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Fascinated by all things automotive long before he had a chance to get behind the wheel, Joe Rivera was destined to be a gearhead. Now one of the co-owners of Warr Performance, a Fresno, California-based tuning shop that’s operated by a group of combat veterans, Rivera says that his obsession with cars really kicked into high gear as a teenager after he bought a 1968 Chevy Impala.
“It was kind of a ‘grandma’ type of car, but really clean one. We won a number of trophies with it at car shows,” he explains. “It was nothing crazy, but it definitely allowed me to get further involved in car culture and that sort of thing.” But even prior to the Impala, there was one project that had always been on his radar.
“The ’67 Chevelle has been in my life for as long as I can remember. My uncle had originally bought it from a family friend. It had a 283ci small-block and a Powerglide, so it was a cruiser. I ended up buying it from my uncle for $500 just before I entered high school, and at that point it wasn’t running, so it spent a lot of time in our backyard. I’d tinker with it when I could.”
Rivera would end up joining the United States Marine Corps after graduating high school. While he was in the service, his father had the Chevelle sent over to a friend’s shop to get the ball rolling on a restoration effort, but project eventually stalled out. “They did some of the bodywork and did a rebuild on the original engine, but it ended up sitting at that ranch for probably about a decade,” he recalls. “It still needed to be completely gone through, but at that point I was focused on other things.”
In 2010, Rivera once again turned his attention to the project, and after having the car transported over to Warr Performance, he started considering which direction he wanted to go with the build. The initial plan was to dial the Chevelle in as an LS-powered, corner-carving Pro Touring kind of build for the Optima Ultimate Street Car Challenge series, but after events like Hot Rod Drag Week and Rocky Mountain Race Week caught his attention, the plan soon changed and the Chevelle's build skewed towards the drag strip.
The Warr Performance team tore the Chevelle down to the frame, which was sent off for powder coating while they sorted out the rest of the car. Along the way they replaced the trunk floors, which had been rotted out by what Rivera theorized to be battery acid from a hydraulics system that the car had been outfitted with decades ago. “We ended up changing just about every nut and bolt on the car,” he notes.
When the Chevelle got back on the road in spring of 2022, it was an entirely different animal. Nestled in the engine bay is a 6.0-liter LS V8 with a Brian Tooley Racing camshaft, a Holley Hi-Ram intake, and a Borg Warner S475 turbo feeding the engine about 15 pounds of boost; a combination which Rivera estimates to be good for about 850 horsepower. A Holley Terminator X Max ECU manages the proceedings.
“I’ve always liked the Holley Dominator systems, so when this Terminator X Max system came out, I jumped on it right away. The build isn’t at the level where I really need a Dominator right now – this gives me the boost management that I wanted, and the software is really easy to work with.”
The LS is hooked up to a built 4L80-E automatic transmission, and the grunt makes its way to the pavement through a Ford 9-inch rear end with a Richmond locker and a 3.70 gear ratio. To dial in the A-body for the strip, the team also installed a set of QA1 double adjustable shocks out back and outfitted the 15-inch Jegs SSR wheels with Mickey Thompson ET Street drag radials.
In the cabin there’s a pair of Kirkey race seats and an 8.50-certified roll cage, along with a B&M shifter and a Dakota Digital instrument cluster. To maintain comfort at the track and while on the road, Rivera also equipped the Chevelle with AC from Vintage Air, along with a DIY-style cool suit system.
“Once everything was back together, we just gave it a coat of Rust-Oleum,” he says regarding the pragmatic paintwork. “We did an LS swap for a customer who had this rust red color on his ’51 Ford and I really liked it, and at that point the main goal was to get the car back on the road as quickly as possible.”
After hitting up some local test and tune events, the team headed out to Las Vegas for LS Fest West 2022, where the car ran in the low 10s in the Street King class. “But those were basically shakedown passes for what came after LS Fest,” he tells us. A few months later, he hopped behind the wheel and headed east for Rocky Mountain Race Week to put the Chevelle to the test in its first multi-day drag-and-drive event.
“It was a lot of fun, but it was definitely tough. During one of our passes in Colorado we lost fuel pressure at the top of the track and torched a piston – it leaned out and we didn’t have the fail-safes enabled in the software. I ended up driving it on seven cylinders all the way back to Great Bend, Kansas!”
Looking ahead, Rivera says the plan is to dial in the setup further and get the car running in the 10.0 range consistently. “We’re going to do some front suspension upgrades, get the hood on there, and we might actually switch over to a twin-turbo setup somewhere down the road. Long term, it’s really just about seeing how quick I can make this thing. Eventually I’d like to get it into the mid 8s.”