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1964 Chevy Nova - Forever In The Life

Clean, Compact, Nine-Teens Nova. Yes, It Is.

Terry Ward Nov 1, 2009
0911chp_01_z Rear_view_of_a 1964_chevy_nova 2/13

Instead of hammering on the copy for this story, I'm on the lanai absorbing the frenzied antics of my youngest grandson (9 months) in the pool. Grammy's right next to him, of course, to steady and encourage. A simple domestic scene. A simple occurrence that is perhaps the essence of adulthood. All your life you give to your children. Now with this one simple experience and the kid's pure, subjective glee, he's giving life back to me.

Could it be the same for a father who revels in the glee his son has while building his own hot rod? In the Nov. '07 issue we did a cover story on Kyle Westbrook's immaculate red Nova no-post ("Asphalt Digger"). At the time, Editor H mentioned that Kyle's dad, Dale, had engendered the shoebox notion all his life, that he was working on a '64 post car, and that we would one day have his car on these pages as well. I forgot about it.

"I knew the next car to be built would be for my daughter Jenna," says Dale. "To my great sorrow, she was killed in a freak accident at Glamis, the vast and wildly popular off-roading sand dunes near Brawley. She was 15. About a year after her death, my wife and I decided to do the car, build the car I wanted in Jenna's name-a tribute, you could say."

Dale was influenced by two constants: Jenna insisted that her car be yellow and that it would always have a Tweety Bird (her favorite cartoon wraith) in it. "In my head I thought it would be a great street car and that we could probably have some fun with it at the track too," remembers Dale. "It began to lean more to the track side than the daily driver routine ... so I went for a 9-second street car instead." That's our kind of thinking, Dale.

Dale was thick into the '64 when a friend approached him with a dire yen. "Asked if I could build a car for him," muses Dale. "It was a red-on-red '63 Nova raggie ... of course, I agreed. About a year later I finally got back to Jenna's car." From then it was full-bore on the project, the object being a low-9 contender and forget the street shtick. The 0.030-over 400 small-block would be wearing an F-1 trim ProCharger. Then, the classic lament: "Of course, I wish I'd gone bigger."

When Dale bought the '64, it already had a rollcage and a ladder-bar with a 10-bolt. He had it amended modern, narrowing the rear, putting up mini-tubs, laying in subframe joiners, and replacing the ancient floorpan with a new and complete steel section. Much to his delight, the shoebox had undergone a transformation with TCI subframe and coilover suspension by the previous owner. The 10-bolt evaporated, and a bulletproof 9-inch assumed the position. A straightforward TCI steering assembly and disc brakes replaced the ox cart stuff.

Dale, Kyle, and good friends Gary and Danny wailed on the thing Blitzkrieg-like, prefitting components, measuring for parts, and fabricating brackets in order that the stuff would fall in without maiming the freshness of the car when it came back from paint. They stripped the body and sentenced it to paint jail. The Nova was behind bars for only six months, but the circumstances were frustrating, so much so that Dale declined to elaborate.

Once again the team swarmed the Nova with the zeal of piranhas on fresh meat. "We had four people working on it at a time, each doing their own thing," says Dale proudly. It didn't take long before it was ready to fire. "To be safe, I would get my NHRA license. I went through the requirements, then made my first pass. The lights came down. I let go of the transbrake. The feeling was amazing! I'd just run a 9.15 at 145 mph. What a thrill!" And at what cost? "I have all the receipts ... but I refuse to add them up."

Dale freely admits that he's always learning and is currently working on an air-to-water intercooler to ensure some 8-second terror. Jenna does live on.

0911chp_02_z 400 Chevy_small_block 3/13

Rumble Guts
Dale Westbrook knows his engines. He relies on experience and the proven efficiency, reliability, and durability of components priced moderately. He did, however, want the best foundation for it all, something not quite possible with a production cylinder case.

