SP Rides: Black Sunshine


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By Michael Kitchens

The first thing that popped into my head when I saw Ray Thompson’s 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle was, “This thing looks absolutely evil.” I can see this car in some 1970s or ’80s horror flick, chasing down the unwary in a throaty growl of power and menace on some forlorn highway. This Chevelle would be the monster lurking in the blackness of night ready to do you harm. Ray actually joked that he called it “Christine” (think early ’80s movie) because of all of the difficulties he’s had in rebuilding it over the years.

The reality of the situation is that it’s a ride that’s been lovingly rebuilt from the ground up by a father-and-son team. As teenager in the mid-’80s, Ray purchased the Chevelle for a cool $1,300.  It was a clunker covered in primer with a smashed hood and missing hubcaps on 14-inch dog-dish rims. It looked nothing like what you see on these pages — a huge testament to the years of work that have gone into the car.

Ray immediately set to work on the car with the help of his father, Carroll. They pulled, re-built and re-installed the 327 engine with a choice selection of mods. Together, they also converted the ride from a 4-speed to a Power glide transmission. Currently, the drivetrain has been further reworked with a Moroso Brute Strength differential with Moser axles. Additionally, the rear-end gears her received as a birthday present at age 17 have been installed.

In 1989, the Chevelle received its first paint job — black with blue pearl — and later refreshed in an amusing twist of events. “I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to paint it, so I let the painter decide,” says Ray. Six months later, Guy Hirata of G&H Autobody decided the body was so straight and clean that a flat black lathered in clear coat would be the perfect color for the ride.  Although surprised, Ray agreed, and the car currently reflects light like a mirror.

Ray spent nearly 17 years slowly rebuilding the car. The interior has been completely redone and includes new carpeting, steering wheel, dash and dash pad, door panels and more. It took three years to find the original 1966 seats, which were refurbished by the now-closed Johnny’s Top Shop & Upholstery.  The A/C was even replaced and retrofitted. The ride also features a vast selection of chromed bits everywhere.

“I think my chrome bill was almost three grand,” Ray quipped.

The vehicle rides on QA1 coilovers, Hotckis drop springs and sway bars, and a gleaming set of Budnik Teardrop S with 18 inches in the front, 20 in the back offset at 6 and 1/4 inches in the back. The front brakes have been swapped with disc brakes for improved stopping power.

A lot of project cars have a love-hate relationship that eventually ends up with the owner selling it, but Ray believes you should have heart and finish your dreams. Ray has further plans to rip out the 12-to-1-compression motor and swap in a more streetable version since race gas is prohibitively expensive.

“I see my dad in every aspect of this car. Every part of the car has a story where me and him worked on it,” says Ray.

Although not a huge car fanatic, Ray’s father helped him to transform this ride into the beast you see before you. Ray certainly appreciates it — he meticulously babies the car, spending several hours detailing it after every drive. That’s why it looks like black sunshine.

Owner: Ray Thompson
Age: 43
Occupation: Firefighter
Hobbies: Free-diving, hiking, coaching basketball, working on cars
Year/Make/Model: 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle
Color: Black
Engine: 327 Bored Over to 331, Steel Crank, 12-to-1 Compression, Crower Cam, Aluminum Heads and Radiator, Holley Dual Carb, MSD Ignition and Distributor, Accel, Super Coil, Chromed Pieces
Drivetrain:  Powerglide transmission, Moroso Brute Strength Differential, Moser Axles, Centerforce clutch
Exterior:  Chromed Pieces, New Badges
Interior:  Autometer gauges, Billet Specialty, Hurst Linkage, Custom Shifter, Custom Upholstery
Suspension: Hotckis Lowering Springs and Sway Bar
Sound:  Kenwood, Alpine Highs with Kenwood Subs
Wheels and Tires: Budnik Teardrop S wheels, Nexen 275/35ZR20 rear, 235/40ZR18 front