You always hear the biggest noise about cars that are showstoppers. Giant crowds gather around these eye-popping spectacles. They've usually got all-out paintjobs and enough bling to make any hard-core gangsta rapper enraged with envy. Leather seats molded perfectly around every curve and perfect seams to match every custom piece of automotive jewelry. It's an inviting siren song that beckons us to sit in the lap of luxury, kick back, and float comfortably in a rocket ship of high octane. Show queens have the good looks and all the requisite brand names to back up the pretty exterior, but what about obtainable performance? Whatever happened to the modest and muted statement that says, "underestimate me and you'll be sorry?"
To some guys, it's all about combining old-school classic looks and the need to have a universally fast car, whether it's green light to green light, or rolling through the twisties at the autocross or road course. This type of guy likes an unpretentious, no-nonsense car that does it all and doesn't require the high maintenance of a supergloss undercarriage. In noncar terms, you woo the prom queen, but when you get married, you quickly learn that she spends more time doing her hair and nails than spending time with you.
Meet Nate Shaw and his immaculate '71 Nova. This stay-at-home dad and owner of One Guy's Garage in Farmington, Minnesota, chose to bypass all the glitz and glamour and build a discreet street assassin that begs to be flogged mercilessly. A car like this just didn't fall in Nate's lap. It all started many years ago when he was 14. Nate's stepmother's '70 four-door Nova wasn't running, and his dad told him that if he could get it running, he could have it as his first car. "My first mechanical job was swapping a cam out of my stepmom's Nova, which had a 307. That car started my obsession with Novas," Nate says.
He later purchased a '70 Nova SS, but that turned out to be more scrap yard material than an actual car: "The previous owner had filled a lot of crash damage with plastic filler." Nate ended up stripping the car of all valuable parts like the interior and 12-bolt rear. He boasts that the 12-bolt from that junker is still in his current car. Speaking of which: "I bought this '71 two-door as a $400 beater that had seen every gravel road that Iowa has to offer. It was rough and cheap, but it was all I could afford as a high schooler," Nate says.
The Sunpro and VDO gauges are the only real hints as to what this car can do. The Garmin G
Pressing the fast-forward button, we find Nate in 2001 with the same beaten-up Iowa Nova. He had installed a 450hp 383, a four-speed, and 4.56 gears. Nate was tired of driving a car that had so many trade-offs; it was no fun on the highway and had limited uses. Nate formulated a plan to use his job at a local GMC dealer to score some parts and make his car into a driveable street machine. With some cajoling, he was able to acquire a 6.0L LS motor from a Yukon Denali, but as with many projects, it was all downhill from there.
The sheetmetal was the first victim of Nate's whizzy-wheel scalpel. He replaced every sheetmetal piece he could get his hands on including full floorpans, doorskins, rocker panels, full quarters, and outer wheelhousings. The firewall was smoothed and Nate used DSE's mini-tub kit to allow for extra inches in the rear tire department. Sourcing out the paint, Nate turned to Mike Bighley of Bighley Autobody in North St. Paul. Bighley helped keep the sleeper look with DuPont basecoat-clearcoat Dark Highland Green Metallic.
One hint as to what this car hides inside can be seen in the wheels. Vintage Wheel Works V48 series hoops are wrapped in sticky Nitto 555 rubber, sized 235/45R17 and 315/35R17. Brakes are an ingenious adaptation of old and new. Nate was able to fabricate his own caliper brackets to mate the disc brakes from a fourth-gen Camaro onto his old drum-style spindles. He was also able to do the same type of setup at the rear, but with late-model S-10 disc brakes.