Pack up your bags, boys, we’re heading to the Middle East. Don’t forget the camera, because one night out on the town will get you a year’s worth of sizzling street racing footage. YouTube is standing by for upload. The rest of the Western world is free to have its own opinion about this region of the globe, but we car guys know what’s up. Mix big oil money, testosterone, prohibitions on alcohol, and vast stretches of open road, and the end result is more predictable than Hollywood’s latest romantic comedy. We’re talking speed, and lots of it, with Corvette ZR1s and Vipers duking it out against Ferraris and AMG Mercedes-Benzes. Why yes, regardless of creed or color, hot rodders from around the world all speak the same language, and it sounds a lot like squealing tires and uncorked motors wailing at WOT.

We’ve all seen the YouTube clips, and whether the street skirmishes are going down in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or Abu Dhabi, the lack of law enforcement is as peculiar as the action is insane. After watching these guys manhandle mega-horsepower supercars at ridiculous slip angles on sandy asphalt streets, you realize that it’s only a matter of time until one of these countries produces the next champion WRC rally driver. Despite a street scene that makes anything Stateside look pathetic, the lack of ’64-72 Detroit iron is disconcerting. Fortunately, Jason Whitlock is trying to change that, one muscle car at a time. “You’ll see a Chevelle or a Camaro every now and then, but they cost an arm and a leg because they’re so rare,” says the South Carolina native and current Kuwait resident. “They just didn’t import a lot of muscle cars over here back in the ’60s. If you do find a muscle car, they’re either bone stock or some kind of clone. I thought it would be cool to build a Chevy II with a modern engine, driveline, and suspension to race my buddies with here in Kuwait.”

After proudly serving in the armed forces with two tours of duty in Kuwait, Jason decided to stay in the Middle East instead of return back to America. Having established extensive contacts in the oil industry, he seized the opportunity to work as an oil consultant. It must be a lucrative gig, because Jason started using the checks to buy some extra helpings of horsepower. His vehicle of choice was a BMW M3 supercharged to 650 hp. The Bavarian was fine for tooling around town, but Jason’s true passion has always been muscle cars. His past rides include a ’65 Satellite, a ’67 Coronet, and a ’72 ’Cuda. A résumé like that suggests deep Mopar loyalty, but that’s not the case. “My dad’s side of the family were always big Ford guys, but for some reason I always hated them. By the time I started driving and getting into drag racing, Mopars were dominating at the track, which is why I’ve owned so many of them over the years,” Jason says. “Despite all the Mopars I have owned, I’ve always been a Chevy guy at heart. When I was a kid, there was a ’67 Chevy II that I used to walk past every day. Even though it was stock with a green interior, I always loved the look and shape of that car. Now that I’m older and settled down, I decided to build the Nova of my dreams.”

Since the supply of muscle cars is quite lacking in Kuwait, Jeff found a clean ’67 Chevy II in the States that he planned on shipping over immediately after purchase. The car had been nicely restored, complete with a 350 small-block matched to a TH350 trans, perfect for some leisurely cruising. That plan quickly changed when Jason’s buddy showed up at his house one day with a brand-new Corvette Z06. After a quick romp around the block, he fell in love with the LS7 engine. “I bought an LS7 crate motor on eBay, and then sent it to Schwartz Performance. They did some headwork, installed a bigger cam, and got 650 hp out of it,” Jason says. “I figured that if I was going to put that kind of motor into the Nova, then it only made sense to bolt a Tremec six-speed manual trans behind it. From there, the project got way out of control. I told Schwartz that it would be cool as hell to build a muscle car that could turn and stop like a modern performance car. All the muscle cars I’ve owned were fun to drive at the dragstrip, but they sucked on the street because they didn’t handle well.”

