You'd think that winning two World Wars together would have been a great bonding experience, but the British disdain of American cars runs deep.
Perhaps they're still upset over losing that other war, the one in 1776 where a makeshift militia of hillbillies with pitchforks trounced one of the best-trained, best-equipped empires in human history. Yeah, like that wasn't totally embarrassing. Whatever the reason, our friends across the pond find the American formula of brute horsepower and straight-line speed a bit too crude for their sophisticated, tea-sipping proclivities. Or at least that's the perception you'd get by watching TV, but truth be told, one curly haired ogre on the BBC's Top Gear doesn't speak on behalf of the entire United Kingdom. As it turns out, there are plenty of Brits who love American muscle cars, and brothers Chris and Nick Hall are two such Englishmen. One drives a 1968 Firebird. The other drives a 1970 Nova. The Hall's have given both their cars the full Pro Touring rubdown, and their efforts serve as the perfect model for improving British-American enthusiast relations.
In fairness, the disdain for the other guy's rides goes both ways. Just like the Brits find our infatuation for straight-line speed perplexing, we don't quite understand what's so exciting about 90hp diesel hatchbacks either. They call them "hot hatches," but we've yet to figure out where the hot part comes from. As is usually the case when comparing different cultures, the misunderstanding is a product of our respective environments. While our wide-open spaces welcome long stretches of WOT shenanigans, their tight and windy roads favor smaller, more nimble machines. Although the two schools of thought seemed like they were at odds, the Hall brothers seized the opportunity to merge the two together. "Growing up in England, I was surrounded by twisty, fun, driver's roads. Having also grown up around American muscle cars, I knew that my Firebird needed a suspension that could handle our twisty roads like a modern car. I also wanted an overdrive transmission so the car wouldn't be stuck in the slow lane like all the other old cars on the motorway," Chris explains.
Chris and Nick now call Arizona their home, and the desert climate has done wonders for their complexions. More importantly, it's made living the Pro Touring dream much easier for the siblings. Restoring Detroit iron no longer requires them to ship parts internationally, and the gas costs half as much here as back home in the UK. Not surprisingly, the Hall's went to town as soon as they got here. Chris built himself a 550hp Firebird complete with a Tremec overdrive and suspension pieces from Hotchkis and Global West. Nick's Nova is no slouch either, equipped with an LS2 small-block, C5 Corvette brakes, a 9-inch rearend, and a four-link rear suspension. Yes, the redcoats are back, but they aren't looking to force overpriced tea down American throats this time around. Instead, they're showing us Yanks how their Pro Touring muscle cars represent a harmonious convergence of British and American hot rodding ideals.
How Much Do They Weigh?
Late-models are way too porky. When the mission at hand is hustling around a road or autocross course as quickly as possible, excessive weight is merely ballast that's forced to change directions with the car, burning up tires and brake pads in the process. With cars like fifth-gen Camaros weighing nearly 4,000 pounds, many 1964-72 muscle cars offer a substantial weight savings. Chris Hall's first-gen F-body and Nick Hall's X-body are perfect examples, as both platforms have always been known for their low-mass benefits. Granted that popular aftermarket upgrades like overdrive transmissions and heavy-duty rearends add mass, Chris's Firebird tips the scales at 3,483 pounds. That's a very impressive figure considering that the 'Bird packs a heavy Pontiac 400 underhood. Although Chris hasn't made a dedicated effort to reducing weight, upgrading the motor with aluminum heads and an aluminum intake manifold knocked a huge chunk of weight off the front end. Furthermore, the Firebird is remarkably well balanced. Chris had the RideTech crew corner-weight the car at the Scottsdale Goodguys event, where it checked in at 960 pounds on the left front, 977 pounds on the right front, 763 pounds on the left rear, and 783 pounds on the right rear.
Even more impressive in the low-mass department is Nick's Nova. While GM X-body and F-body platforms are nearly identical, Nick's Nova has the advantage of an all-aluminum LS2 compared to the big Pontiac 400 in his brother's car. Consequently, it weighs in at a scant 3,134 pounds. That's nearly 800 pounds lighter than a fifth-gen Camaro. Likewise, the Nova proved to be remarkably well balanced on the RideTech scales as well with 820 pounds on the left front, 817 pounds on the right front, 746 pounds on the left rear, and 751 pounds on the right rear. Just as eye opening is the Nova's 52/48 percent front/rear weight distribution. Sure, fat tires can help hide the detrimental effects of a heavy car, but put those same fat tires on a lighter car and you'll run even faster.
