Hot rodding - a fickle thing. On one end of the spectrum, hot rodding can be about getting back to the basics - removing all the unnecessary. At the opposite side, about full on performance, comfort and showmanship. When we started our ‘56 Bel Air project, Bela, we were along the lines of the former, however, the deeper we got into the community and this build, we realized what hot rodding is really about - doing exactly what you want, and that’s what we’re doing. In this chapter of our fairytale, with Bela being our protagonist princess, we discuss her increased boost pressure and other LS3 enhancements.
With Bela’s hood open, we wanted gawking passers-by. The focal point? A Chevrolet Performance COPO intake manifold popping out of the bay should grab the attention of onlookers. Now, does our LS3 necessarily need a such a monster capable of such airflow? Probably not, but does it look awesome and still add ponies - absolutely! This is actually a part we mulled over for a good while and finally went through with the idea. The Chevrolet Performance COPO - Holley Hi-Ram Intake (pn: 300-117) is intended for LS3/L92 engines and is recommended for racing/performance/street rodder - it fit our bill nicely.
Having a COPO intake is extremely special. This isn’t a regular intake. This is a tried and true Chevrolet Performance COPO intake. We loved the idea of having something historical and special on Bela like a COPO part. For those of you not familiar with COPO it stands for Central Office Production Order and represents the top-of-the-line racing equipment straight from Chevrolet. Not only will the sheer volume capability of air increase, but this intake protruding from the bay of Bela will add a nice menacing touch. It also comes with black Holley Performance, which you can find in the Chevrolet Performance Catalog.
And as you know, like most of Bela, we couldn’t settle for a part to look like how it was received. We started envisioning the COPO manifold as being something a bit different. We’re gluttons for punishment, so with us being so close to wrapping this project up, we decided to pull the manifold back off and send it to be powder coated black for an extra menacing touch to the engine bay. We called up the most accomplished powder coater in the Charlotte, NC area, Matt Joyal at Advanced Metal Sales & Fabrication in Concord, North Carolina. Matt has been powder coating since 2002, and his family has been fabricators going back five generations. Matt builds upon the business his father started some 35 years ago and has built a reputation of one of the best fabricators in one of the racing capitals in the world - the greater Charlotte area - not an easy feat.
So why powder coat? Matt tells us powder coating is more durable than paint, has quicker production and is easier to work with than paint. He told us there’s essentially no dry time - you get the part out of the oven and put it on the car. Well, he makes it sound that simple. He did say the longest part is the prep - he spent half a day just taping our manifold. It’s all in the prep work as they say. The process paid off and our manifold came out looking stunning. Working with Matt and his team at Advanced Metal Sales & Fabrication has been amazing. These guys work so fast. They know a great deal about customer service. They were awesome to work with - Incredibly accommodating as well. What we loved was the time that Matt spent with us looking over the different styles and color of powder coating we could run with. He spent time to look at the project and help us make it just right. Their whole team had the same great spirit. It made it very nice to work with a company like this when we were in a crunchtime project. Not only were they great to work with, the end result of this manifold is impressive.
Custom builds take on a mind of their own. When you start to get deep into a build, things evolve. That’s no different in our case here. We love this build and have love working on it with Daniel Valjevac and his team at Retro Designs Speed and Custom in Concord, NC. These gentlemen are true hot rod builders and custom fabricators. They were key in helping Bela’s plans become what they are today.
Now, we weren’t going to simply let atmospheric air feed that monster of an intake. No, we wanted to force air in the belly of our LS3 Connect & Cruise we picked up from Ed Rinke Performance to extract every bit of power we can. Again, is it necessary to increase the output of our Chevrolet Performance LS3 Connect & Cruise package from? A simple “no” would suffice, but this is hot rodding! We want to take Bela to her max, then turn the dial down one mark so we can keep her forever. We have experience boosting LS3s in the past, like our own Mobil 1 Chevrolet Gen 5 Camaro SS we boosted. Read more about that here.
We started to work with the great guys at Vortech Superchargers. Working with both Jimmy Martz and Neil Tjin from Vortech Superchargers has been super easy and to be honest a lot of fun. The Vortech Superchargers knowledgeable staff and great products and history in the performance market made it a no-brainer. Their superchargers are unique in that they’re considered centrifugal superchargers, vs. the more traditional roots style. Compared to a roots style supercharger, Vortech’s centrifugal supercharger has been known to create greater air pressure in a more efficient manner, and boasts a greater flow rate, especially at higher pressure ratios.
And get this - Vortech has recently come to market with a brand new LS-Swap Kit Supercharger System. That’s right, a system that takes a lot of guesswork out of retrofitting an LS and bolting on a supercharger. The system comes with their renowned V3 Si supercharger, mounting bracket with all necessary hardware, supercharger drive assembly (belt tensioner, crank pulley, crank pulley spacer), air filter and mandrel bent aluminum discharge tube with clamps/silicone sleeves, Vortech Maxflow Race Bypass Valve with filter and a pulley capable of producing 8-10 PSI @ 6000 RPM.
Our goal with Bela is a reliable 450 - 500 rear wheel horsepower, and we think that’s possible thanks to the engineering efforts of Vortech Superchargers. The LS3 is rated at 430, so we have to find 170 or so to meet our goal. Thanks to Muscle Rods’ headers and our Borla exhaust, this seems within the realm of possibility.
To aid in the process, we also opted to run an intercooler setup to reduce IAT (intake air temperature), thus further condensing the incoming air and increasing horsepower. Vortech recommended their Charge Cooler (pn: 8PN101-050), so we picked up one of those as well. The Vortech Charge Coolers are very nice and premium and fit well right up front in Bela. With the added power we are running, Vortech also wanted to have us run their Maxflow Race Blow-Off Valve. Remember, we want to be powerful, but also reliable - we want to enjoy Bela the rest of our lives, and reducing your IAT is always a good idea with forced induction.