Fortunately, Schwartz Performance just happened to have the perfect solution for the Nova’s diverse needs. The Schwartz crew removed the Nova’s stock suspension, and bolted one of its g-Machine chassis in place. This trick piece of engineering essentially converts a unibody Chevy II into a full-frame car without the need to cut or weld anything. In addition to dramatically stiffening up the chassis, the setup includes tubular control arms, spindles, and a heavy-duty splined sway bar up front. Out back, a Schwartz four-link suspension replaces the old stock leaf springs, and RideTech coilovers man each corner of the car. Stopping power comes courtesy of 13-inch Wilwood discs, with six-piston clamps in the front and four-piston units in the rear. Sticking it all to the pavement are BFGoodrich KDW2 tires that wrap around Forgeline ZX3P 18-inch wheels. Schwartz Performance has built quite a few high-end Pro Touring rides in its day, and it tapped into that experience to achieve a perfect 50/50 weight distribution with the Nova.

Speaking of weight, there isn’t much of it. Throw an all-aluminum engine in a tiny Chevy II, and the result is a car that weighs just 3,000 pounds. Before shipping the car back to Kuwait, Schwartz Performance owner Jeff Schwartz gave it a proper beat down. As a former IMSA road racer, Schwartz’s got plenty of game behind the wheel, which came in handy when dialing in the suspension at the track. At the inaugural Heidts Performance Car Challenge last summer—an event that pits competitors against each other on a road course, autocross, and braking test—the Chevy II finished Fourth overall. Likewise, the Nova has run an 11.29 at 124 mph at the dragstrip. Needless to say, not only does Jason’s Chevy II look hot, it flat-out works in the real world as well. “My goal was to build a car that I could road race, drag race, and cruise in, and the Nova can do it all,” Jason justifiably boasts.

The sweet part about this story is that Jason now has a badass muscle car that can run with exotic cars down the proverbial dark desert highways of the Middle East. “The street racing scene here in Kuwait is just insane. My friends have Ferrari 599s, Lamborghini Murcielagos, Nissan GT-Rs, and Porsche 911 Turbos,” Jason says. “We go out in the middle of nowhere all the time and run them. The cops out here don’t even care. They just sit there on the side of the road and watch you blow by. I did get pulled over once, but all the cop did was ask me how much I wanted for my car. There are no racetracks in Kuwait, so street racing is the only option here.”

The lax attitude toward street racing notwithstanding, Jason acknowledges the dangers. As luck would have it, the Middle East is a great place for legal road racing, too. Not just any kind of road racing, mind you, but racing on some of the world’s premiere circuits. “Kuwait is a short drive to the new Formula One tracks in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. My friends run our cars there quite often,” Jason says.

After conversing at length with Jason, we get the impression that all those infamous YouTube videos are bogus. It’s not that they overglamorize the street racing in the Middle East. The problem is that they don’t adequately convey how crazy it really is. So forget all the geopolitical bs and your preconceived notions about this region of the globe, because at the end of the day, we car guys all speak the same language.

By The Numbers

’67 Chevy II Nova

Jason Whitlock, 39 • Messila, Kuwait

Engine

Type: GM LS7 small-block

Block: factory 4.125-inch bore aluminum LS7

Oiling: stock LS7 dry-sump

Rotating assembly: factory 4.000-inch forged crank, titanium rods, and 11.0:1 pistons

Cylinder heads: ported GM LS7 aluminum castings

Camshaft: Schwartz custom hydraulic roller

Induction: GM LS7 intake manifold and 90mm throttle-body

Ignition: factory coil packs and plug wires

Exhaust: Schwartz 1.875-inch long-tube headers, 3-inch collectors, dual chambered 3-inch mufflers

Cooling: stock water pump, custom aluminum radiator, custom electric fan

Output: 650 hp at 6,700 rpm and 575 lb-ft at 5,200 rpm

Built by: Schwartz Performance

Drivetrain

Transmission: Tremec T56 Magnum six-speed manual, GM LS7 clutch, Hurst shifter

Rear axle: Winters floating 9-inch rearend with 3.70:1 gears and Detroit Truetrac differential

Chassis

Front suspension: Schwartz frame, control arms, and sway bar; RideTech coilovers

Rear suspension: Schwartz four-link, RideTech coilovers

Brakes: Wilwood 13-inch rotors with six-piston front calipers, and four-piston rear calipers

Wheels & Tires

Wheels: Forgeline ZX3P 18x9, front; 18x12, rear

Tires: BFGoodrich KDW2 265/35R18, front; 335/30R18, rear

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