Les Grant has been fussing with his '66 Nova for seven years. He says, "My car took so long to build that there were many, many changes to the original concept. The wheels, for instance-look at 'em. I changed 'em out three times since I took the project on. Did I say 'I'? I meant 'we.' My friends and people who did work on the car helped me with it, and became my friends. They're the ones who should get the credit. Nightmare on Elm Street was what I called this thing the entire time it was going on."
In Upland, California-hard by the 210 Freeway and Baseline Road, where the San Gabriel Mountains push their big boots out into the valley-it's wind-swept, hardscrabble, and dry as a sand wash. It's also ripe. It runs with the fluid of hot-rodding. It's the blood. Things are definitely out of hand in Upland. Hell, you could build an entire car, roof to lug nuts, without ever leaving town, that's how prolific the hot rod culture is in Upland. Check out the info in the spec chart. Did Grant ever cross the line? No. He stayed in Upland because the entire arsenal was right there. They have CNC. They have computer modeling. They have the juice.
When Grant was 16 years old, he tooled a '40 Ford stoked by a Corvette V-8. A couple of years later, he turned his attention to a '55 210, again blipped by the most popular engine of all time. Grant "grew up" in the meantime, and left the hobby to tend to more urgent matters. He broke the surface again, though, when he was in his early fifties with a factory four-speed '57 150.
Then he couldn't stop, of course. Next he was onto a '66 Nova, for which he enlisted the aid of friend Don Caldwell (Caldwell's Performance Hotrods), and soon-to-be friends Andy Mitchell (www.outlawracingengines.com) and chassis-man-extraordinaire Phil Mandella (all right, you got us. Mandella's crib is in Montclair, California-one Upland's neighboring burgs).
Along with the Nova project came a world of grief: a divorce, bitterness, and bile by the bucket. So the Nova's forward motion juddered to a halt. Grant was a lithographer for most of his working life, a profession chosen for its intrinsic rewards and adherence to process (not its propensity to provide boxfuls of $100 bills). The Nova became his reason, and he used it to extricate himself from the vile proceedings and wounded sensibilities. When we spoke about his current venture, though, it was apparent that Grant was still somewhat dizzy from his recent fortune. Ummm, hmmm. Car on the cover of a magazine.
"I was discouraged and uneasy for a long time. I wanted to build the Nova right to show how a good car should be done. I see a lot of features on cars that I've seen locally, and they're just not that special. That's one reason for the big-block in my Nova. You'll have to please excuse me," Grant flabbered. "I'm very excited about this and my mind doesn't want to focus on anything. What a week it's been. Now I know what people are talking about after they've been on a photo shoot with Johnny."
Process interrupted. Time to reflect. The car Grant bought was a bona fide, cancer-free SS, yet this one is strangely not equipped with a radio delete plate where the squawk box should be. Immediate cool factor. A friend 'horned a big-block into his own '67 Nova, and tried to make it work with the stock suspension (which it did not). This convinced Grant to build his car from the ground up. He also yearned to plant that fat TH400 inside the too-tight tunnel without cutting or maiming, and so he hogged out the passage with air tools and grinders, and pounded portions of it with an air hammer. The store-bought fenderwell headers and stainless steel exhaust didn't fall right on, either. To make everything fit where it should, Tom Farra crafted four new primary tubes. About 50 hours after that little chore, he'd crafted a factory-style over-the-axle 3-inch system, interrupted only slightly by Dynomax race mufflers.
Germane to the success we see here was the TCI clip. It frees up lots of lateral space, puts the engine lower in the car, and removes weight from the front. Ancillary suspension systems are lighter and geometrically friendly, and disc brakes grow larger; an ididit tilt steering column plays a precise rack and pinion steering. Mandella narrowed the 9-inch axle by four inches, kicked the rails in to accommodate it, mini-tubbed the original wheelwells, and raised the trunk pan three inches to accept a 20-gallon stainless steel fuel reservoir. Cal Tracs' overlapping leaf springs and traction device are simple, extremely effective, a breeze to tune, and easy to package. Everybody wins.
That fat-block set low in the engine room is more than a motor-it's a symbol. And it's ingrained in all of us now. The sound it makes elicits the seductive, primal urge lodged at the back of our brains, something that can never be undone, never be unstuck. We call it pure. Grant calls it pure sex. At the very least, the 460 is brimming with it: 583 lb-ft of torque at 4,900 rpm and 640 hp at 6,400 rpm.
Now for the setting of all of this mechanical largess (or how Grant made more friends). Before he went to see Marco Cardenas at Empire Collision Center for the critical paint job, he'd already disassembled the car, walnut-blasted the metal, and finish-block sanded it eight times. Cardenas applied the DuPont Chroma base and the custom-blend black base with red and copper pearl. Those American Ds pretty much look like they grew there, don't they? The stance and the body reveals are perfect.
Grant knows that the style and execution of the interior are absolutely essential to a successful car. Considering the bright, bold exterior, he was inclined to make it elegant yet understated. Mark Lopez at Elegance Auto Interiors caught the vibe. He modified the factory seats and stitched them up in charcoal grey leather, and aside from that subtle but striking change, the Nova looks pretty much period. A custom-painted dashboard, stock instruments, and modified factory wiring received a bottom cluster of Auto Meters, a '69 Camaro rosewood skinny steering wheel, and a combo of Kenwood and Sony Xplod audio trash.
Out on the street, the Nova SS burns bright. It's the light in Les Grant's eyes. As some street rats I knew back in Jersey used to say, "Dat thing's nuttin' but tough." P.S. There isn't any Elm Street. Grant lives on Oak.
Ah yes, the reason for many...
Ah yes, the reason for many a life-even older ones like Grant's and McGonegal's.
Elegant understatement here....
Elegant understatement here. Grant carried the OE theme throughout, with the stock instrument panel, a sinewy steering wheel, and that nuevo-repo shifter waggling on the original console.
Whatever the mission-cruising,...
Whatever the mission-cruising, touring, stabbin' the throttle-the SS is well matched.