The 1968 Firebird
Believe it or not, the 1968 Firebird you see before you is an import. Before it ended up in London, it rolled out the doors of GM's Opel manufacturing plant in Antwerp, Belgium, packin' an OHC straight-six and a four-speed stick. Nearly three decades later, Chris spotted it sitting in some bloke's backyard. As a kid raised in a Pontiac household, Chris had to knock on the door and make an offer. "I knew I wanted a first-gen Firebird from the time I was 10 years old, having seen them in muscle car magazines and books. At the age of 18 in 1995, I found a 1968 Firebird rotting away beneath a tree," he recalls. "The original inline-six was long gone, and the owner bought the car just to pull out the small-block Chevy that was in it. For £425 (or quid as the Brits like to say) it was mine. My non-car friends thought I was nuts for buying this huge, rusty old car but I could already see it lowered down on 17-inch wheels with big brakes. I drew a rendering of what I wanted the car to look like, and I had a Pro Touring vision for the car before the trend had really caught on."
Considering that 425 pounds converts to roughly $642, Chris got himself a smoking deal, even by 1995 standards. The bad news is that a $642 car is still a $642 car, which is another way of saying that it needed a lot of help. The Firebird's dozen or so prior repaints were the least of Chris's worries, as the quarter-panels and trunk floor were completely rotted out. Since English junkyards aren't exactly well stocked with American muscle car parts, Chris faced the prospect of searching tirelessly for parts that didn't exist in the UK, or paying outrageous fees to ship them across the Atlantic. Neither option seemed particularly appealing, so he came up with a far more creative solution. Over the next several years, Chris made a habit out of taking family vacations to America, then coming back home with a stack of parts. In fact, the transmission, bellhousing, clutch, bumper, and wheels that would eventually get bolted up to the Firebird boarded the plane back home to England as carry-on luggage.
All the cool kids have four-links, but Chris needed a more affordable rear suspension solu
After gathering the bulk of the parts, Chris hauled everything to a body shop owned by his friends Robin and Martin Walters to tackle the sheetmetal repair. Chris and his brother, Nick, pitched in on nights and weekends, and together the quartet gradually completed the paint and bodywork over a span of three years. Once back home from the shop, tragedy struck. "About five years into the restoration process the car caught on fire, burning the paint off the back of the body and melting the taillights," he laments. "I was crushed. Since I had no insurance, I had to work two jobs to get the car back on the road."
Although Chris didn't know it at the time, his fortunes were about to change. In 2000, during a trip to the GTO Western Region car show in California, he met a nice young lady who would eventually become his wife. "She came back home to England with me, helping Nick and I finish the car and get it back on the road. We put a stock Pontiac 400 in it, bolted up a Richmond five-speed, and took it to an airbase where it ran 14.02 at 102 mph," he recalls. To ensure that the Poncho could hang with the nimble European late-models on the curvy UK roads, a set of Hotchkis drop springs and sway bars replaced the tired stock hardware. Up front, Chris installed Global West control arms, then lowered the mounting point of the upper arms for improved camber gain. To put the new chassis to the test, the crew went for a European-style shakedown run. "We drove out to a big car show for F-bodies and Corvettes in Antwerp, Belgium, where the Firebird is from, and took home the trophy for Best Modified Car. On the way back, I took the car up to 140 mph before my nerves ran out."
By 2003, Chris decided that a change of scenery was in order, and relocated to Arizona. The Firebird came along for the ride, and over the next 10 years, Chris and his wife hopped it up even more. To coax some more grunt out of the 400, he bored it .030-over, bolted up an Edelbrock intake manifold and cylinder heads, and then installed a COMP 242/246-at-.050 solid-roller camshaft. The result is an estimated 550 hp. Next, the old trans got swapped out for a Tremec TKO600, and the wheels were upgraded to a larger 17- and 18-inch combo as well. These days, Chris enjoys wringing the Firebird out for all its worth on the Goodguys autocross, where he engages in some friendly competition with brother Nick and his Nova.
