It seemed like just yesterday that we introduced our ’68 Chevy Nova to the world. The intent was to build an all-around street/strip/track car that could do double-duty as daily transportation if needed. To this point, Project Nova has spanned four years and 26 stories, not including numerous updates, blogs, Facebook posts, tweets, and YouTube videos. Choosing a Nova was a good news/bad news deal; being a second-gen X-body, it shared many mechanical details with other GMs, including Camaros, Firebirds, Venturas, Apollos, Omegas, and even Cadillacs. Nevertheless, its ubiquitous nature had some readers crying “sellout!” because we hadn’t chosen something more offbeat. (Those folks will undoubtedly be happy with our next foray, a ’68 Plymouth Valiant.)
This month, we’d like to recount the high points of our Nova buildup since its inception, and talk about some of the stuff we’ve done recently to ready it for the street. And while we’re cautious about saying the car is truly “done,” we can finally say there are no obstacles that would keep us from hitting the highway and living the hot rodding life. It was only last month that this author’s editorial admonished those who are all talk and no game, and now we’re about to put our money where our mouth is and make a five-day 800-mile road trip to Phoenix where we’re meeting some PHR readers to shoot their cars.
When we spotted our Nova on Craigslist in October of 2009, it looked cherry—at least on th
Of note is the fact that Outlaw Motorsports in Riverside, California, has helped us finish up many last-minute details, like installing the remaining interior pieces provided by Classic Industries, and swapping out our Turbo 400 for a PerformaBuilt 700-R4 overdrive (one of the tips from this month’s “The 11 Best Mods For Any Car.” See p. 42.) We also did some tweaking to the carb, swapping out our largish Holley 850 Street HP for one of Holley’s sexy new 750-cfm Ultra Double Pumpers in Hard Core Gray (PN 0-76750HB). The 850 made great power, but was a tad balky on the street at low rpm, so in went the smaller 750, which produces more vacuum signal for better driving, but at a slight loss of top end power. A good trade we think.
Beyond that, Outlaw chased down some embarrassing leaks we developed, and replaced an oil pan gasket, valve cover gaskets, rear main seal, trans cooler, and trans dipstick tube. Our driving routine gradually increased, leading up to a week’s worth of daily commuting (that’s 120 miles and 3.5 hours per day here in L.A.) with no subsequent problems found. In bumper-to-bumper traffic, we experienced no overheating (the radiator was the only thing we didn’t replace on the car), and even in rush hour we got around 12.5 mpg. Not terrible for a 523hp 400ci small-block. We fully expect our Phoenix road trip to hit 14 mpg if we can nurse it through the desert with no issues.
Moving forward, we want to hit some autocross events (Del Mar Goodguys looks good for this), and the dragstrip—when and if one reopens in Southern California. Las Vegas, however, is looking better for a drag outing. (We’ll wait a moment while you digest the idea that it’s our job to spend the boss’s money to drive to Las Vegas and go drag racing.)
Don’t look for Project Nova to completely disappear now that it’s finished. (Is any project really finished?) Down the road, we’ll be using the Nova to experiment with more speed goodies. Right now we’re looking at dyno testing a water/meth injection kit from Snow, and some kind of self-learning EFI. Even further down, we may swap out some suspension stuff. What do you guys think we should do with the Nova next? Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Project Nova”!
The intent was to build an all-around street/strip/track car that could do double-duty as daily transportation if needed.
With a cracked block, the 350 in the Nova turned out to be crap, but we already had built one of Dart’s SHP 400 small-block crate motors, so it got the nod to go in. As our starting point, we had upgraded to the forged crank and forged Mahle pistons, which would give it a 10.66:1 compression ratio.
The Dart SHP 400 short-block was finished out with Dart Pro-1 200cc alloy heads with 64cc combustion chambers, a Dart dual-plane intake, COMP #930 valvesprings, COMP Ultra Gold 1.5 rockers, a COMP Big Mutha Thumpr hydraulic roller cam (243/257 degrees at .050, .533/.519-inch lift, 107-degree LSA), Moroso ignition, and a Holley Ultra 850 HP. With 1 3/4-inch dyno headers and an electric water pump, the Dart SHP 400 produced 523 hp at 6,200 rpm and 523 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm.
Our June ’10 issue gave readers their first close look at the ’68 Nova as we tried to transplant the Dart SHP 400. After pulling the old junk motor and spray bombing the engine compartment, we tried to drop the Dart in, only to find that the original crossmember was for an inline-six. The story ended up being a “how-to” on fabbing a six-pot crossmember to fit a V-8 with a decent oil pan.
The stock 8.2-inch 10-bolt open rearend wasn’t going to cut it, so we ordered a 12-bolt from Moser and had them build it with a bombproof Wavetrac diff, 3.08 highway gears, Torino axlehousing ends, 35-spline axles, and a Moser gear cover (Dec. ’10). It was probably overkill, but the Nova will never need another rearend ever.
By the Jan. ’11 issue, we finally had Project Nova looking “Facebook pretty,” thanks to new rolling stock from Nitto (NT01 235/40R17, front; 255/40R17, rear) and Vintage Wheel Works (V40 front 17x7s with a 4⅞-inch backspace, rear 17x9s with a 5 3/4-inch backspace). We started our suspension mods too with CPP front control arms, CPP front coil springs, CPP front sway bar, and KYB shocks.
The snaggle-toothed Nova needed remedial cosmetic help in our July ’10 issue, so we burned up the Classic Industries order line for a 2-inch steel cowl hood, new grille, headlight bezels, bumpers, “SS” steering wheel, dashpad, and some emblems. The coolest part of the story: a trick, stock-looking, in-dash tach conversion from Shiftworks.