Mark Mutert was cruising around in his Pro-Touring '68 Camaro when he started to feel that it was time for something new. Soon, the '68 had a new home and Mark was hot on the trail of his next project. It wasn't long before he came across a barn fresh '66 Chevelle that was in great condition. Mark was all ready to start work on the Chevelle when this '70 Nova fell into his lap. After all, how could he pass on the Nova? He had seen it driving around his hometown of Moscow Mills, Missouri, for 13 years and since his very first car was a '72 Nova, he had always had his eye on the local '70. When it came up for sale the notion to buy it was a no-brainer for Mark. The Chevelle was put on the back burner and work began on the tired Nova
The first thing Mark learned was that the car looked better driving around town than it did up close. As Mark put it, "Obviously the old guy that owned it had a few fender benders. At one time he had wrecked the front end bad enough to need different fenders and hood. I didn't realize this until I started to disassemble the car." The dead giveaway to the swapped parts was that the fenders and hood on the '70 were actually off a '68 model. Luckily, there was no frame damage, but the passenger side quarter-panel needed replacement along with all the front sheet metal, which included the inner fenderwells and the core support. It should be noted that Mark is a do-it-yourself kind of guy and most of the work on the car, including paint and body, was done in his two-car garage. It was also a family project since Mark's brother, Rich, helped with the bodywork, final assembly, and also shot the car in jet black Sikkens paint. Given how straight the body work is now, we can definitely tell that Mark and his brother put in quite a few hours blocking out the vintage Nova.
Mark's main goal for this car was to build an affordable Pro-Touring car that still had a vintage feel to it. Since he still had plans to build up the Chevelle, he needed to keep the Nova a low-buck affair, but at the same time, make the Nova nice enough to be proud of. Mark also knew that all the suspension tricks that worked on his '68 Camaro would work just as well on his '70 Nova. (First-Gen F-body suspension parts are generally interchangeable with '68 to '74 GM X-bodies like the Nova.) With this in mind, he media-blasted the front subframe and did the Guldstrand mod, which lowers the upper control-arm pivot points to improve the camber gain. Helping to stiffen up the chassis is a set of Global West solid body mounts and a pair of Detroit Speed subframe connectors. To keep the budget in line, he stayed away from fancy tubular control arms and spent his cash on 550-lb/in Moog front springs and rear Hotchkis leaf springs with a full set of Bilstein shocks. This combination of parts didn't crush his budget and still gave him a serious boost in handling. To tighten up the steering, Mark dug up an '88 Camaro close-ratio steering box.
Mark knows the value of a great braking system, but with the budget in mind, he had to come up with a low-cost solution. The answer came in the form of '95 'Vette calipers and heavy-duty 13-inch rotors (front) and a rear disc brake set-up from a late LT1 Camaro. To get the front Vette brakes mated to the Nova, Mark ended up fabricating his own caliper brackets. For the rollers, Mark didn't want to skimp since he knew that the wheels make the car. He wanted something that had a fresh look, but still retained a vintage feel. Mark chose Budnik "Gasser" wheels in 18x7 with a 4.75-inch backspacing up front and 18x8 with 5.5-inch backspacing in the rear. The power meets the pavement through Nitto 555 Extremes in 235/40R18 and 275/40R18 respectively. To keep bling to a minimum, the Budnik wheels were ordered with a polished lip, but a satin finish on the center section.
Mark's next big task was to figure out how to make good power without blowing his entire budget. The best bang for his budget dollar seemed to be in the form of a stroked small-block mill. The engine machining was one of the few items farmed out and Allied Motors of St. Charles, Missouri, did a great job stroking out the small-block to end up at 383 inches. Mark then filled the clearanced and balanced block with all the goodies to make for a reliable power plant. Pump gas friendly 9.75:1 compression forged Probe pistons, a Scat cast crank, and Scat I-beam rods make for an affordable and sturdy rotating assembly. To work the valvetrain, Mark installed a 292/292-duration .540/.540-lift 108-lobe separation Clay Smith cam along with a set of Crane roller lifers. The 2.02 intake and 1.60 exhaust valves reside inside a set of aluminum RHS heads with 200cc intake and 64cc combustion chambers. Putting the fuel and air into the engine is done by way of an Edelbrock Performer RPM intake along with a matching 750 Edelbrock carb. This mixture is then ignited by the stock points distributor, which was upgraded with a Crane XR1 conversion kit. The last stop for the spent exhaust gasses is a set of Hooker Super Comp 1 7/8-inch headers that feed into a Jeg's 3-inch dual exhaust. When it came to dressing out the motor, Mark didn't want a lot of chrome or polished billet; instead he opted for a vintage road race look. Brushed aluminum and low-gloss black paint work together to give the engine bay a clean and purposeful look. Mark had a '95 LT1 T56 six-speed transmission lying around in his garage, so from a budget perspective he knew this is what the Nova needed. He also had the foresight to use a later model block with the one-piece rear main seal. This meant he was able to use the stock LT1 flywheel and forego dropping big coin on an aftermarket unit.
So what's better than having a brother who is a painter? How about parents who own an upholstery shop? Mark's parents, Allen and Agnes, own Mutert's Auto Upholstery in Wentzville, Missouri, and were put in charge of giving the interior some much-needed love. The front bench seat was tossed aside in favor of some buckets salvaged from a '71 Pontiac Grand Prix. Mark's parents re-stitched the front and back seats in black ultra leather and beefed up the bolsters in the front to lend more lateral support. The headliner and rear package tray got the same treatment, but, to save cash, the door panels were dyed and re-used. The instrument cluster is vintage GM, but a set of Stewart Warner gauges was added to augment the factory idiot lights. The vintage-looking steering wheel is from a '68 Camaro and a Hurst shifter pokes through the trans tunnel. The factory AM radio still lives happily in the dash, but a modern head unit with CD changer is hidden away to give Mark tunes to cruise by. It all works to make for a functional interior that is as easy on the wallet as it is on the eyes.
The fact the Mark built most of the car by himself in his garage is impressive enough. The fact that he got it done in only six months and at a cost of around $18,000 is downright amazing. He owes much of the credit to a very helpful family and his very supportive wife, Erin.
We caught Mark and his family at the MSD True Street drag races in Maple Grove, Pennsylvania, where he was ready to send his freshly finished Nova down the 1320. Mechanical problems kept him from making all three runs, but he did knock down a 13.7-second run even with a missed shift and a valvetrain that was acting up. Mark knows that with a bunch more tweaking he can improve on that quite a bit. We were so impressed with Mark's budget-minded Nova that we gave him our MSD True Street Editor's Choice award. PHR asked him what the concept was behind the build and he told us, "My whole idea for the car was to build it with updated features such as brakes, suspension, transmission, et cetera, but keep a retro type theme to it. My version of 'Retro-Touring.' I wanted to keep the bling to a minimum, but not end up with a boring car." From what we've seen of Mark's hot little Nova, you don't have to spend a mint to have a car that looks like a million bucks!