While the Firebird is plenty cool in its own right, the human element of Chris's journey embodies what hot rodding is all about. He made countless trips across the Atlantic to ferry parts back home, persevered through major setbacks, and built the entire car himself with the help of friends and family. He's even made sure that there will be another generation of hot rodders to carry on the family tradition. "In the last 10 years, my wife and I have gotten married and brought two awesome boys into the world to get hooked on the hobby," Chris gloats. "My boys love the Firebird, and have helped me work on it in addition to a 1965 Chevelle that Nick and I restored for their granddad. Rest assured that there are two new recruits to carry on the muscle car hobby for years to come."
By The Numbers
1968 Pontiac Firebird
Chris Hall, 36 • Surprise, AZ
Many moons ago, Chris Hall pulled this 400 Pontiac core out of a ’67 Firebird. He estimate
Type: Pontiac 406
Block: factory iron, bored to 4.152 inches
Oiling: Melling pump, Canton pan
Rotating assembly: factory 3.750-inch crank, Eagle rods, Probe 10.5:1 forged pistons
Cylinder heads: Edelbrock aluminum Performer RPM castings ported to 320 cfm
Camshaft: COMP Cams 242/246-at-.050 solid roller; .628/.628-inch lift; 112-degree LSA
Valvetrain: COMP Cams valvesprings, retainers, locks, and pushrods
Induction: Edelbrock Performer RPM with custom porting, Holley 850-cfm carb
Ignition: MSD distributor, coil, and plug wires
Exhaust: Doug's 1.875-inch headers, Flowmaster 3-inch X-pipe, dual Pypes mufflers
Cooling: stock water pump, Northern radiator, Lincoln Mark VIII electric fan
Transmission: Tremec TKO600 five-speed manual, Centerforce clutch, Pro 5.0 shifter
Rear axle: GM 10-bolt rearend with 3.73 gears and Auburn limited-slip differential
Front suspension: Global West control arms, Koni shocks, Hotchkis springs and sway bar
Rear suspension: Koni shocks, Hotchkis springs and sway bar
Brakes: Baer 12-inch rotors and two-piston calipers, front; 12-inch rotors and single-piston calipers, rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Coddington Magneto 17x8, front; 18x9, rear
Tires: Nitto NT05 255/40R17, front; 275/40R18, rear
The 1970 Nova
After Nick Hall's parents welcomed him into the world 33 years ago, they drove him home from the hospital in a 1978 Trans Am. While that would barely qualify as an interesting story in America, the fact that this went down in England makes it quite amusing to say the least. After all, we doubt many American infants from that era went home from the delivery room in an MG or a Triumph. Needless to say, Nick was destined to be an Englishman who loved Detroit iron from birth. Having wrenched on muscle cars his entire life, he's definitely lived up to expectations. Today, that love affair has materialized in the form of an LS2-powered 1970 Nova packed to the brim with a five-speed stick, a four-link suspension, and big brakes and tires. Mum and dad would be proud.
For outsiders looking in, the Hall family's obsession with American muscle cars seems very odd. "My friends always wondered why anyone would want an old American car, and they asked why you'd buy an old car that needed work when you could have a new car that ran reliably. New cars are splendid for driving every day but they're also very boring, so it's nice to get into a muscle car on weekends that has a lot of character and power," Nick opines. The younger Hall brother says his uncle is the guy who got everyone hooked. "My uncle started out with a Pinto, and over the years he owned a second-gen Camaro, a Cobra Jet 428 Mustang, and a Boss 429 Mustang. He drag raced them frequently, and that got my parents interested in muscle cars. They bought a 1978 Trans Am after watching Smoky and the Bandit, and in later years they owned a 1982 Trans Am and a 1988 Trans Am GTA. During a trip to Texas, they picked up a 1997 Formula WS6 and brought it back home to England, and then when they moved to America, they shipped it across the ocean again."
