Ask Frank Serafine if he knows anything about interminably long, cold winters. He hangs in Rochester, New York, a perennial victim of lake-effect snow storms and the mentality required to cope with them. Where Frank's from, the stuff routinely piles on 12 or more feet thick. So must Frank come and go by scrabbling in and out of his second-story windows? No. Mostly, he prepares for the Big Whiteout by piling Chevy parts in his garage and stoking the furnace with old Ford ones-and tunneling through to where he wants to go.
Cabin fever never quite reaches high C because Frank's take on winter is that the Florida peninsula will continue to simmer regardless of the seasonal misery in Upstate New York. If it gets bad enough, his escape route is a given. On the other paw, Frank's 16 previous hot rods have taught him a thing or two about the build ethic. He's way beyond scrubbing stuff in an icy tub of solvent when it's below zero and the sun barely squints beyond the Arctic Circle.
Nearly four years ago, he bought a car that had already been scoured with gallons of someone else's sweat. For all intents, the seller figured his car was done. Frank took one look at the Kansas-based '63 Nova he found on eBay and deemed it ready for sacrifice. Though it was an immaculate as well as a numbers-matching example, it was completely stock, Blue Flame six and Powerglide bumbling along. Frank had a vision. He would terminate all that cheap crap and its ox-cart mentality with prejudice.
He and pal Jim Drake drove the car around for a couple of months then got down to business excising all the Nova's rejuvenated organs-drivetrain, suspension, and front clip-and began to install the mini-tubs. Jim got seriously ill and unable to continue, and Frank just went ahead with it. That is, Frank and his wife Cheryl just went ahead with it. His soulmate spent many hours planning the project, chasing down the stuff, and most importantly, assisting her husband in the garage.
Try this 10 years ago and it would have been messy, but the Nova is a kindred spirit, loved and embraced by the whole hot rod world, probably from the day we saw Bill Thomas' 327 Fuelie swap on the pages of a 1963 issue of Hot Rod. It would follow that the wherewithal for any area of the car is tended by an aftermarket overloaded with parts, pieces, and even complete systems ready to be bolted into place. So when Frank went looking for the contents of his newest suitcase, he was not thwarted.
The plan went something like this: We want a clean, subdued piece, sure, but one that oozes power and solidity from every corner, one with only the tips of its claws showing. We want function now, and not particularly form. We want reliability and the utmost drivability, and we want it all at the touch of a finger or two. To reside in that place, Frank finished the wheel tubs and made 2x2x0.083-wall frame connectors to bridge the gap between the front and rear of the unibody bastard, or more accurately between the four-link suspension and the Total Cost Involved (TCI) front clip. A Chassisworks dropped crossmember provides attachment points for the front of the four-link setup. Stitz Street Rods supplied the upper shock-absorber mounts.
Doing something about the abysmal front suspension was high on Frank's list of What To Change Immediately years before he bought the Nova. TCI supplied the basis for the Air Ride ShockWave apparatus, the lower control arms, and the front subframe. Frank included Mustang II control arms and spindles and installed a Flaming River manual rack steering assembly.
As spectacularly as Frank has violated the numbers-matching idiocy, he has just as spectacularly paid homage to the original. The Nova's rugged, simple mission is outlined pin-neat in the interior that is equally rugged, simple, and designed specifically for this car. Frank remembers.
