The Chevy II came on the scene in 1962 and was an instant smash in the emerging economy car class. Not only was it rock-solid and reliable, but with the Corvair combined to sell nearly 620,000 units. This gave Chevy an unbeatable one-two punch in this market niche.
But while the Corvair was considered by many to be a sporty car with better-than-average handling (really—look up old road tests), the Chevy II was rather simple, a conventional, entry-level car designed to entice first-time buyers to Bow Tie dealerships. Handling was safe and predictable, but not what one would describe as sporting.
Enter Church Boys Racing from Ohio (churchboysracing.com). The gang there has adopted the early Chevy II Nova platform and transformed it from dowdy to dynamite. Simple bolt-ons is the name of the Church Boys Racing game, and it has a full complement of parts for your ’62-67 Nova, as well as tubular control arms for ’68-74 models.
This former six-cylinder ragtop had a host of new-for-’13 Church Boys parts on it: its latest power rack-and-pinion setup (made in Ohio), tubular upper control arms (which, among other things) change the geometry and add camber gain, a new style of front coilover shock that allows for a lot more travel for improved ride comfort, as well as improved handling. In the rear, there are new coilovers and a triangulated four link, which allows the use of a much wider tire. According to Chuck Church Jr., you can use the entire width of the stock wheel housing to fit wider, sticky tires (in this case, Nitto NT05 235/40R17 front, 255/40R17 rear).
We loved pretty much everything about this car, from its revamped bench seat and 17-inch American Racing Rally-style rims, to its comfort/grip tradeoff, to the fact that the parts are simple enough for most shade tree mechanics to install in a home garage. The only downside came when Church was out on our .92-mile section of the Streets of Willow racetrack. When the vent tube came off the fuel tank and gas started splashing down on the exhaust, it gave new meaning to the term hot rod. Fortunately, we had fire extinguishers at the ready and put out the blaze.
On The Track
This sweet ash-blue convertible started life with an inline six and a ’glide. It belonged to a high-school teacher and was billed as “The Wife’s Car.” Now sporting a gorgeous two-tone plush interior and bench seats, the six-banger has been supplanted by an LS1 backed with a 4L60E, and a 10-bolt with 3.36 rear gears. This little Nova wasn’t expected to “turn and burn” at birth, but had some good moments on the Streets of Willow track in the 21st century.
On the day before our testing, Church Boys did a fair bit of suspension tuning to rid the Nova of some unwanted oversteer. They quickly found out that while disconnecting the rear sway bar entirely helped, the Nova needed some light form of lean control to combat a slight feel of disconnect between front and rear. This was mostly apparent in the slalom and was seen as push at mid-corner and track out. Experiencing this at speed was unnerving at first but once it revealed itself, I reverted to the basics of “Brake, Turn, and when we’re finally headed down the track pretty darn straight ... Gas it GOOD” for my track laps. This kept the Nova centered and pointed down the track. I adapted as I didn’t want to be the one that had to explain an off-course, furrow-digging excursion with Chevy II.
For track use, I like steering to be precise and have about 2.5 turns lock-to-lock. I’m not fond of the current rack units used for aftermarket front subframes as most are too vague with a “soft” feel. I was very happy the steering wheel offered to me was my favored 15-inch diameter, as anything smaller would have made driving the car at speed quite difficult. At slow speeds and in the esses, I found the steering somewhat numb and slow, making turns difficult to navigate and predict.
This improved once speeds increased on faster and wider sweeping turns when the suspension could take a set and accept loading. I found by slowing my corner entry and preparing my hands on the wheel, I could get the Nova around and through, “looking” out of the turn earlier, and me on the throttle sooner. This wasn’t easy, mind you, as sliding the car wasn’t an option. I was making use of every inch of track and had no room for error.
If a way could be found to stuff a decent sized tire underneath a Nova, this model of Chevrolet would be the new Camaro. The lack of rubber was the primary factor limiting overall performance and quick times for the Church Boys Nova, and to get even tenths off the clock it meant every turn, each apex, my braking had to be spot-on. Any mistake or lapse in concentration meant precious seconds lost and none gained.
