Street Rod Life

A High Horsepower Tribute

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A ’40 Chevy that honors the Greatest Generation

Photos and Story by Louis Kimery

When an automotive engineer takes on a personal street rod project, you might expect some interesting details to emerge from the build, but John Callies’ Che’Pon takes detail to a whole new level.

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Don’t let its mild street rod appearance fool you. Upon closer inspection of this ’40 Chevy, it is truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

When John initially acquired the white 1940 Chevrolet Deluxe coupe, it was intended to be a fun cruiser for he and his wife Rose, but then he decided to make a few improvements. Nine years and 8,000 hours of labor later, we can now see what all the effort brought, and how an engineer brings his ideas to fruition. What exactly lead to such a drawn-out build you ask? Let’s start at the beginning…

John’s penchant for engineering and fabrication began at an early age when he started visiting the vocational school where his father taught future tradesmen. Soon after, the 7-year-old John wanted his own welding set. His father suggested he find a job first, so the budding craftsman became a paperboy. Before long, John was welding with his newly-acquired Victor welding kit, and has never looked back.

A series of homebuilt hot rods coincided with a formal college education as an automotive engineer. John’s personal automotive projects have always been a bit different from the mainstream. For example, there was the ’48 Anglia that competed at the drags as a C/gasser and doubled as his daily driver. Several years later there was a tiny ‘37 Simca road racer powered by a Pontiac 303-ci Trans Am engine.

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Over 550-ci of pro stock Pontiac power is revealed once the factory steel front end assembly tilts forward. We’re still not convinced which is more impressive, the engine or the engineering behind the tilt front end.

John has an affinity for Pontiac motivation, which comes naturally after a 21-year career with the Pontiac Motor Division of General Motors. During this tenure, John served as the director of Pontiac Motorsports for 10 years and worked closely with many auto racing legends like Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, and Rusty Wallace of NASCAR fame, while Don Prudhomme and Butch Leal dominated the NHRA racing Pontiacs.

Pontiac support also helped IMSA racers find their way to the winner’s circle with Fiero GTU/GTP race cars. When the Fiero was selected to serve as the pace car for the 1984 Indy 500, John was the development engineer, and was chosen to lead the pack at the Brickyard as its driver. When he left Pontiac, he began an engineering odyssey that brought his skills to some of the best-known names in the performance business. From his own crankshaft company, to Lunati Cams and Morel Lifters, John is still embedded as a key player in the performance industry today.

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The rear fenders were widened 1.5-inches each and custom aluminum bumpers (front and rear) were designed.

Which brings us back to the ’40 Chevy at hand. What was originally going to be a few mild updates snowballed into a near decade long engineering feat of power, appearance and packaging. With it’s ’40 Chevy steel skin combined with the heart of an all-aluminum Pontiac race motor, John’s wife dubbed it the Che’Pon.

The motor is one of the highlights of the car, and consists of a Keith Black aluminum block fitted with a set of aluminum cylinder heads that John spearheaded the development of during his tenure at Pontiac. These heads were originally intended for Pro Stock drag racing, and feature Dale Eicke porting technology and specialized valvetrain components. The rotating assembly includes a Callies crank and rods, with a set of Wiseco 10:1 pistons. A COMP Cams bumpstick regulates valve action, and an MSD ignition (with a FAST controller) keeps the fire lit in each cylinder.

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The aviation-inspired theme really comes to life in the cockpit, er interior, of the car with the bomber jacket leather seats, aluminum panel work and custom steering wheel.

The one-off fuel injection intake manifold is a Pontiac-Kinsler collaboration from the IMSA GTP program. The dry sump oiling system and handmade headers, coated with Caps Brite Hot, were all fabbed by John in his well-equipped home shop. The net result is a 557-ci monstrosity producing an honest 750-hp at 6200 rpm, with an additional 300 horses available via a nitrous oxide system. Supporting this power a G-Force 6-speed coupled to a dual-disc Quarter Master clutch.

The power is sent to a hand fabricated rear-end housing with Mark Williams axles, their-forged 9-inch third member that is fit with an Eaton Truetrac and Richmond 4.77 gears. This assembly is mounted within a hand fabricated chassis created with 4-inch boxed tubing and a custom 4-link rear suspension and Watts link, along with a custom front suspension of John’s own design. Of particular note is the full 12-point roll cage that is fully integrated into the body and provides 120,000 pounds of torsional stiffness per degree of twist, as well as a substantial safety enhancement.

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The amount of work that went into leaning the front end forward is staggering.

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Here’s a taste of the engineering work under the sheet metal.

Colorado Custom whittled up a Che’Pon-specific set of aluminum wheels with special offset to accommodate the tires within the widened rear fenders, which were widened by 1.5-inches, and another 1.5-inches were gained with a modest wheel tub.

Further body modifications are numerous but require a second look to fully grasp. The rear fender openings are contoured for the lower profile tires, and new widened aluminum running boards were fabricated to bring the rear fender lines to the front in an aesthetically pleasing manner. The entire front end tilts forward to reveal the big Poncho engine. All of the original steel body panels were used, making it appear as it did from the factory, but a tubular skeleton and 27 aluminum panels complete the front end from the inside. It fits like a glove, and its release is actuated by a pair of Honda 125 motorcycle struts, which makes for a very precise tilting mechanism.

Electronic innovations are also throughout the interior of the ’40 including a trunk mounted LCD video A A FAST EFI computer regulates the fuel injection system and traction control, while a second custom-built computer provides information and entertainment through the sound system and interior display. A full brace of Classic Instruments gauges are installed in the original dash and a roof-mounted console provides controls for many of the cars specialized functions. As for the nitrous and link-lock, they’re both at the ready on the hand fabricated aircraft style steering wheel.

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Details abound, even in the custom battery compartment that powers the EFI, ABS, Wi-Fi, LCD and other electronics.

The aviation-inspired theme of the car gives a nod to the venerable P-51 Mustang and is intended as a tribute to America’s WWII veterans and the United States Army Air Corps. The aluminum paneling, the bomber jacket leather seat upholstery, the nose-art airbrushing and USAAC insignias, all contribute to the respectful salute that John is making to America’s Greatest Generation through his hot rod. Even an F-105 Thunderchief rear-view mirror made its way into the interior.

The Che’Pon made its public debut this past November at the 2014 SEMA show in Las Vegas. Since then, John has been busy shaking down the new setup and intends to participate in several events throughout the coming year. “Every car I’ve ever owned gets driven,” Callies says. “The intent with this car is to be able to go to the drags, an autocross, or drive it across the country.”

Keep your radar trained for this brilliant blue hot rod at the next event you attend.