Diesel Muscle Car

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a muscle car as “any of a group of American-made, two-door sports coupes with powerful engines designed for high-performance driving.” Wikipedia also defines it as, “A large V8 engine is fitted in a two-door, rear-wheel-drive, family-style, mid-size or full-size car designed for four or more passengers.” Notice that there is no reference to the fuel type?


Diesel Muscle Car


Rick Fletes, of Galt, California, is a true muscle car enthusiast. Better still, he’s a diesel lover, too. At 32, Rick was born 10 years after his Chevelle came off the production line. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate Detroit iron and the power potential of a diesel engine.


Diesel Muscle Car Engine

Under the hood of this 1970 Chevelle you’ll find a truly powerful engine—a Duramax LB7. This takeout from a 2004 donor truck produced 300 hp and 520 lb/ft of torque from the factory. After some minor upgrades, such as a wastegate mod to boost it to 32 psi, a BD Performance RH exhaust manifold, an EFI Live programmer and some custom tuning, Rick has about 500 hp and 1,000 lb/ft to play around with.


When looking at the most efficient way to make his Chevelle a real power producer, Rick found that the best of the stock factory OE 454s had factory ratings of 450 hp and 500 lb/ft of torque. While he could have spent more than 13 grand for a stroker, race 454 block with 540 inches of displacement, 800 hp and 725 lb/ft of torque, he knew that a diesel engine was a better option. After all, a stock LB7 has 300 hp and 520 lb/ft out of the box; and with much less money, you can reach 1,000 lb/ft. And torque is the key to a quick launch and tire-roasting power when you want it.


Diesel Muscle Car

To improve highway manners and gain fuel mileage, Rick installed a Gear Vendors overdrive behind the TH400 transmission. This gives the Chevelle about 30 mpg highway—not bad for a 500hp daily driver. Try to find a gas engine Chevelle that can claim this.


Rick found a wrecked truck on the Internet and drove to Arizona to bring home the donor 2004 GM truck that had an LB7 motor. He extracted the motor, wire harness and most of the stock exhaust system and made it fit into the Chevelle as if it were stock. He also massaged the engine a little to gain an output of 500 hp and 1000 lb/ft to the ground for his oil-burning Chevelle.


Diesel Muscle Car

On the track, this Chevelle sports Mickey Thompson 29.5×11.5 x15 ET drag slicks. The body has been tubbed at the rear to accommodate them. On the street, Goodyear street tires replace these wide, soft-rubber doughnuts.


The LB7 Duramax is mated to the stock Chevelle TH400 trans and a Gear Vendors overdrive. Rick also did some mods to the trans. This package provides a 2.5:1 first gear, and the 0.78 OD improves economy. The stock 12-bolt rear end has been upgraded and now includes a Detroit locker, 3.08:1 gears and 33-spline Yukon axle shafts. Strengthening the drivelines are 1350 yokes and U-joints.



This personalized plate is the first indication that this isn’t a stock Chevelle. Rudolf Diesel would be proud to drive this hunk of Detroit iron.


Motor modifications include a custom 4-inch intake tube and a wastegate mod to gain 30 to 32psi of boost. The exhaust manifolds are BD Full Bore units, providing a significant exhaust flow increase. The exhaust system has 3½ downpipes and a Y-pipe. Then, it all runs down the driver’s side of the frame to the muffler, keeping the stock Chevelle rear-exit, stock-look, 3-inch tailpipes where required. An EFI Live tune helps boost power, and the programming has been tweaked by Rick and a few others to improve power.


Seat belt

interior of Rick’s Duramax Chevelle

The interior of Rick’s Duramax Chevelle is mostly stock, with reproduction carpet, interior panels and seats recovered in the retro style, keeping it all 1970s era. The race cage is from Joe Shweiger, at Custom Metal Works, in Salinas, California. The door bars are removable for easy entry and exit at the track and can be left out when driving it to work.


The Chevelle body is basically stock, with the exception of the 3½-inch-rise fiberglass cowl induction hood from Unlimited Products. AAA auto body, in Los Banos, did a great job of painting this Chevelle a titanium-silver metallic that looks stock from afar but is much nicer that the factory paint ever was. The stripe graphics are painted on with charcoal-gray metallic.


Diesel Muscle Car

A fiberglass cowl induction hood from Unlimited Products help with the fitment of the Duramax engine and also increases air flow.


Inside, Rick has installed black factory-reproduction carpet, and the stock seats were reupholstered for a stock look by Lindsay Upholstery, out of Salinas, California. The steering wheel is stock, too. You see, Rick wants this Chevelle to look as if the Duramax were a factory option, so this means not only doing a clean engine conversion but also keeping the stock look around the entire car. The only real exception to this is the eight-point race cage and eight-point racing belts.


original SS badges

This specialty badge that Rick had made looks similar to the original SS badges that GM used, but they never said “403 Duramax” from the factory.


Suspension modifications include a stock frame notched for rear drag slick clearance, new Moroso springs front and rear, as well as a set of C&E shocks. Up front, the drums have been swapped for a set of manual discs, and at the rear, the stock drum brakes were retained. For tires and wheels, Rick used American Racing Torque Trust II wheels. However, for racing, Rick runs Mickey Thompson 29.5 x 11.5 x 15 ET Drag tires on the rear. Up front are Goodyear 215/17 street tires, as well as at the rear for street driving. Yes, this is also a daily driver, and Rick points out that it get better mileage than the truck he uses to tow it to the track.


muscle cars

This is the view most muscle cars will see if they take on Rick at the track. If you look closely at this photo, you can see the battery shut-off handle on the right-hand side, just under the trunk lid. This is a required item for some race classes to help shut down electrical fires resulting from a crash.


Rick’s 1970 Chevelle is a true muscle car. It proves that while the oil crises of 1973-1974 and current emission regulations may have stuck a fork in the factory-built American muscle car, you can build one yourself and make more power by going diesel with your build.


Rick’s 1970 Chevelle car

Rick’s 1970 Chevelle is one cool car. This Duramax-powered Chevy is a piece of history that is now making history at the track. Rick dreamed of an oil-burning muscle car and made that dream come true.





www.zeroto60times.com shows the following: The 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS turned in a quarter-mile time of 13.6 seconds. We’ve also seen claims of a 1970s 454 SS Chevelle with 8:1 comp, TH400, 3.07:1 gears running in the 13:30s.


Rick’s Duramax Chevelle had faithfully run the quarter-mile with a time of 11.27 seconds at 118 mph, with an estimated top end of 150 mph. The 60-foot time is 1.61 seconds. All this—and the Chevelle still gets 30/35 mpg (city/highway) with the Gear Vendors O/D.


As we write this story, Rick is swapping in an LBZ from RPM Motorsports that should produce more than 1,000 hp and about 2,000 lb/ft of torque. He looks for it to run in the 8s at the track.

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By Trent Riddle

Photography: Trent Riddle and courtesy of the owner

Posted in Features
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