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1966 Chevy Nova - Occupational Hazard

Eric Brown's Bad Nova Is So Good

Ro McGonegal Aug 1, 2009
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Brown's a horsepower freak, no doubt. He's too young to have lived the old days but too old not to know the legacy. He's proud of his accomplishments and humble enough to realize exactly what they mean. He has done it all. Had more than a half-dozen Chevy-powered hot rods. A shoebox Nova freak, he has been hooked on the purity of the '66-67 form forever.

The high-pitched aura of high horsepower transcends. Brown lives two blocks from Pomona. "Needless to say, there are some very fast cars in that neighborhood, so I hear the ruckus and smell the nitro from my house during the World Finals and the Winternationals." He is invigorated by it every day: "I am a manager, and I oversee a standby power plant that has two Allison 501 gas turbines that have approximately 5,000 hp each, so even at work I am surrounded by it. I love it."

So, yes, Eric Brown has torque seeping from all his cranial orifices like he had some kind of incurable life-long allergy. His current stint for survival is this '66 Nova. He said, "The car was a complete mess when I got it, in dire need of bodywork. I disassembled it and built it up again over three years, except for the recently installed eight-point cage by my number one partner Ed `The Old Man' Lane."

There were other agents behind him, of course: Sod, Manuel, and Roland at Hye-Tech Performance (City of Industry, California) did the machine work and engine assembly. "My other `brothers' Dyonne Nelson, Ben Scott, and Dave Lange of Fuel Curve West (Upland, California), Mike at Harland Sharp, and my dad Ray, my brother Evan, and my son Eric all gave their support. It's every hot rodder's dream to get something that they put together in any publication, let alone Chevy High Performance. Thanks, Henry D, for appreciating the effort I put in my car."

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Without so many hands and minds in reserve, the project would have consumed many, many more hours, and that is really what this car is all about. It's a collective effort that refunds psychic payback right along with the visceral entertainment it provides. Nice going, you guys. For your unselfish effort, you have become a part of the car's history.

From the outset, it was Brown's intention to forge a fast street machine. And so he did, but by degree. Boulevard duty has now become ancillary to the 1320 rant, although the car is considered street legal. On the face of it, the Nova represents a sensible, working man's approach to the build. It's something that all of us can relate to, something that would provide all of us with happiness and satisfaction. Call it spare, economical, maybe even bare-bones. In a sense, all of us have stood in Brown's shoes at one time or another.

He bought the Nova in 1999 and is already on its fourth and most prodigious engine. When a couple of roller lifters departed in engine No. 3 and made the crime scene messy, he built the current 406-incher to inhale nitrous, a hearty camshaft, compression, and...uh, better lifters. At this writing, Eric was preparing to plop on AFR CNC-ported 227 heads fitted with prototype offset roller rocker arms crafted by Mike at Harland Sharp.

Although the Nova is still somewhat street-worthy (a mere 300 miles on the clock in 10 years), you're more likely to see him at the local NHRA and PSCA races. But this magazine article is Brown's sterling piece. "My wife used to wonder why I spent so much time in the garage. This story is the opportunity. When I get the issue of CHP with my car in it, I'll put it gently in her lap, look her in the eye, and say, `Hey, babe, this is why!'"

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This 406 small-block was crafted by Sod, the owner of Hye-Tech Performance, and the machinists and builders who live there. Sod built the short-block with a GM forged steel crankshaft and steel connecting rods swinging 11.6:1 SRP forgings. Floating pins secure them to the rods. Hye-Tech then added a 4/7 swap Iskenderian solid-roller cam (0.654/0.648-inch lift, 268/264 degrees duration at 0.050 inch). The oiling system includes a 6-quart Hamburger pan and a Mellings pump. Dart valve springs control the movement of the back-cut 2.08/1.60 stainless steel valves actuated by 1.6:1 Harland Sharp rockers and motivated by a squad of Isky pushrods driven by Isky Red Zone lifters.

The current 215 Dart Iron Eagle castings were tweaked with a better short-turn radius, blended bowls, and ports matched to the intake gaskets. Fuel dispersion is the province of an Edelbrock Air-Gap intake fitted with an 850-cfm Holley worked over by Dave Lange at Fuel Curve West. Petrol is sourced from Aeromotive regulators and fuel pumps (two, one for the engine from a 15-gallon cell and the other in the engine compartment along with a 1-gallon fuel tank for the nitrous). Juice the Almighty is issued by an Edelbrock RPM plate system (with bottle heater) governed by an NOS controller.

Brown invoked a bit of nostalgia with 1 3/4-inch Hooker Super Comp headers that exit gracefully through openings in the fender wells. The power of ignition streams from a Mallory Unilite distributor as modified by Dave Lange. A HyFire VI ignition box and a high-output coil complete the circuit.

Though horsepower and torque have never been quantified, we can assume that they've got to make for a thrilling ride. To that end, Brown commissioned a stock-ratio Turbo 350 turning heavy-duty sprags, clutches, and shafts. On the engine side, a 4,200-rpm Precision converter and an ADT Hipster trans brake launch Brown's show. A B&M core siphons heat from the transmission fluid. Brown nudges a B&M Pro Shift and sends torque through a 4-inch aluminum driveshaft to a narrowed Ford 9-inch carrier holding a 4.10:1 ring-and-pinion and a Detroit Locker differential.

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Bite & Brakes
Since the front rollers do little more than support the car, they are minimal Kelly 145x15s on Centerline Convo ET 3 1/2-inch rims. Though their contact patch is also minimal, Brown upgraded the front brakes to a heftier 12-inch CPP disc conversion. The rear binders are new stock Nova. On the rubber-burning end, MT 275/60R ET Street Radials (28-inch diameter) are joined with 10-inch-wide Convos.

Brown began the transformation with subframe connectors and then progressed to the front end. Its regimen includes lots of lightening effects. He trashed the stock strut rods and added a Classic Performance Products mini-subframe and tubular control arms to act with the CPP 2-inch drop spindles and stock coils. Wheel movement is abated by Competition Engineering adjustable dampers. The antisway bars were relegated to a corner of Brown's reclusive domain. Down the line, he went to Atlas Springs (City of Industry, CA) for the rearched leaves and supplemented them with Gabriel shock absorbers. John Calvert's immaculate CalTracs bars solve the traction bugaboo and encourage the Nova to leave straight and narrow with consistency.

The office isn't over the top or anywhere near it. It simply reflects the clean, straight workmanship vested in the rest of the car. Best of all, Brown did it himself. Original light-blue vinyl abounds, pin-neat and fitting like a suit custom made. Brown modified and installed the new wiring system, removed the dash pad, and painted the naked steel left behind. The only clues to the Nova's real domain is Ed "The Old Man" Lane's eight-point chrome-moly 'cage and the specific Auto Meter tachometer and ancillary gauges. The seats are stock, but the five-point harnesses are not. The best part is that seriously signifying radio-delete plate.

As a result of the current economic situation and bolstered by his accumulated knowledge, a large part of this conversion occurred by Brown's hand. The interior reconstruction and the paint and body are primary regions. He and friend Miguel did all the prep work in Brown's garage and applied the paint in a rented spray booth. They stripped the body, filled in the trim holes, replaced or repaired the panels, and sanded and primed the notorious, flat-hood flyer. They gave it a distinct identity with DuPont Chromabase Custom Blue, as mixed to Eric's specification.



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