Once we decided to go with a front mount intercooler from Vortech, we had to rework the piping for the system. Since we are going full blown custom here with our supercharger system, we needed to make sure we had the right tools and products needed in order to complete our piping for our Vortech Supercharger system. That’s why we reached out to Claudio Martinez from Vibrant Performance. Vibrant Performance was established in 1997 to design and produce Exhaust and Induction components for the Sport Compact performance market, and the knowledge they gained in this segment, has spread like wildfire creating a reputation to dependability and quality for their piping, couplers and clamps.
Vibrant was able to help us get set up with several 3”, polished aluminum piping sections with 60-, 45-, 120-degree bends and more to complete our plumbing for the Charge Cooler. They also helped us gather their their custom Vanjen couplers which are amazing, and you can read more about them, here.
As you know, however, it’s not as easy as bolting on a supercharger and hitting the road. When air is addressed, fuel must be addressed too, in addition to spark. We spoke with our tuner, Larry Saxon at LSX Performance and PCM Tuning in Indian Trail, North Carolina, and he looked at our whole engine and performance setup. There are a lot of ways we could go with a fuel system setup on a hot rod and we wanted to be careful to not just pick and choose parts just because we think they will work. Larry Saxon from LSX Performance and PCM Tuning is a well known LS tuner in the Charlotte, NC area. He has been known to tune some of the baddest LS engines out there. Cars come from all over the nation to Larry’s beautiful dyno shop because of his great reputation and the results he delivers. It was imperative for us to work with a top tuner like this for us to make sure our fuel system was what it needed to be in order to supercharge our Chevrolet Performance LS3 engine.
When Larry looked things over, he came back to us and highly recommended us running factory Chevrolet LS9 fuel injectors (pn: 12598646) and spark plugs (mn: 41-104). Yes, Chevrolet Performance’s supercharged LS9 crate engine! It’s wonderful the interchangeability of some GM parts, plus, the Corvette ZR1’s motor, the LS9, puts out 638 horsepower off the assembly line. So, some of its fuel provisions should work great for our horsepower goal. In addition, we needed a higher rate fuel pump, to which we reached back out to our friends at Muscle Rods, which helped us with a high performance Walbro 400LPH fuel pump, which will give us great fuel delivery for our needs. You remember them, the guys that actually made this whole thing possible with their LS swap kit for a Bel Air. Read more about them, here.
To finalize our fuel delivery, we had to look into various hose ends, adapters and of course lines. These will change on a project-to-project basis, but we did get two 90-degree -6 adjustable hose ends, six -6 to -6 90-degree female hoses, six straight -6 female to -6 hoses, six feet of hose, four -6 male to ¾”-16 o-ring ports and a 100 PSI oil filled pressure gauge to keep tabs on fuel delivery. Part numbers for aforementioned parts can be found below.
pn: 609236ERL: 2 each
pn: AT809106ERL: 6 each
pn: AT800106ERL; 6 each
pn: 306006ERL: 6 feet
pn: 100187ERL: 1 each
pn: AT985068ERL: 4 each
Where do we go to pick up various tidbits we still need like the injectors, spark plugs and more? No other than ACDelco.We picked up a water pump we needed (mn: 19195105) due to the new Vortech Supercharger system setup and a battery (mn: 48HPG), in addition to the aforementioned LS9 injectors and spark plugs. ACDelco is an incredible one-stop-shop for all your hot rodding needs, and their online store is comprehensive to say the least. They even have some incredible tools, like li-ion powered impact guns, digital torque wrenches and many more convenient tools to help with your projects. Our Christmas lists were growing exponentially “tooling” around on their site. Ok, ok, back to Bela. More on some of the ACDelco tools that we found later.
As we stated above, our trusted tuner, Larry, came highly recommended, one of which was from Daniel Valjevac from Retro Designs, so we contacted him a while ago and he’s been guiding us little by little the entire way. We can’t wait to get Bela to his dyno and start prepping her for the many miles she’s going to endure. But first, the team at Retro Designs is hard at work wrapping up the final pieces to make Bela roadworthy enough to get on a trailer and get to Larry Saxon. Don’t take that the wrong way, there’s still a lot left to be done, but we’re hopeful and even more excited. Bela has come so far since we picked her up just a few months ago - it’s almost unbelievable. Stay tuned because there is some really exciting things coming up: a big announcement and even her first dyno video.
In the next week or two, Bela will begin to take final form, and it wouldn’t be possible without the help of incredible industry leaders like Chevrolet Performance, Ed Rinke Performance, Woody’s Hot Rodz, Coker Tire, Vortech Superchargers, Borla Exhaust, Ride Tech Suspension, Dynamat, American Autowire, The Custom Stitching Co, Relicate Custom Leather, Muscle Rods LS Kits, Spraker Racing, Wilwood Brakes, Mobil 1, Danchuk, Holley, Golden Star, Retro Designs, Classic Instruments, Totally Stainless, HP Tuners, LSX Performance & PCM Tuning, Restomod Air, O’Brien Truckers, MTX Audio, ididit, Lokar, ACDelco, CARS Inc, Auto City Classic, Steele Rubber, Rimz One, CutWorm Specialties, NAPA Paint and Supply, Martin Senour, U-POL and more that we will showcase here very soon.
Use hashtag #BoostedBela to follow along socially (now you see where we got that hashtag!). We hope you’re as excited as we are. Stay tuned!