The crew at Southwest Engines in San Bernardino lapped the bores of the Motown block 0.030-inch, balanced the components, and honed all the necessary holes. The rotating assembly begins with an Eagle 4340 internally balanced forging and moves through 6.0-inch Eagle H-beams topped with JE inverted dome pistons designed to produce a blower-pal 8.5:1 compression ratio.

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The bumpstick is a Comp Cams solid roller (0.658/0.630 lift, 275/284 degrees duration at 0.050) and set to the motor with a Comp beltdrive system. AFR 210 fully CNC-ported heads are fitted with Manley stainless valves cinched to the aluminum castings with Comp 1.55-inch outside diameter 551-lb/in springs, titanium retainers, and 10-degree locks. Summit chromoly pushrods nudge Comp roller rockers.

Forced-air induction, especially when a carburetor is involved, must be approached by a proven method and components engineered specifically. Dale went to the Vrbancic brothers Carb Shop for the setup and dyno pulls. "Were it not for Bob, George, OJ, and Randy, I would still be struggling with the combination," Dale 'fesses. The blow-through ProCharger attacks the Carb Shop 950-cfm Holley atop the Edelbrock Victor Jr.

0911chp_04_z Wide_shot Of_a_400_small_block 5/13

Fuel arrives through a Magnafuel Pro Star pump. The big pieces are strained through a trusty K&N. Firing the cylinders under the elevated pressure produced by the supercharger requires an MSD Pro Billet distributor and the attendant gear. Dale built the exhaust headers and the 3-inch system; a Moroso 7-quart pan provides the heat-mitigating slippery stuff, and internal pressure is equalized by a Moroso vacuum pump.

With all systems go, the Vrbancics wrung 776 lb-ft at 5,800 rpm and a heady 932 hp at a sane 6,500 rpm from the 406. A Transmission Specialties Powerglide working with a spragless 4,500-stall torque converter, plus transbrake, deals the stout small-block's considerable largesse down an Inland Empire aluminum prop shaft to the 9-inch carrying a Currie spool, 3.70:1 gears, and 35-spline axleshafts.

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Lap Of Luxury
No all-race-car theme here. This is supposed to be a street car and one with at least the rudiments of comfort. Dale underwrote the process with a Painless harness, amended the engine/transmission monitoring system with a Painless loom, and braced the instrument panel with Auto Meters, including one for positive manifold pressure. Ron Mangus' Custom Auto Interiors in Rialto, California, did up the seats and panels in leather. "I just told him to do something cool, clean, and gray. Ron never lets me down."

0911chp_09_z Bfgoodrich Tires 10/13

Dale got with the program. He shucked the ancient minuscule (read dangerous) drum travesty for a Wilwood forged Dynalite four-caliper drag race ensemble at both ends (11.75 and 11.44-inches, respectively) of the pocket rocket. Would it look right with anything other than Weld hoops? Up front Pro Star 15x3.5 with no-name 165 skinnies; in the rear, 10-inch Pro Star's wrapped with fat BFG P325/50R15 Drag Radials.

The one thing that Dale was willing to discuss about his recalcitrant painter was color. It had to be some strain of yellow. "He showed me something called Toner Yellow. I just told him to go for it. Why not stand out for Jenna?" Other than the minimal cowl hood, the sheetmetal remains subtle and original.

0911chp_12_z 1964_chevy_nova Burnout 13/13

You can't be putting down this kind of grunt with an undercarriage made of toothpicks. Glenn Dick in Mentone, California, did all the rear chassis work mentioned and incorporated coilover dampers to set ride height and adjust bite. As the TCI front assembly was already in place, it afforded tubular control arms, new coil springs, and 2-inch drop spindles. Dale corrects the shoebox's trajectory with an ididit steering column paired with the TCI quick-ratio rack. All the attendant components are lighter and infinitely more useable than the original bean-counter garbage. Ready to rock, Tweety displaces but 2,959 pounds.



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