Car guys come in many shades and flavors. You have the resto crew that stresses over the right bolt heads or finish on a part that no one will ever see. Then you have the group that likes to chop up, modify, and build a better mousetrap. Others like to put something together that takes that tight curve deeper, or brakes a little harder. You get the idea—lots of variety. Pennsylvanian Brian Crowe slots into the group that likes his toys modified. He is also one that continually likes to up the performance game, as long as it’s wrapped up in ’60’s Chevy sheetmetal, and he has a particular soft spot for early Novas. With a few examples already tucked away in the garage, back in 2009, he went looking for something hard-core but streetable, an over-the-top Nova.
Brian had, over the years, attended numerous car shows in New Jersey and Pennsylvania where a particularly aggressive looking ’66 Nova would make the occasional appearance. “I remember seeing it back in the early ’90s. I used to run into it at the York Street Rod Show and would also see it in Wildwood every fall,” he recalls. That nasty Nova really left an impression on him. It was the embodiment of what he was looking for, so it didn’t take long before he picked up the phone to inquire about the car, and if it was for sale. Not really knowing whom to turn to—or where to start—he placed a call to Lonny Gordon, the owner of East Coast Muscle Cars in Wrightsville, Pennsylvania, to ask if he knew about the car. Not only did Lonny know about the Nova, he also knew the owner. After a flurry of phone calls and some intense negotiations, Brian and Lonny loaded up the trailer and headed towards southern Maryland to look at the car.
This particular Nova had a somewhat storied existence. It may have left the factory back in 1966 with a rather pedestrian 327 mill, however, in the early ’80s it went under the torch and was transformed into a Pro Mod race car. Built on a 2x3-inch box-tube chassis, the aggressive stance and massive BDS blower sticking through the hood transformed the lowly SS into a completely different animal. It saw plenty of track duty well into the early ’90s, until it was converted for street/show car duty. The visual memories that Brian had of the Nova were of it when it was that thinly disguised black street beast. The memories didn’t quite line up with what he encountered when he reached southern Maryland. The Nova was totally disassembled, with parts scattered everywhere. Everything was in a rather sad state and in desperate need of some automotive love. The poor condition of the Nova didn’t faze him—the owner was willing to sell it and he wanted it. From Lonny’s perspective, since his shop was going to resuscitate it, was far more realistic. He states, “You could see the potential there. You could tell the car was done back in the ’80s, and I don’t want to say it was rough—but it was rough.” With everything loaded on the trailer, it was driven directly to Lonny’s shop for the rebuild. He points out, “My mission was to put the car back on the road. We wanted to keep the hard-core, badass look, but tone down the race car look a bit.”
Once the crew at the shop started digging into the car, the first thing they sorted out was the all-steel body. As the paint was peeled back, all the hidden carnage inflicted over the years at the dragstrip was meticulously repaired, with particular attention paid to the fit and finish of all the body panels. The color choice was simple—keep it black. Lonny had suggested an all-black car, while Brian wanted some graphics. This was where Dane Geesy, owner of DGeez Graphics in York, Pennsylvania, came into the picture. Since Brian wanted a splash of color, Dane created a number of renderings with various options for him to choose from. Once that decision was finalized, all the paintwork, including the graphics, was completed at East Coast Muscle Cars. After its new clothes were applied, the task of putting all the trim back proved to be a real handful. As a result of the many boxes filled with scattered parts that came with the car, finding all the exterior trim was a challenge. Luckily, most of the pieces were in exceptionally good condition when found.
While the body was being worked on, there was also activity on the powerplant side. Under the fiberglass hood now resides an engine combination that started from a clean sheet of paper. Originally, part of the purchase included a disassembled big-block that was supposed to be ready to install. While that was the initial plan, after an evaluation of its actual freshness, the decision was made to toss it aside and start with a new bare block and build up from that. They contracted Racekrafters in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to assemble a streetable big-block to slide underneath that BDS blower. Displacing 540 cubic inches, the mega-sized Chevy mill features a Callies forged crankshaft and JE forged pistons with a boost-friendly 8.0:1 compression ratio. A pair of Dart aluminum cylinders heads combined with a Cam Motion camshaft, which features 268 degrees of duration on the intake side and 279 degrees on the exhaust with a max lift of 0.780-inches on the intake and 0.750-inches on the exhaust side, orchestrate the explosions.
While the engine is impressive on its own, it’s impossible to not see the obvious with that BDS unit sticking out of the hood. The imposing suitcase-sized blower is a remnant of the race car days that Brian decided to carry over. As a result, it was sent back to BDS in Whittier, California, for a full refresh. Running at 25 psi, this pressure cooker is fed by a pair of Holley 1,050-cfm carburetors crowned with a custom-built air cleaner housing fabricated by the East Coast crew. An MSD Pro-Billet distributor and a 7AL box ignite the forced air/fuel mixture this combination delivers. At the other end of the combustion cycle, spent gases exit via a set of custom 2 3/8-inch headers mated to 4-inch pipes running back to a pair of Borla mufflers. Behind the blown big-block sits a Lenco four-speed gearbox mated to a McLeod bellhousing that wraps a McLeod RXT clutch and a McLeod pressure plate. Power to the rear is transmitted via a Strange driveshaft bolted to a narrowed Dana 60 sporting 4.10 gears. What does all of this stout hardware translate to? On the dyno, at the rear wheels, the Nova laid down 1,250 horses and 1,035 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpms.
While the intoxicating power satisfies some of the senses, the aggressive stance clearly feeds the visual. That wicked presence is achieved by a bookended complement of Strange hardware. Up front, the suspension system features Strange struts, adjustable shocks, and a 6-inch drop spindle. Finishing it off is a set of Strange disc brakes and calipers, which are visible through the spokes of the 15x3.5 American Racing Torq-Thrust wheels wrapped in Moroso DS-2 26x4.5x15 tires. At the rear, the recipe is the same. Strange shocks and springs with a set of Strange disc brakes and calipers all hidden behind massive 15x14 Weld Racing wheels stuffed with Mickey Thompson 33x18.5x15 ET-Street tires.
The last part of the build was the interior. Since this was, in many ways, still a race car, the interior was somewhat on the spartan side with plenty of exposed aluminum panels. The goal was to refurbish most of what was there but tone it down. As a result, many of the aluminum panels were covered in black Ultraleather, which also included custom door panels. Since this was going to be a street-legal car, a set of proper gauges was also needed. That problem was solved with the fabrication of a new instrument cluster with an assortment of Auto Meter Phantom gauges. Not only did this dress up the interior, it also allowed for all the wiring to be hidden. The last pieces of the interior added consisted of the installation of some carpet and a pair of Kirkey Racing aluminum seats, also covered in leather.
The entire project took just over two years to complete. Once it was wrapped up, Brian took to the open road. His wish to have a street-legal, over-the-top Nova had been fulfilled, however, as you can guess, driving this beast can be a white-knuckle experience. Brian explains, “I’m not afraid of driving it, but the lack of visibility is what this car is notorious for. Because of the blower, there is a lot of blockage looking out through the windshield. You need a person in the passenger seat to watch the right side of the car.” If you think this was a potential deal breaker, guess again. East Coast Muscle Cars is currently working on a pair of similar Chevys for Brian’s wife, Cindi, and his son Austin.