A Blown 1970 Chevelle Built to Drive Across America
By Nick Licata – Photos by Dominick Damato and Matt Landford
Tony Certoma was on the hunt for a rust-free 1970 Chevelle. Not an easy task, today, especially if you live in Melbourne, Australia, as Tony does. It’s not like he can just wing over on a whim to scour America for the perfect specimen. That sort of thing takes time and you have to know the right people. This is where Jeff Schwartz comes in. Schwartz has been in the chassis and muscle car building biz for over 20 years, so he’s connected—he’s got juice. Schwartz put out an APB to his muscle car network for a rust-free 1970 Chevelle—preferably one with lineage to California. He was soon introduced to a ripe example found in Wisconsin—not too far from Schwartz Performance in Woodstock, Illinois. Somewhat leery on the car’s condition due to its location, Schwartz did some research and found the car to have spent a majority of its life in California—a stark contrast to the rough metal-eating conditions the car would have endured living in the Midwest.
Schwartz informed Tony on the find and sent him a few photos for reference. Tony approved. A fan of vintage muscle cars, but not the temperamental aspects that sometimes accompany owning a classic, Tony and Schwartz put a plan together to build a stout and reliable street machine. Unforeseen budget constraints prolonged the build, which took almost 10 years, and by 2020 the car was ready. Tony was champing at the bit to get behind the wheel and tour America in his vintage ride, but with the arrival of COVID-19 so did a travel ban that left Tony stranded in the land Down Under. The cruise across America would have to wait. But Schwartz, armed with motivation, the ultimate set of tools, and years of experience, kept busy setting up the Chevelle with all modern bits to ensure Tony can twist the key and motor down the road with no issues.
His Chevelle needed to possess big horsepower, while maintaining reliability. He liked the historical aspect of the 1970 Chevelle SS LS6 454, so he took aim at GM’s LSX 454. His idea of fun is to hit the pedal and get instant reaction from the car, so Schwartz suggested a bullet from Nelson Racing Engines. Tom Nelson is known for building extreme powerplants for the street or strip, and the LSX 454 fit the bill. Tony was on board. In fact, he likes pushing things to the limit so a Whipple supercharger was added to peak the “fun meter.”
The Nelson bullet hammers out 930 hp—plenty of grunt to cause all the havoc Tony could dream of. Starting with a GM aluminum block, Nelson massaged it to a 4.125-inch bore and dialed in a Callies 4340 forged 4.250 stroke crank, Callies 4340 forged I-beam rods, and JE forged 10.5:1 pistons. The valvetrain consists of a custom mechanical roller cam and other custom bits that Nelson keeps under wraps. Aluminum LS7 heads got the Nelson once-over for improved efficiency.
Stainless Works headers evacuate spent fuel and send waste through a Schwartz Performance 3-inch stainless exhaust system topped with a pair of MagnaFlow mufflers. Advantage Transmissions in Woodstock beefed up a 4L80 transmission, which sends twist to a Moser 9-inch rearend, 3.70 cogs, and a Truetrac limited slip diff.
Tony plans to put in a lot of seat time, so ride quality was high priority. He went with a Schwartz Performance Full G-machine chassis. Features include a triangulated four-link and ¾-inch splined rear sway bar out back, while Schwartz custom spindles and a splined 1-inch sway bar reside up front. It’s a solid foundation designed with improved geometry over a stock frame for modern-car handing and ride comfort. RideTech springs (500-pound front, 300-pound rear) and triple-adjustable shocks with remote reservoirs reside on all four corners. A Flaming River rack-and-pinion steering system keeps the Chevelle in line and offers quick lateral movement when Tony feels the need for accurate road carving.
It takes aggressive braking power to scrub speed off this beast, so Baer brakes were incorporated to handle stopping duties—14-inch rotors and six-piston calipers perform up front, and 13-inch rotors and six-piston calipers do the job out back.
For a bit of nostalgia and Tony’s fondness for the Boyd Coddington brand, he went with a classic set of Boyds wheels (18×9 front, 18×12 rear). The Schwartz crew scuffed the rims and blacked-out the centers for a more modern vibe, while Bridgestone rubber (275/35R18 front, 345/30R18 rear) keeps the big Chevy glued to the road.