Without question, the Halls take their muscle cars seriously. Nonetheless, Nick had to work his way up the ranks from humble beginnings. His first car was a hand-me-down Ford Fiesta, followed by a 1.3L Vauxhall Astra van. Although he took the 1988 GTA out cruising and to shows on weekends, he was too busy helping restore brother Chris's 1968 Firebird to take on a project of his own. Seduced by the prospect of trading in the gloomy UK skies for a sunny-and-toasty desert lifestyle, he made the move to Arizona six years ago. The Phoenix area just happens to be a hot bed of muscle car activity, which most certainly factored into his decision.
The tastefully simple interior looks mostly stock, but has been tweaked where it counts. A
Now the search for a hot rod was on. Having gone from a muscle car vacuum to a muscle car mecca, Nick was in heaven. Even so, with the lessons learned from lending a hand in his brother's Firebird project, Nick didn't care to take on another grueling ground-up restoration. He wanted to lay patch right away. "After a long but casual search, I found a 1967 Camaro that already had an LS1 and a six-speed transmission. Two months later, I found an even nicer '70 Nova for sale online, so I sold the Camaro to pay for it," he recalls. "The Nova was mostly complete, but somewhat of an unfinished project. It needed a headliner, new seats, and a lot of miscellaneous bits and bobs. The gearbox had been faceplated by Liberty's Gears, which shifted very nicely but was way too noisy. I took out the trans and installed some carbon-fiber synchronizers, and now it's much more pleasant inside the car. The crank pulley also decided to work its way off right after I bought the car, so I made the appropriate repairs to tighten it back down."
Powering the X-body is a mostly stock LS2 small-block. It has been enhanced with a Lunati 237/242-at-.050 hydraulic roller camshaft, Stainless Works headers, and a FAST intake manifold and throttle body. Power is channeled through a Tremec TKO600 five-speed manual before making its way back to a Moser 9-inch rearend. As a man raised around tight and winding roads, Nick demands a chassis capable of carving tidy arcs around bends, and the Nova's suspension hasn't let him down. Up front are Speed Tech control arms matched with QA1 coilovers and a Hellwig sway bar. Out back, the leaf springs have been replaced with a Chassisworks four-link and VariShock coilovers. Intro 18-inch wheels wrapped in Nitto NT05 tires provide the stick, and stopping power comes courtesy of C5 Corvette clamps.
Despite his long family history with Pontiacs, the other Halls welcomed Nick's Chevy with open arms. "Pontiacs were the theme back home, and my family has owned lots of Firebirds over the years. We were members of the Pontiac Club of the UK, and we even printed the newsletters for the club," Nick says. "Although we have a long track record of Pontiacs, my family loves all American muscle cars and no one has any issues with me driving a Nova. It's great having an old muscle car that can keep up with newer cars in the corners and on the freeway, and everyone can appreciate that. I plan on continuing to go on cruises and shows in the Nova, and I love driving it hard in the Goodguys autocross."
By The Numbers
1970 Chevy Nova
Nick Hall, 33 • Litchfield Park, AZ
Type: GM 364ci LS2 small-block
Block: factory 4.000-inch bore aluminum
Rotating assembly: factory cast crankshaft, rods, and 10.9:1 hypereutectic pistons
Cylinder heads: stock LS2 cathedral-port aluminum castings
Camshaft: Lunati 237/242-at-.050 hydraulic roller; .599/.601-inch lift; 110-degree LSA
Induction: FAST intake manifold and 92mm throttle body
Ignition: GM coil packs and wires
Exhaust: Stainless Works 1.75-inch headers, dual MagnaFlow mufflers
Cooling: GM water pump; Ron Davis radiator and dual electric fans
Transmission: Tremec TKO600 five-speed manual, McLeod clutch, Pro 5.0 shifter
Rear axle: Moser 9-inch rearend with 3.89:1 gears and Detroit Truetrac differential
Front suspension: Speed Tech control arms, QA1 coilovers, Hellwig sway bar
Rear suspension: Chassisworks four-link and coilovers
Brakes: C5 Corvette 13-inch discs with two-piston calipers, front; 12-inch rotors and single-piston calipers, rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Intro billet 18x8 front; 18x9 rear
Tires: Nitto NT05 245/40R18, front; 275/45R18, rear
No power booster here. Nick gets the Nova to a halt the old-fashioned way with a lot of le
The LS2 small-block has never been on the dyno, but being the super-efficient air pumps th