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A 1970 Chevelle SS coupe on the Chevrolet stand at the 2011 SEMA show does seem a little incongruous at first, but there's a good reason for its presence, apart from the fact that it looks so darn cool. It belongs to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., famed NASCAR racer and winner of the Daytona 500 (his father died while competing in the Daytona 500 three years before Dale Jr.'s win). Interesting story, but a slight digression.

What this car represents is a "new old" philosophy. The body is brand new, as is the engine and gearbox. Let's talk about the driveline first, since it comes directly from Chevrolet. This is an innovative approach the company calls "Connect and Cruise Powertrain System" where a customer can order a crate engine, like a 430-horsepower V8 with a four-speed automatic transmission, or a supercharged 556-hp V8 found in the Earnhardt Chevelle.

The idea is to make things as simple as possible. "These comprehensive kits take the crate engine concept to the next level, with factory-engineered systems that can be conveniently ordered under a single part number," said Jim Campbell, GM's U.S. vice president of performance vehicles and motorsport. "You can save time and money by purchasing a single kit, while also eliminating the guesswork of matching a transmission to a powerful engine - our engineers did all the leg work." The whole emissions-compliant package includes engine and transmission control modules, oxygen sensors, and a complete wiring harness with a fuse box, and even a set of fitting instructions.

"Connect and Cruise is something I can really relate to," said Earnhardt. "I don't have a lot of time to work on a car. Connect and Cruise means the car is reliable and ready to go, but it's still a lot of fun."

However, for someone who likes to put a bit more time and elbow grease into their project, Chevrolet has something special to offer: the chance to assemble the very crate engine that person has ordered - supervised by a trained professional - at the company's Wixom, Michigan, facility. "Building an engine is a time-honored tradition in hot rodding and this exciting new program allows enthusiasts to enjoy that magical do-it-yourself feeling, while still enjoying the value of a factory-engineered, warranted crate engine," said Campbell. "For hands-on hot rodders, this program truly enables them to say they did it all when it came to building their project. There's nothing else like it in the industry." And when the final bolt is tightened, a personalized nameplate is added.

Naturally, there has to be a car to accommodate an engine. In the case of Earnhardt's "1970" Chevelle SS, this is where Dynacorn International comes in. The company makes reproduction bodies under license from GM. Other repro parts came from sources such as National Parts Depot, Original Parts Group and Year One. There's also a modern "pro-touring" coilover suspension from Detroit Speed. But the wheels and seats are from a 2012 Camaro. The result is retro style with a modern driving experience. They don't make them like they used to; they make them better.

See more coverage of the 2011 SEMA Auto Show.

 

COLIN RYAN has driven hundreds of cars thousands of miles while writing for BBC Top Gear magazine, Popular Mechanics, the Los Angeles Times, European Car, Import Tuner and many other publications, websites, TV shows, etc.
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