John Patricolo's attraction to Novas rightly began in his teen years-high school, to be exact. Roughly 20 years down the road (1993) his particular vision came true. His rendition would clearly represent a fair slice of practicality and understated elegance, not the screaming, balls-to-the-wall incendiary device you might expect. In effect, it represents the kind of car most of us would be inclined to build.
John had found a solid, rust-free '66 Nova owned by a rusty, burned-out hippy that was living in a basement hovel (no further details). After negotiating for several hours (the seller's gnatlike attention span had segued to a Whitesnake gig), John drove the car home. He wheeled it for a few months, and then his future changed irrevocably. He met some people who had the same piety and affection for the early Nova as he. After talking with them, he knew he wanted to begin restoring his '66. A familiar story and a fine aspiration, but as we all know, an ever-evolving project car can change your life.
"I began the restoration by yanking the tired 350 and Turbo 400," said John. "I pulled the subframe and suspension off. Then I sand-blasted and painted everything, including the bottom of the car. I installed Global West subframe connectors and a new Polygraphite front end. I rebuilt the 10-bolt rearend using a Positraction unit and 3.55:1 gears. I added front discs and KYBs all around. I ordered a new GMPP ZZ3 crate from Sallee Chevrolet." Sallee massaged the heads with porting and polishing. Sallee also dialed-in a Holley 750 vacuum-secondary carb and saw the engine make 385hp on its dyno.
"My next headache was to get the headers, oil pan, and water pump in the car without having to modify the shock towers," relates John. "I installed Hooker ceramic-coated Super Comps, a GMPP mini-starter, a Stewart water pump, and one of the first Milodon Nova oil pans to fit a one-piece rear main seal. That Christmas my great wife came through with a Turbo 350 transmission."
John says, "I have always wanted a black car. A friend referred me to Dwayne at Knight Restoration. He didn't want to do the black but came with such high praise that I continued to hound him for year until he agreed. While the bodywork and paint were going on, I had the stock SS seats repadded and reupholstered. Two months later I had the straightest, deepest black in the world." That's got to be one of the shortest paint-jail sentences on record.
John put his ultimate driver back together with Weld Drag Lites and Auto Meter gauges, and as he was finishing the car, he took a job-related transfer (aircraft mechanic) to Denver. He left the Nova on the coast so that he could come back and take it to the California Nova Mini-Nats. Good plan. It received the Most Prestigious award. Then he brought the car to Denver and won Goodguys Coolest '60s Car (1999), the Super Chevy Street Class (1998-2004), the Super Chevy Editor's Choice (2004), and lots of local awards.
Next, perpetually-in-motion John began work on a '64 Nova wagon while the onyx '66 huddled under a tarp for the three years (till 2007), chirping every once in while and making noises like it wanted to be "finished." John tore himself from the wagon long enough to bless the Nova with more handling, braking, and stopping power. It proofed well at Goodguys Colorado in 2008, copping the Flowmaster Pick award. If the '66 and the fuel-injected eight-passeneger wagon don't convince you of John's early Nova fetish, then maybe this will: His daily driver is a '63 SS drop-top. Obsessive and clearly over the top? Quite. Job well done, John.
To create the almighty stance and provide some serious suspension power at all velocities, John proves that you needn't look very far for a new take on an old proposition. He used Global West subframe connectors to bestow rigidity on the unibody, then segued the Classic Performance Products (classicperform.com) mini-subframe kit featuring tubular control arms and 2-inch drop spindles. Wheel movement is checked by KYB gas-filled shock absorbers. Body roll is lessened by a 1-inch antisway bar. At the nether end, John retained the monoleaf, slipped in a 1-inch lowering block, and amended the collection with KYB gas pressure.
Despite its humble roots, the GM Performance Parts ZZ3 350 (circa 1995) manages to give the featherweight Nova some teeth. Although the short-block is stock and maintains a 9.8:1 compression ratio, the top end was assembled with a massaged custom breathing apparatus. On those angle-plug, 58cc aluminum heads (ported and polished) rests an original Z28 intake manifold posting a vacuum-secondary Holley 750 that's been covered by a modified L79 (350/350hp) air cleaner. A HEI distributor throws fire. A Milodon sump (one-piece rear main seal) and pump recycle the oil. John used ARP fasteners throughout.That distinctive exhaust crackle is enough to raise the dead, yes. Hooker Super Comps funnel into Flowmaster three-chamber silencers.The 350 was tested at 410 lb-ft. Since the Nova was carved as a driver, we're surprised by the absence of an overdriven top gear, even though John celebrates a TCI Street Fighter Turbo 350 twirling a B&M 2,200-stall speed converter. Transmission juice circulates through a B&M cooler. No need for a 9-inch or anything close. The original 10-bolt was refreshed by Rearend Specialties (www.rearendspecialties.com) in Santa Clara, California, complete with 3.55 gears on a Positraction carrier.
In preparation for the coveted deep onyx fluid, Knight Auto Body in Pittsburgh, California, smoothed the rust-free shell to the Nth degree for an exquisite and waveless image with the PPG base and clear coats.
A plain and simple interior further reinforces the understated Nova. While smatterings of the SS rank are found in the console, seats, and instruments, the interior remains faithful to the original. All the black and brushed aluminum finally succumbs to the Nova woodgrain steering wheel. The place where the radio would be is discreetly covered by a delete panel, thus visually slimming down the width of the dashboard. To minimize the chance of electrical failure, everything is simply operated by hand. The factory option tissue dispenser foils the otherwise businesslike aura.
John offset that deep black with chrome. Foose Nitrous Legends, size 18x7 and 18x8, put the P215/40ZR and 245/40ZR Falken Ziex rubber to use. When John needs to burn off energy in a hurry, he leans on 12-inch drilled and slotted '02 Camaro SS rotors taking cues from a CPP dual-diaphragm brake booster.