What does it take to re­store that first-car feel­ing? Hint, it takes a lot of horse­power.

Chevy High Performance - - Contents - TEXT: Chris Shel­ton | PHOTOS: Grant Cox

What does it take to re­store that first-car feel­ing? Hint, it takes a lot of horse­power.

It’s true; you never get a sec­ond chance to make a first im­pres­sion. For that mat­ter, you don’t get a sec­ond chance to have an­other first car.

Brent Diel knows this first­hand. This 1977 Monte Carlo isn’t his first car. “When I was 16, I had a ’77 Monte Carlo,” he says. He was a high school sopho­more. “I painted a stripe on the front fen­der and put on some wheels and air shocks. I had a lot of fun with that car.”

But as hu­mans are known to do, he moved on just af­ter grad­u­at­ing in 1980. “I bought a 1978 Mark V Lin­coln,” Brent says (when we joked that the pro­ceeds went to put gas in the Lin­coln, he laughed it off … but he didn’t deny it ei­ther). “We kept that maybe eight or nine years,” he says.

De­spite the pro­ces­sion of cars that fol­lowed, Brent says he never quite forgot about the Monte he and his now-wife, Leysa, cruised in high school (thank­fully he had the fore­sight to see the value in that re­la­tion­ship). “We al­ways looked around for an­other one like it.

“Then one day this re­ally nice

’77 shows up at a Me­cum auc­tion in Kansas City,” he con­tin­ues. “But it was on tele­vi­sion and it was a re­play—we missed the auc­tion. We re­ally wished we would’ve been there.

“Well, a few months go by and my wife was up real early one morn­ing and saw it again on the In­ter­net. A trader up in Great Bend (Kansas) bought it at the auc­tion and he was sell­ing it.” Rec­og­niz­ing the great for­tune of their find, they loaded up im­me­di­ately and made the drive up to buy it.

But just hav­ing a car like the one you had in your youth isn’t quite

enough. Re­mem­ber that the ’70s— par­tic­u­larly the late ’70s—were the peak of the Malaise Years.

Dur­ing that pe­riod, the per­for­mance mea­sure of an Amer­i­can car was set against the back­drop of emis­sion­con­trol dis­ap­point­ment. This was a pe­riod when the hottest en­gine in GM’s hot-car flag­ship, the Corvette, made only 210 hp. So any fun that Brent and Leysa had when Carter was in of­fice was tem­pered by the no­tion that every­thing else sucked, too. And to make the case worse, the Diels grew pretty fa­mil­iar with the per­for­mance gains achieved over the past four decades. Which is to say the car felt a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing de­spite the 12,000 miles on its clock. This was a 170-horse en­gine on its best day. To para­phrase, there wasn’t much there there.

So they con­sulted Tim Devlin at Devlin Rod and Cus­toms in Wi­chita, Kansas. “He’s re­done some cars for me

for seven or eight years,” Brent says. “We wanted to redo it but we weren’t sure what we wanted to do.” Tim had Tavis High­lander ren­der the car with a few treat­ments.

The Devlin crew yarded off the front clip, yanked the driv­e­train, and tended to the chas­sis, up­dat­ing the sus­pen­sion with a host of products from Detroit Speed and Hotchkis Per­for­mance. Though ba­si­cally new, the 350/350 could never as­pire to a frac­tion of the per­for­mance of the Don Hardy-built LS3 and a Phoenix-built 4L80E that went in their place.

The rest of the ef­fort went into re­solv­ing the aes­thetic is­sues. To tuck the bumpers, Devlin’s fab­ri­ca­tors re­placed the var­i­ous filler pan­els that went be­tween the bumpers and the body with steel ones that weld to the quar­ters and fend­ers. A hand­fab­ri­cated ground-ef­fects kit vis­ually brings the car closer to the ground.

And yes, af­ter Ryan James shot the cus­tom-mix red fin­ish, Justin Ti­tus ap­plied stripes in the like­ness of those Brent whipped up decades ear­lier.

The in­te­rior re­mains ba­si­cally stock with only gauges and a shift quad­rant to ac­com­mo­date the new driv­e­train—af­ter all, un­less you’re rac­ing, there’s hardly a way to outdo GM’s swivel seats. And Devlin went so far as to use the stock shift knob on the Lokar as­sem­bly. A RetroSound stock-ap­pear­ing head unit be­lies a rather elab­o­rate JL Au­dio sys­tem.

Though im­me­di­ately rec­og­niz­able and seem­ingly quite faith­ful to its orig­i­nal form, Brent and Leysa Diel’s re­mas­tered Monte is hardly com­pa­ra­ble to the one they cruised in high school. But that’s the kind of over­achiev­ing pur­suit it takes to re­store the way we felt when we didn’t re­ally know any bet­ter.

Just the in­de­pen­dence granted by a driver’s li­cense is ex­cite­ment enough to a newly minted driver.

But there’s no doubt that this car is 10 times as fun as any­thing the Diels re­mem­bered.

You may only get one chance to have a first car. But some­times, if you play your cards right, the one you get to re­place it can be that much bet­ter. Just ask Brent Diel. CHP

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