For Bobby Murphy, it was a simple goal—build the best Nova around. For some that would've meant throwing down a blank check on a shop's counter and waiting in earnest to see what happens. But for the man on a budget like Bobby, it would require some planning, and a fair amount of his own blood, sweat, tears, and time to make happen.
The car Bobby started with was originally sold in Virginia, and had been mothballed for about 30 years. He spotted it in a bargain trader mag being sold by Dan Bernard, a known Nova enthusiast and dealer. It was Butternut Yellow with a small-block, four-speed, and 10-bolt rear. The asking price was $5,300, and Bobby didn't hesitate to drop his money on the table and haul the car from Raleigh, North Carolina, back to his home in Richlands, North Carolina. This was in 2002.
There are not a lot of Novas in my area, so I wanted to have the best one around.
The Nova sat for a couple of years, then in 2005 it was disassembled and soda blasted clean. Bobby still didn't have any sort of plan, so it sat some more, and the now bare sheetmetal rusted over. By 2007 a plan had been formed, and the Nova was blasted clean once more, then mounted on a rotisserie so work could begin.
First up was the bodywork. Kenneth Lee at Torchs Custom Fabrication handled replacing the Nova's quarter-panels, door skins, floors, trunk pan, rockers, fenders and sail panel. Even though the Nova had been really clean and solid when Bobby first bought it, sitting for an additional two years with only a light coat of primer had allowed numerous rust pinholes to form all over the car. Instead of trying to patch them, it was decided full sheetmetal replacement was the best course of action. While installing all the new metal, Kenneth added a set of Detroit Speed & Engineering mini-tubs to fit some wider rubber in the back. Then all the body seams were welded and smoothed for a mirror-like finish.
During this process, the Nova's stock front suspension and subframe were cut out and pitched, with a new Chris Alston's Chassisworks front clip with two-inch drop spindles and Varishock coilovers being bolted in. On the ends are Wilwood 13-inch rotors, clamped on by four-piston calipers. Out back, the factory leaf springs were swapped out for a full Total Cost Involved four-link rear suspension hanging a Moser 12-bolt rear, cushioned by Pro Style coilovers and Wilwood four-piston brakes on the ends.
Once the body was tip-top, it went to painter Shawn Curtis, who spent months blocking the Chevy II till its panels were as smooth as silk and the perfect steel canvas for paint. After laying down numerous coats of primer, Shawn sprayed the car in PPG Atomic Orange. From there the car returned to Bobby's home shop, where the final reassembly started with the help of friend Jim North and Bobby's son Robert.
First up were the engine and trans. P-M Performance Racing Engines in Jacksonville, North Carolina, built up an all aluminum 572 big-block using Dart Pro 1 heads, Callies 4.500-inch stroke crank, JE 9:1 pistons, a custom ground Comp hydraulic roller cam, and topped with a Dart intake and Holley 4150 carb flowing 850 cfm. The combo makes 683 hp and 643 lb-ft of torque. The trans is a Tremec TKO five-speed from Keisler Engineering. The aforementioned Moser 12-bolt is spun with a three-inch diameter driveshaft, and has 4.10 gears inside with limited slip. Finishing up the rolling gear are a set of Bonspeed Wastegate wheels, 17x8 front, 18x10 rear, wrapped in Michelin Pilot rubber.
Inside the seating arrangements are four bucket seats pulled from a '00 Volvo, then recovered by interior ace Randy Johnson in a two-tone light sand/almond morocco leather pattern. The door panels and center console were similarly covered to match. For readouts the original sweep dash was replaced with a full compliment of Auto Meter Ultra gauges. Cruising tunes are handled by a JVC Touchscreen head unit connected to Rockford Fostgate speakers front and rear.
"There are not a lot of Novas in my area," explains Bobby, "so I wanted to have the best one around."
While early Novas continue to be popular with builders across America, the clean, smooth, straightforward design of Bobby Murphy's car helps it stand apart, and makes it something every Nova lover and Chevy guy can enjoy.