1966 Chevy Nova - Asphalt Digger

An 11-Flat Traffic Slasher...On Airbags!

Ro McGonegal Nov 1, 2007 0 Comment(s)

Between his long draughts of Monster, I asked Henry D what's so special about this car. Without hesitation he said, "The first time I saw it was at a race, but it looked too clean, too elemental-you know, too nice to be a race car. It did. But when it ripped off an 11-flat, it got real. Plus, the kid's young, man. He's got heart."

Certainly, we can thank Kyle Westbrook's father for the guidance, forethought, and extreme V-8 prejudice. OK, we got the young gun goin' now, so what about his car? Where did he get it? Did he snatch it from the Dumpster's yap? Did somebody's grandmother put it in her last will? Where did this pristine little coupe come from?

It materialized from some kind of karmic transference. Kyle's father Dale has always had Novas of this genre. Kyle, too young and small to do anything complicated, watched Pop bend to the Box for most of his prepubescent life. Eventually, his dad was forced to sell that Nova to start a business that continues to this day, with Kyle totally involved in the process. About six years ago, when he was 15 and hanging by the sticky strings in Learner-Permit Purgatory, he and Dale began the hunt for a...Nova. What they found was pure strangely-believe-it.

As Kyle tells it, "I fell in love with this Nova way back. We started looking and ran across this '66 SS that my dad had tried to buy years ago. [Is this not karmic?] Now the front end was smashed in. I bought the car for $1,000. We stripped it to a shell, replaced the entire front clip, and found a whole lot of other work to do besides.

"We pretty much did everything ourselves except the paint and the interior," says Kyle. Maybe this is it: Kyle is 21. Figure Dale for early forties, could be a refugee from the latchkey generation but isn't. His mom stayed at home; the family raced together, spent time together, and it made enough of an impression on Dale that he could not possibly treat his son differently. They work together as a team, not the father telling the son how it must be done.

So the thing is about looking good, incorporating all the elements of style in a simple but potent statement. Red is blood. What does that red stir deep in Kyle's psyche? Of course, his aim is to sound good, just like the aim of any hot rodder worthy of his grits. To run strong is another matter altogether. But Kyle covered that too, in a very conventional and practical manner: Build a bullet. Add spray. Always be happy. Pretend it's the '60s. Don't lug the motor down with too many accessories. Maybe power steering, maybe power brakes, but no artificially cooled air. This is about presentation and a form proper to a certain stratum of blacktop cruisers.

That dragstrip business wasn't part of the grand scheme, either. We asked Kyle what the secret was to setting up the chassis for this type of activity. Potential wheelhop is spoiled by adjustable traction bars, but there is no coil or leaf spring left. "There are two dots on the [airbag] compressor gauge. What I do is line the dots up, then I know the ride height and the damping will be right." He doesn't worry about side-to-side balance, for instance. He gives the chassis no extra attention, save for slipping some Mickey ET Streets up the wheelwells, torquing up the motor, and letting fly.

What of the dreadful Nova habit now? The old man's doing a '64 Nova racer, while Kyle is rubbing up against a '67 Nova wagon... "So you could say we're just a Nova family." Yeah, something like that.

Kyle and his pop began with a 383 (4.030x3.75 bore/stroke), bumping heads over the assembly, doing the love labor. They took their parts to South West Engines (San Bernardino, California) for machining. Most of the budget was lavished on the top of the engine, while the bottom end stayed stock but balanced. To be able to accommodate pump gas at all times, they built it with a 10:1 compression ratio. The Comp hydraulic roller bumpstick enables a 0.501 inch lift and 244 degrees of duration at 0.050 inch on both sides. Kyle put it in the block with a real piece of nostalgia. Nothing like the whine of a "quiet" geardrive to make even the most jaded street rats stand at attention. The most important part of breathing apparatus, the Dart 200 cylinder heads, were hand-ported and polished, fitted with Comp springs and pushrods, Milodon valves, and Harland Sharp rocker arms. MSD supplies the lightning at a total of 34 degrees. Fuel and air dispersion is the responsibility of a Victor Jr intake manifold and a Holley 830-cfm carb. It wouldn't be a real Cali car without genuine Doug's headers, in this case 151/48-inch primaries bending into a 211/42-inch collector, thence to Dynomax mufflers. Wow, nothing here that could be construed as hard-core, but what of those nasty-gas solenoids standing vigil by the Holley? Yo, Kyle's Blue Devil lives in a big NOS bottle with a 150hp fuse. Torque transferal begins at the Howard's 3,500-stall 8-inch converter and mixes it up with a Turbo 350 automatic equipped with a transbrake before heading down the stock driveshaft to the Posi-traction differential and 3.55:1 gears in that wizened 10-bolt.

The highlight here is not a backhalf job or well-deep wheel tubs, simply because they aren't needed. Other than a cleaned and painted frame, it is absolutely true to stock. Kyle saved this part for the laying-on of hands, family style: Rather than using a setup from the most prolific makers of air suspension, he and Dad bent the mold and inserted Air Lift SlamAir shocks all around (countered by stock shock valving) and direct it via an AutoPilot digital air-management system. Wheelhop is squashed by Competition Engineering adjustable traction bars. That's it.

The Pod
As a son of California, the Nova lived its entire life in low humidity and the absence of the usual corrosive influences-ultraviolet rays and smog soot notwithstanding. There was some rust, yes, but only in the traditional places for a '60s GM car-around the wheelwells and the backlight surround. After smoothing out 40 years of existence in the sun-harsh Southern Cali environs, Robles Auto Body (Riverside, California) completed the prep and applied the inevitable so-good-you-wanna-eat-it '57 Chevrolet Matador Red. A braver, more resolute, better-looking rendition you couldn't find anyplace.

Hoops & Rubber
A simple proposition, really. Center Line Telstar 15x4 and 15x8 rims snuggle up to a set of rollers up front and little 26x8.5 M/T ET Streets at the strip that aptly cover the stock front disc and drum combo. It's simple, understated, elegant, and perfect for the style the Westbrooks wanted.

Does this look like a place where a drag racer would hang out? Custom Auto Interior (Rialto, California) thought not either. CAI unfolded gray tweed. Kyle posted a Lecarra steering wheel and mortised in the considerable audio set: Pioneer head, four Pioneer 6x9s powered by a Sony 1,000-watt amp, and two 10-inch subwoofers driven by a 400-watt amp. Instruments, seats, and wiring are stock.

There is no dyno sheet, but there are some very telling time slips. The freshest one of all reads 11.02 at 120. That's on a 150-shot. Where do yougo now, Kyle? CHP


An 11-Flat Traffic Slasher...On Airbags!
Ro McGonegal Nov 1, 2007


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