This LS-Swapped G-Body Is An Ambassador For The Big Wheel Scene

06/23/2023

This LS-Swapped G-Body Is An Ambassador For The Big Wheel Scene

06/23/2023

Car culture has developed in a myriad of different directions over the past few decades, in turn creating numerous subgenres that capture the vibe for a given time, place, and purpose. But everything from lowriders and pro-touring builds has essentially evolved from a common goal: representing a builder’s unique sense of style through form and function. While history has shown us that some trends quickly catch on with mainstream enthusiasts, others have struggled to find footing amongst the established players. Big wheel car culture is a prime example of the latter. And as Wade Whitehorn of Atlanta, Georgia, points out, it isn’t just another term for a donk.


“Donk has been kind of commercialized, and the meaning has kind of gotten lost – donks are only the ’71-’76 Caprices and Impalas. It’s really supposed to be a nickname for a specialized version of those specific cars. But the big wheel scene is everything from old school classics to modern muscle.”


If anyone’s qualified to make that distinction, it’s Whitehorn. As the man behind Whips by Wade, he’s been documenting various aspects of car culture through social media and video for more than a decade. It’s an endeavor that began on internet forums before he was even eligible for a driver’s license.


“In the early 2000s, that’s where everyone was,” he notes. “The concept of social media was just starting to take shape at that point. So I hopped on CarDomain, import forums, lowrider forums, and a few others. And when I was about 15 years old, I spotted the roots of what would become the big wheel side of things. Growing up in the South, it was already becoming a big aspect of our car culture – muscle cars with 22-inch Billets, that sort of thing. Atlanta’s scene was really into Budniks and Boyds, and that’s what inspired us when we were growing up. For me, early on it was basically about taking pictures that I found on CarDomain and bringing them to the forums – bringing attention to new builds and new ideas to create discussion about the latest stuff happening around the world in the car game.”


Whips by Wade grew and evolved over time, and as social media platforms like Instagram started to build momentum, it led to Whitehorn traveling for shows and other events to put himself at the forefront of what was happening. “It was important to me to be an original creator of content,” he says. “And that meant that I needed to be where it was happening.”

That mindset was also the catalyst for Whitehorn’s 1985 Buick Regal build. Initially the G-Body was supposed to be something cool that would get him around while he saved up for his dream car – a 1969 Dodge Charger – but the project soon took on a life of its own. “An uncle of mine had a Regal when I was really, really young,” he recalls. “And I can still vividly remember it in my head; stuff like the blue paint and the 30-spoke wheels. It was one of my favorite cars when I was growing up. And as I got older, I really began to appreciate the G-Body and the Buick Regal in particular. I liked the combination of luxury and sportiness, which was pretty unique for its time. And ultimately I wanted something that would allow me to be more involved in the culture.”


Purchased in 2019, he tells us that the Regal appeared to be in pretty good shape when he took delivery, but he soon made a discovery that would set him on a new path with the car. “It was a really clean car – I figured I’d probably just do an audio system and some wheels, and it’d be a nice daily cruiser. But when I went to do the first tune-up, the oil came out like maple syrup.”


He immediately began hatching a game plan to swap out the tired factory mill for an LS, and he was optimistic that he could keep the costs under control. “I bought into the hype about doing a junkyard swap for under ten grand,” he says with a laugh. “And that turned into almost two years of terrible reliability and tons of hassles. It got so bad that I would call my friend who drives a tow truck to make sure that he was working if I was going to take the car out.”

What Whitehorn characterizes as the second phase of the build began in January of this year. After connecting with Alex Hernandez at Sac Speed Shop during the California Classic car show in August of 2022, he decided it was time to give the Buick a thorough revamp. “I was still having a lot of small issues with the wiring and things like that, and I wanted to clean things up a bit. I’d also just put together a deal with Forgiato to develop a custom wheel for my car, and that kind of kicked off this new era of the build. At first, I was just focused on making the car reliable, but once we did the wheels and the interior, it looked so nice that I wanted to fix up the rest of it.”


These days the Regal is powered by 396-cube LS-based V8 from Mast Motorsports that’s good for 566 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque on the engine dyno. The naturally aspirated mill is outfitted with forged internals, ported heads, a Holley Lo-Ram intake manifold, Hooker LS exhaust manifolds, a Blackheart exhaust system, and a few other go-fast goodies, a combination that provides the Regal with enough grunt to keep up with the modern batch of muscle cars.


“Alex at Sac Speed is an LS swap specialist, and recommended that we use Holley components like the front drive accessory kit, fuel rails, and power steering kit to make the whole process with the new motor as easy as possible,” he explains. “At this point, you could basically build your entire car through Holley Performance because of all of the different types of parts that are offered. And that means you’re not trying to mix and match stuff, and waiting for this part from one company and that other part from another.”


The LS is paired up with a 4L80E automatic gearbox, which in turn sends the power to the pavement through a narrowed Ford 9-inch rear end from Quick Performance. The Buick also now rides on QA1’s Level 2 Big Wheel suspension kit, which includes direct bolt-on coilovers, control arms, double-adjustable trailing arms, and sway bars that provide clearance for the 24-inch wheels without modifying the Buick’s chassis or bodywork.

The cabin of the Regal was redone in what Whitehorn describes as a marbleized maroon leather, while a 3500-watt JL audio system provides block-rocking sound. Whitehorn also opted to repaint the formerly-yellow Regal in black in order to better complement the new interior, and the factory vinyl top was ditched in favor of black cloth. “Once I decided I was going to go all-in, it really turned into a calling card for Whips by Wade, along with the brands that are represented in the build,” he says. “So I wanted something that would properly represent this aspect of car culture.”


Sac Speed put the finishing touches on the reworked Buick just in time for this year’s LS Fest West event, where it turned plenty of heads at the Holley booth. “It was a bit nerve-racking because the car wasn’t running until the Wednesday before the show – that was the first time we fired it up, and the next day it was on a trailer to get it out to the event. So that was an experience in and of itself, but we got it buttoned up and made it out there. It was dope to see everyone’s reactions to a car like this. I didn’t know what the reception would be like, but it ended up getting a ton of compliments, and a lot of folks wanted to know more about the build. It was really nice to see it get that kind of attention outside of its niche of the car community.”


As for what’s next, Whitehorn says that, along with local events, he’d like to bring the car out to the SEMA and PRI shows later this year. And as a testament to the Buick’s newfound reliability, he’s even considering going on the Hot Rod Power Tour. “I haven’t seen it done on big wheels before. I like the idea of a car that can maintain its character but also be kind of a chameleon that can go into these different spaces and participate in these different events. And along the way we get to show people what we’re up to.”

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