cars, pressing them to go ever quicker and faster — it also satiates his desire for a challenge, for camaraderie, and the pursuit of happiness. And his dedication to the sport, and to his machine, is worthy of great admiration.
Kolby sadly lost his wife eight years ago and has since poured himself into drag racing, sharing, “I have rabbit ears on my TV and a land-line for a phone, and all my money goes into the racecar. I don’t have enough money to do normal things and have the racecar, and that’s my priority…it’s what I want to do, and so that’s what I’m doing. There are days I wake up and look at the ceiling and say, ‘what the hell am I doing?’ but I’ve jumped off the cliff and there’s no turning back.”
He adds of his passion for the sport, “It’s sort of challenging, and rewarding, and it gives you freedom. And your personality comes out in what your car is and what it looks like and how it works, It’s probably 95-percent work and 5-percent reward. But you get hooked on it…it’s not alcoholism or drugs, but I keep coming back to drag racing. Almost all of the car people are good people, so it’s just something I really get enjoyment out of.”