NEVER GIVE UP
Jesse Halfacre’s 1966 Chevelle finally gets built the right way
Jesse Halfacre’s 1966 Chevelle finally gets built the right way
The old adage, “The apple never falls far from the tree” is just another way of saying “like father, like son” and is often used as a figurative way of pointing out that children habitually inherit some of the characteristics of their parents. In the car world, that usually manifests itself as a particular affinity for a specific brand or model that is passed on from one generation to the next. As a young lad growing up in Washington state, that was certainly the case for Jesse Halfacre when it came to his budding automotive interests. His dad, Tom, an upholsterer by trade, was heavily into cars and had for many years a rather lucrative side business flipping them. He would buy them cheap, drive some of them for a bit, and then unload them. With a revolving supply of mid ’60’s cars on hand, it was only a matter of time before Jesse would see one come his way. In 1996, at the age of 15, that opportunity materialized when Tom gave him a choice. He could pick either a ’66 or a ’68 Chevelle as his first car. He recalls, “the ’68 had the engine and chassis already done but I liked the body style of the ’66 better, so I opted for that one.”
What Jesse inherited was a car that had been sitting in
a field for many years. Tom had initially given it a quick tune-up in order to get it out of its resting spot, but not much else had been done to it. Since he was only 15 and legally not allowed to drive, Jesse decided to use the next few months to fix the Chevelle up a bit. With the car parked at his mom’s house, the goal was to repaint it. “I decided to get rid of the multi colors that were on it,” he explains. “I did some bodywork to remove a couple of small dents and made sure the body was fairly smooth. I then stapled plastic sheets up in the garage, watered the floor, and proceeded to lay down some Sapphire Blue paint.” The paintjob looked great, except for one huge paint run that spanned from the back window to the bottom of the rocker panel. He ended up sanding the
car back down and reapplying another coat of paint. The second effort wasn’t as successful but at that point it didn’t matter since he was out of money and was ready to take his driver’s test.
The Chevelle became daily transportation while he was in high school but it never ran right, so in 1998 he decided that the 327 mill was in need of a rebuild. He notes, “when I took the block to the machine shop they told me that it had four cracks and was no longer usable.” The shop had a 350 block that was ready to go so it ended up being an easy fix. From a friend, he also acquired a 400 crank and rods with the idea of building a 383 stroker. As with the paintjob, tackling the engine rebuild by himself didn’t quite go as planned. After putting the engine together and dropping it into the car he knew that something was wrong as soon as he fired it up. He points out, “I didn’t rotate the assembly through with the camshaft installed. When it fired up, the bolts on the connecting rods were hitting the camshaft, which caused a godawful noise.” As a result, the engine was pulled and sent back to the machine shop.
He eventually got the Chevelle back on the road, but he points out, “I had the engine in and out of the car so many times during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school that I drove it around with no hood.” The car also had major issues with the brakes and the electrical system—to the point that it could easily be started with almost anything jammed into the ignition switch.
In late 1999, he hired a local painter to redo the car in a Fire Pepper Red Pearl. Jesse states “this was the closest I could get to a candy apple red that I could afford on a minimum-wage job pumping gas.” The traditional teenager build process of taking one step forward then two steps back reared its ugly head again. On his way home from the paint shop, with that shiny new coat of paint, the engine unceremoniously grenaded itself.
At this point, some might have given up on such a colossal headache, but Jesse was determined to sort the car out. After graduation he landed a better paying job and once again decided to redo the engine. He had Britco Automotive Machine in Centralia, Washington, perform the work. They punched the cylinders 0.040 over and completely redid the bottom end. The top end consisted of a set of Edelbrock Performer RPM heads that were a graduation gift from his mom, along with a Comp Cams Thumpr cam, a polished intake, and an Edelbrock carburetor. Having learned his lesson, the shop put the bottom end together, but Jesse and his buddy Jerry Redfield did the rest of the assembly work. The recurring engine issues were finally resolved.
Jesse’s life took a drastic detour when he joined the Navy toward the end of 2000, and after his first deployment in 2001, a new truck replaced the Chevelle as the daily driver. It became a fair-weather vehicle that saw limited duty while it sat outside exposed to the elements. As a result of subsequent deployments, the lack of use started to take its toll on the Chevelle’s body, with rust being the biggest culprit. By 2005, he was not only married but a father so disposable income was at a premium, and spending money on the car was no longer down to him exclusively. But the desire to keep fixing it was solely his.
With some gentle persuasion, he
convinced his wife, Lisette, to agree to another round of work on the car. He states, “The original plan was to just take it apart, fix the rust areas, and do another repaint. I told my wife that it shouldn’t be more than 10 grand.” That plan didn’t last long. The more he tore into it, the more issues he found to the point that a frame-off rebuild began to make sense. As a
Navy aviation structural and hydraulic mechanic, his military service-acquired fabrication skills were crucial in putting the Chevelle back together and keeping the costs down as much as possible. He was able to perform all the sheetmetal work himself. He even managed to do some welding on the floorboards after he broke his back. Beyond replacing the rusty sheetmetal, he also tackled the custom fabrication of the inner fenders and firewall. That engine bay would also be the recipient of yet another version of the stroked 383.
Since much of the previous work was already done, Jesse swapped cams and installed a Comp Cams roller unit, along with an Edelbrock Performer RPM AirGap intake, and a Quick Fuel carburetor. Part of the rebuild also included some visual enhancements in the form of smoothing out the surfaces on the block, heads, water pump, and intake, which were then painted to match the exterior color.
That exterior color choice was a departure from what had been previously applied. Instead of an in-your-face loud color, he opted for a two-tone ’07 Mercedes silver and black combination, which was laid down by Stan Wingate at Wingate Auto Body in Oak Harbor, Washington.
He also addressed the handling and braking issues with the installation of Hotchkis front and rear hardware, KYB shocks, and Wilwood discs and calipers at all four corners, while Rushforth Super Spoke wheels wrapped in BFGOODRICH g-Force Sport COMP-2 tires rounded out the ride enhancements.
The interior was also completely redone using TMI Sport R seats and upholstery. In an effort to eliminate all the sins of the past, Jesse replaced the entire electrical system with the assistance of his father-in-law, Dave Riggle, who was also in the Navy as an aviation electrician.
This entire process spanned the better part of 11 years, and it is worth noting that Jesse did all the work in a small two-car garage. After such a journey to get the car to his level of satisfaction, all that was left was to finally get some enjoyment out of it, and doing some shows was definitely part of that equation.
His first show was a memorable one. On his way home, the 700-R4 transmission went out with a bang. “It was an expensive five-mile trip that day.” That mishap prompted the installation of a 4L60E. Other recent changes have come in the form of a custom dash and console and a switch to a FiTech fuel-injection system.
After such an incredible journey with this car, and all the mishaps along the way, Jesse has nothing but fond memories. When asked what his biggest challenge was, he will quickly state that it all came down to one word, “cash.” His biggest desire going forward is to inspire his son and daughter to embrace all things mechanical in the same way that he was inspired as a young lad. CHP