For a bona fide street crawler, the motor would do best with a nominal compression ratio that could slurp regular-grade fuel and be happy to churn out more grunt than raw power. Second only to the 350 in small-block popularity, Frank's current 383 was machined and built by Farmer Automotive in Webster, New York. Farmer exposed a late-model, one-piece rear main seal cylinder case, decked the block, and put the dished-dome hypereutectic pistons 0.005 inch in the hole. Combined with the 72cc combustion chambers in the Dart Iron Eagle Platinum heads, the compression ratio is a roll-over 9.5:1, enabling the motor to run trouble-free. Farmer bored the block 4.030 and laid in a Scat 3.75-inch 9000 Series crankshaft hugged by forged Scat rods sprouting 7/16-inch stainless steel fasteners. On the bottom end, Farmer specified a Canton 6-quart pan and a Melling high-volume pump to move the lube. For cam gear, a hydraulic roller would suit perfectly. The Comp grind features 230/236 degrees duration at 0.050 inch and 0.544/0.520 lift. The 7.200-long Manley pushrods (0.080-wall) have their work cut out, pressing on Comp Pro Mag 1.5/1.6:1 rockers, Comp valvesprings, and 2.02/1.60 valves. The intake system is typical and honorable: a Performer RPM Air Gap casting and a Holley HP 750 fitted with mechanical secondary throttle bores. A Summit ball-milled cleaner contraption perches on top of it all. Part of the TCI legacy is the 13/4-inch tube headers specific to the calling, in this case spiffed with Jet-Hot coating. An MSD 6AL box and a Pro Billet distributor tend to the cylinders. A stealthy Proform electric water pump circulates it through an Alumatech core. Master Car Parts in Rochester, New York, put up a custom-built alternator and surrounded it with a compact March midmount serpentine-belt pulley system. On Farmer Automotive's pump, the stroker motor made 485 lb-ft at 4,300 rpm and 470 hp at 5,800 rpm. For the back end, Phoenix Transmission in Weatherford, Texas, built the 700-R4 overdrive automatic (3.06, 1.62, 1.00, 0.70:1) and preceded it with a 9.5-inch torque converter (3,000 stall) of its own design. Ancillaries include a B&M Quicksilver shifter and the all-important (Hayden) fluid cooler. Fleet Pride in Rochester built the tough driveshaft, and Frank hooked it to the 9-inch (3.70:1) that he'd prepped (narrowed 5 inches) for arrival.
Impossibly crisp, impossibly stock signature is quietly blitzed by a Classic Instruments speedo, tach, and quad cluster, ultimately propped by an EZ wiring harness. There's action under the dashboard too: Frank snuggled a Lane Industries (Rochester) wiper motor kit up in there. Then he hid the Air Ride control panel in the ashtray. A Custom Autosound USA-2 head pumps through JL Audio horns. Meanwhile, poppy Frank clings to a stylish Grant 14-inch Elite steering wheel and tries to keep his butt stuck to the original code 707 Saddle cloth and vinyl. There's a good measure of character in there that is germane to the Nova, still many years away from the corporate face.
Says Frank: "All exterior paint and bodywork were completed before we purchased the car. We added aftermarket repro trim. We cleaned and painted the engine compartment and undercarriage using PPG basecoat/clearcoat products." Paint is original color code 962-Saddle Tan.
The Nova's original "chassis" is a woeful thing, an accident waiting to tumble down. Brakes, steering, and location all suck in this car. Replacing the bad stuff with the good stuff is the only way to avoid mayhem. The TCI components, along with the sheetmetal wheel aprons, lend a feeling of neatness and spaciousness to the engine compartment. Not a fleck of schmutz anywhere. Thankfully, the firewall hasn't been shorn completely. The equipment that remains adds specks of dimension to Frank's nicely detailed engine. He connected the ends of the car with 2x2-inch rails, infused the tube-arm front suspension with Air Ride bladders, and nailed down the butt end with four parallel links and another brace of ShockWaves. Directional rotation is dictated by a manual-box Flaming River assembly pointing TCI Mustang II spindles. A dropped transmission crossmember helps tighten up the Nova's wiggly undercarriage.
Wheels & Brakes
Frank had no compunction over escaping the 15-inch wheel plague, either, and his choice of 17s made way for a healthy influx of braking performance. Wilwood four-piston slammers hug 13-inch front and 12-inch rear rotors. Frank formed and installed all the brake lines. Road gear consists of Intro Hammer 5 hoops, at a modest 17x7 and 17x8, and flypaper-sticky Kumho P205/45ZR and P255/ 50ZR rubber.