While always a fine daydream, the act of totally refurbishing dead or nearly dead Detroit iron is always a much more expensive proposition than assuming someone else’s poor judgment and failed process. That’s exactly how Jim Brink approached this ’67 Nova SS. He’d noodled no less than four LS engine swaps, so the fiasco under the Nova’s hood merely called for him to set it straight.
His repertoire numbers at least six previous full-blown consorts, including a ’68 Firebird, ’67 Nova, ’73 Trans Am, ’79 Camaro, and a ’66 Mustang. He’s currently in the throes of resurrection Number Seven, this one concerning a ’73 Camaro.
But let’s reverse a little. “It was January 2010 and I was in the market for a new project [Number Six],” Jim says. “While perusing Craigslist looking for a likely candidate, I came across this Nova. It’s a real SS car, and the previous owner had started an LS1/4L60E swap that quite frankly was a mess. Since it still had the stock front end, the LS1 was a tight fit. The exhaust manifold was up against the shock tower. It had solid engine-to-frame mounts. The transmission crossmember was held by two 5/16-inch bolts. The electric fuel pump wasn’t plumbed with any type of bypass/return. The wiring harness was hacked beyond recognition.
“I tried starting the car. The wires got hot. The fuel pump groaned, but the engine would not crank. I’ve done LS swaps into different vehicles, so even in light of what I saw, I took this Nova home.”
His previous fieldwork gave him confidence. He mentally drew the plan and got proactive. He pulled the engine and transmission and set them aside. He continued stripping the front end from the Nova. “I knew the production design was marginal at best so in went the Heidts clip. Same story for the rear. In went the four-link.” And so on.
Gestation required only about a year. Jim handled a lot of the work himself and had the guts to sit there and run the tally at the very end of it. His payout was in the $25,000-$30,000 range, but you know it could’ve been twice that amount. Naturally, he was selective. Rather than a sculptured interior layout or a mega-buck body massage, precedence was set in functional changes. And there’s a good reason for that. Jim isn’t going to be slinging his dusky cutie around some road course or threading it through a line of sick orange cones like his life depended on it. No, he’s just going to drive . . . to places like the Car Craft Nationals in St. Paul, the Hot Rod Power Tour, and to local venues. He’s racked more than 3,000 on the mile-o-meter so far.
His take? “It’s a fun car to drive. The 3,200-stall speed converter makes standing starts very lively. The Heidts stuff works well. The 4L60E makes highway driving a breeze. [I got] 22 mpg to the Car Craft show and back.” And one other thing from Jim: “It’s the kind of car I can hand the keys to my wife and, without any special instructions, let her drive it anywhere.” Ah, yes. Maybe it’s not the secret to marital bliss, but a little diplomacy goes a long way.
Hi-Tech Motorsport in Elk River, Minnesota, brought the ’00 LS1 to an actual displacement of 350 ci (346 stock) via a 0.005-inch hone. They polished the journals on the nodular iron crankshaft, knocked in 11:1 Diamond forgings with file-fit rings, and pinned them to Eagle H-beam connecting rods. Stock LS2 timing gear locks cam to crank. The lower end is secured by a 5.5-quart Auto Kraft sheetmetal swap oil pan and pickup in league with a blueprinted LS1 oil pump. Valve actuation ramps off the mild COMP hydraulic camshaft that features 219/225 degrees duration at 0.050- and 0.590-inch lift across the board. It imposes on COMP Magnum 3/8-inch diameter pushrods that bump LS1 rocker arms. A quick scour of the Internet provided AFR 205 cylinder heads. All the original equipment was untouched, and there was no further modification to the CNC-machined castings. Hi-Tech added an LS6 intake manifold and fuel injectors, sucking through a K&N cone-type filter. To make the motor run, Howell Engine Developments in Marine City, Michigan, provided the wiring harness and the ECU. Stock coil packs advance the amperage. After the explosion, the exhaust waste shuttles through Sanderson mid-length 1.75-inch primaries into a mandrel-bent 2.5-inch system plumbed with Dynomax Super Turbo mufflers. To proof the combo, Hi-Tech rode the chassis dyno, tuning, tweaking, and producing 382 hp and 366 lb-ft of torque at the tarmac. Over in Wood Dale, Illinois, Finish Line Transmissions was readying one of its Level 3 4L60E automatics, fixed with a 3,200-rpm Yank billet converter. Power Components in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota, whipped up a steady-rollin’ driveshaft equipped with toughie 1350 U-joints. The end of the line is a John’s Industries (www.9inchfactory.com) stock-width 9-inch carrying 3.50:1 gears on a Truetrac differential turning 31-spline Moser Engineering axleshafts.
Before he did anything else, Jim stripped out all of the hacked-up wiring and put up a Painless system. He says the interior is typical Nova SS and was already in the car when he bought it. He modernized the dashboard with a Thunder Road custom insert and stocked it with Auto Meter gauges, including a programmable speedometer. A Lecarra Mark 8 steering wheel presses down on the ididit tilt column.
As part of the front end change-out, Jim happily fabbed the inner fender panels, creating a much more sanitary engine bay and a clean slate from which to reflect. The sheetmetal was more or less neat and unruffled but the red paint on it was not. Jim scuffed the body supreme and dragged it over to Tim Kasper in Burtrum, Minnesota, for the SEM Hot Rod Satin Black. The suede job is a disparate double tap: aesthetically it creates a no-nonsense drama and on the pragmatic side it means never having to wax your car. Powdercoating and metal polishing was conducted under the auspice of Douglas Metal Finishing in Alexandria, Minnesota.
Rather than something from the big-brake makers of record, Jim mixed and matched 13- and 12-inch discs pirated from a C5, combining them with the hubs and caliper adapters from (Tobin at) KORE3 Industries. KORE3 also brought the e-brake and rear caliper adapters. The system is plied by a Wilwood master cylinder with a 7/8-inch bore. Points of light blinking in an otherwise sepia setting emanate from polished 18x8 American Eagle Series 225 wheels fitted with Bridgestone RE760 Sport rubber, 225/40 and 245/45, respectively.
Jim happily eliminated the original suspension and proceeded to stiffen the frameless body with a Heidts Superide II front clip (tubular control arms, coilovers, 3/4-inch antisway bar) and Heidts spindles. He continued the scheme with a Heidts four-link suspension, coilovers, 3/4-inch bar, and full-perimeter frame connection that is integral with the four-link assembly. CHP