Ron Cherry: Best car he’s ever done — a ’67 Chevelle
March 23, 2018
When Frank Bonomolo built his latest Chevy, a '67 Chevelle, it was not his first rodeo, but he feels it's his best ride. Coming from a car dynasty, he has been turning a wrench as long as he can remember. His grandfather owned a "one-stop" garage in Novato that did both body and paint repairs and mechanical ones.
"He even had a tube bender to make exhaust systems," Frank said.
His dad had a garage that did mechanical repairs, where Frank cut his gearhead teeth.
"When I was 10 years old and hanging around the shop, I'd get handed a carburetor to take apart and put back together," he said, then added with a chuckle, "Mostly, I'd take them apart and make a mess."
Since then, he's never been far from a car and a wrench, mainly Chevies.
"My dad was a Chevy guy," he said. "So am I."
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At 16, Frank got his first car, a '55 Chevy. He went to GM's Automotive Service Educational Program in Fresno when he was 25. After moving to this area, he worked for Jim Keil Chevrolet in Grass Valley until they went out of business.
Since then, he's been running several of his own businesses. He also is still into cars, buying them and either flipping them (a quick sale) or fixing them up and selling them.
The chosen one
About three years ago, he bought a truck-load of cars, six of them, from Minnesota. They varied in condition from ready to go to in need of major work.
There was a '72 Chevelle SS, a '68 Chevelle SS, a '68 Chevelle quarter-mile race car, a '68 Camaro SS convertible, a '65 Impala SS396 and a '67 Chevelle SS. The Impala and the Camaro have since been sold, but the '67 Chevelle became the chosen one.
"It was a project car someone had started and never finished," Frank said. "It was a rolling chassis and body with a bunch of parts. It had come with a 327 (cubic inch engine), but it was missing."
So someone else's project became Frank's. The work done had been done right, so it was a good starting point. He decided to make it a Pro-Tourer, a classic muscle car with modern running gear and suspension.
For an engine, he chose an LS3 crate engine, like the one used in Corvettes from 2008 until 2013, with Doug's Headers and a 3 inch Flowmaster exhaust. For a trans, Frank opted for a 4L65-E 4-speed auto with overdrive.
"That shaved about 300 pounds off the car," he said. "Now the weight balance is 53 percent front and 47 percent back, about perfect for handling."
He beefed up the suspension, using Hotchkis coil-overs front and back. He lowered the car 2 inches in the back and 3 inches in the front, planning for a bit of a rake, but it sits fairly level.
"I would have preferred to have it a little higher in the back," he said, "but it's settled in great and handles super well."
For a rearend, he went for a 3.73:1 ratio posi. To stop this beast, he used Classic Performance Product power discs on all four wheels. To improve steering, he changed the gear box to an AGR quick-ratio power one with an ididtit chrome tilt column.
The body needed no work.
"It had been rotisseried (put on rotating a rack to work on) and was painted pomegranate red. Most people would have polished it out and kept it," Frank said. "To me, that car's body lines are best pronounced with silver or black."
So he had Nugget Auto Body paint it silver metallic with pearlescent red.
"They did a fantastic job," he said. "They put eight coats of clear over the top." For wheels, he put on a set of 18 inch Retros.
Sprucing up the interior
Inside, Frank had Artist Upholstery redo the interior to look original, keeping the factory buckets and center console. He changed the instrument cluster to a VHX vintage-style with analog gauges from Dakota Digital.
"It's built especially for that year. It looks really cool," he said.
Cabin temperature is controlled by a Vintage Air heat and A/C system.
"It got rid of all the old cable controls," he said. "It's all digital, with infinite control for the blend."
Whenever possible, all the work done on the Chevelle was by local shops or himself. It took about two years to complete, just finishing it last summer, but Frank is very proud of his Chevelle.
"Every nut and bolt has been changed or redone," he said. "This is the nicest one I've ever done."
And it performs well, dynoing at an impressive 430 horsepower at the rear wheels. So far, he only has about 650 miles on it, mainly to a few local shows and, weather permitting, Cars and Coffee, an informal gathering of car lovers which happens from 8-10 a.m. every Saturday at the K-mart parking lot off McKnight.
"I can't wait for spring so I can drive it," he said. "I should say I can't wait for decent weather."
So what's next for Frank and his Chevelle?
"If I finally sell it, it will be for a high dollar," he said. "I might take it to Barrett-Jackson or Mecum. It's that nice."
He's very philosophical about selling a car that he put so much into, having his eye on the next project.
"I've got several irons in the fire. That's what keeps it fun," he said. "Currently, I'm working on a '57 Chevy pickup and a '68 Chevelle SS396. I'm also working on the quarter-mile Chevelle (that he got in the same shipment as the '67 and the '68). It's got a 427. I want to take it down to that Christmas tree (the starting lights on the drag strip). It's on my bucket list."
Maybe that will become the best car he's ever done.
Ron Cherry's books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His new book, "The St. Nicholas Murders," is a Christmas mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills that is remarkably similar to Nevada City and is now out in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. Check out his website at http://www.rlcherry.com.
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