The secondary factor was this little nagging thought that if I got stupid and dropped a wheel off the track, there was a good probability it would suck to be me. No roll bar, a bench seat with little adjustment, lap belts with nary a shoulder harness, and an open-top car does not a good track combination make, and I made sure I didn’t overstep my welcome here. Ten-tenths wasn’t sought nor achieved, as this little Nova wasn’t built for racetrack use. On a cross-country cruise, however ... a resounding yes!
My recommendations for Church Boys would be to tighten up the steering feel, add a light rear bar so the car can respond as a single mass o’ metal again, and get the brakes a bit more linear in transition from initial application to smoke-producing lock-up as i walked a fine line here at times. All of these improvements would make this car a delight to drive on any twisty back road.
- Mary Pozzi
On The Road
This was by far the best car Church Boys has ever brought to our Suspension & Handling Challenge. From a driving standpoint, the steering wheel was just the right diameter, the custom-reupholstered bench seat was supremely comfortable (though not as supportive as race seats for athletic maneuvers), and the powertrain combo (LS1/4L60E) was pretty hard to beat if you don’t mind an automatic transmission—and we don’t (except on track).
Everything about the Church Boys Racing entry just felt right. The ride was supremely comfortable. They’ve happened upon a near ideal combination of spring rates and shock absorbers, etc. On the street portion of our test, we found a truly awful section of road that was smooth on one side of the lane, but broken up for a few hundred feet on the other. Driving with one set of wheels over the rippled, choppy pavement, the Nova never lost its composure. Was it as good as the IRS-equipped ’13 Camaro SS in this regard? No, but it was about a hundred times better than a stock deuce.
The full-size steering wheel allowed the latest rack from CBR to shine. Unlike a too-small wheel, this one showed the rack to be not too fast, not too slow—just right. Praise can also be offered for the coilovers, which delivered an ideal combination of ride comfort and control.
We were very pleased with the way the car performed for us on the street. It was a delicious combination of ride and grip. While it lagged behind the new F-body on the road course, this former econo-box surpassed the Camaro SS on the skidpad (0.89g vs. 0.88g) and equaled it on the slalom (45.5 mph), a testament to the inherent goodness of the parts Church Boys Racing is offering. Were the car equipped with shoulder harnesses and either a roll bar or hard top, Super Chevy’s Stig (Mary) would have gotten a lot more aggressive with her driving. She probably could have lopped seconds off her lap times.
While the CBR Nova wasn’t the quickest car around our Streets of Willow circuit, it had a tremendous level of grip, and we would not have minded driving it anywhere. Those in the market for a cost-effective, suspension soluton for their early Chevy II would be wise to consider this setup.
|Church Boys Racing|
|Type: 2002 5.7L LS1|
|Fuel Delivery: GM Fuel Injection|
|Clutch or Stall: Stock|
|Rearend: Factory 10-bolt, with 3:36 gears and a posi|
|Front Suspension: bolt-on CBR tubular control arms|
|Steering: New CBR bolt–in rack-and-pinion conversion (3 turns lock to lock)|
|Springs: 450lbs, 2-inch drop|
|Spindles: Stock GM|
|Shocks: CBR, double adjustable|
|Sway Bar: 1-inch diameter, 295lb rating|
|Brakes: Right Stuff, CBR signature series 13-inch rotors, 4 piston calipers|
|Rear Suspension: CBR triangulated 4-link|
|Shocks: CBR, double adjustable|
|Sway Bar: 3/4-inch diameter, 222lb rating|
|Brakes: Right Stuff, CBR signature series 12-inch rotors, 4-piston calipers|
|Wheels & Tires|
|Wheels: American Racing VN327 Rally 17x8 front and rear|
|Tires: Nitto NT05, P235/40R17 front and P255/40R17 rear|
|Cost of Suspension:|
|$5,808.55 without brakes|
|LF: 815, RF: 930|
|LR: 745, RR: 708|
|F: 54.6, R: 45.4|
|Skid Pad: CW 0.89g, CCW 0.89g, Average 0.89g|
|Slalom: Best 45.5 mph, Average of 5 runs 45.5 mph|
|Road Course: Best 1:09.36, Average of 5 runs 1:10.06|
|Skid Pad: CW 0.88g, CCW 0.88g, Average 0.88g|
|Slalom: Best 45.5 mph, Average of 5 runs 45.5 mph|
|Road Course: Best 1:05.56, Average of 5 runs 1:06.20|