The interior contains a plush Pro Touring theme designed to keep Tony in the comfort zone for long road trips. Cassin Customizing (Woodstock) dialed in the custom black leather affair featuring red stitching on the seats, door panels, and dash, for an original, attractive scene. Dakota Digital gauges are framed by the leather-wrapped, stock dash, and a USA 630 Classic Car Stereo head unit looks period-correct, while the Rockford Fosgate speakers contain today’s technology for crystal-clear tunes. A Billet Specialties steering wheel looks the part perched on the Flaming River steering column, while a Vintage Air A/C system keeps Tony’s mobile confines in a comfy climate.
As stock, the 1970 Chevelle’s body lines are iconic and require no manipulation—there’s no reason to mess with perfection. Tony and Schwartz were on the same page and kept the factory vibe in check by using as many OEM bits as possible, including the factory hood hinges, bumpers, mirrors, and door handles—all was kept to maintain the Chevelle’s original spirit. The sheetmetal was treated to a good smoothing and pre-paint ritual by Steve Nick at Steve Nick Auto Body (Woodstock), prior to dousing it in PPG Charcoal Gray. He followed up with SS stripes on the hood and trunklid to capture a vintage performance theme.
“With Tony still in Australia, I took the car out for a few shakedown runs and had a hard time keeping the tires from breaking loose,” Schwartz exclaims. “The power just kicks in immediately, and it’s got some big-ass tires on it, too! It’s an absolute beast when you want it to be, yet has amazing street manners when you just feel like cruising around town.”
Touring America in a classic car is pretty cool, but doing so in a supercharged, 900-plus horsepower 1970 Chevelle takes it to the next level.
Owner: Tony Certoma, Melbourne, Australia
Vehicle: 1970 Chevelle SS
Type: GM LSX 454 by Nelson Racing Engines
Displacement: 454 ci
Compression Ratio: 10.5:1
Bore: 4.125 inches
Stroke: 4.250 inches
Cylinder Heads: Aluminum LS7 Ported 375 cfm
Rotating Assembly: Callies 4349 Forged crankshaft, JE Forged pistons, Plasma Moly Speed Pro rings, 4340 Forged Callies I-beam connecting rods
Valvetrain: Custom mechanical roller cam (specs proprietary), lifters, shaft rockers, 0.080 wall pushrods
Induction: Whipple Supercharger, Holley fuel injection
Exhaust: Stainless Works headers, Schwartz Performance 3-inch exhaust, MagnaFlow mufflers
Ancillaries: Billet Specialties accessory drive system, K&N air cleaner, Be Cool aluminum radiator, Powermaster alternator, ARP fasteners, NRE billet valve covers
Output (at crank): 930 hp at 5,700 rpm
Transmission: GM 4L80 assembled by Advantage Transmissions (Woodstock, IL)
Converter: 2,800 stall by Advantage Transmissions
Rear Axle: Moser 9-inch, 3.70 gears, Truetrac limited slip, Moser axles
Chassis: Full Schwartz G-Machine
Front Suspension: RideTech triple-adjustable shocks with remote reservoirs, RideTech 500-pound springs, custom Schwartz spindles, 1-inch splined sway bar
Rear Suspension: Triple-adjustable RideTech shocks with remote reservoirs, RideTech 300-pound springs, triangulated four-link, ¾-inch splined sway bar
Brakes: Baer 14-inch rotors, six-piston calipers, front; Baer 13-inch rotors, six-piston calipers, rear; Wilwood master cylinder and proportioning valve
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Boyds, 18×9 front, 18×12 rear
Tires: Bridgestone 275/35-18, 345/30-18
Upholstery: Custom by Cassin Custom Upholstery (Woodstock)
Material: Leather with red stitching
Seats: Procar by Scat
Steering: Flaming River column, Billet Specialties steering wheel
Dash: Leather with red stitching
Instrumentation: Dakota Digital
Audio: Classic Car Stereo USA 630 installed by Sparky at Schwartz Performance
Wiring: American Autowire by Sparky
HVAC: Vintage Air
Bodywork: Steve Nick, Steve Nick Auto Body (Woodstock)
Paint By: Steve Nick
Paint: PPG Charcoal Gray, Black SS Stripes
Side Mirrors: OEM
Door Handles: OEM