For Pete Vaught, this project started innocently enough with his purchase of a '67 Chevy II worth a mere $1,400. That was back around 2003. Pete had always been a street rod kind of guy, yet harbored a long-term weakness for the second-generation Deuce's formally handsome two-door sedan body style. Hardtops are OK, but he likes the sedan. His original plan for the classic little notchback was simply to whip it into shape to serve as his then-14-year-old daughter's eventual first daily driver. From a sheetmetal perspective, that build would have meant nothing much more intensive than some new floorpans and rear quarters.
Note that we said "would have." The first major bump to the complexity of Pete's build came as a result of his stumbling across an article on Roy Pigford's over-the-top '66 Nova two-door post car, a Great 8 contender at Detroit's Autorama sometime around 2005. "I knew I couldn't build a car of that caliber, but I got a lot of ideas," Pete said. Revved up by that inspiration, he then bolted his Chevy II shell to a rotisserie and got to work: "I did all the grinding, filling, and sanding, trying to get the bottom as slick as the outside of the car." Needless to say, this was a lot of work, and he finally had the Deuce almost ready for paint when the plan got changed yet again—but this time the change in direction wasn't of Pete's doing.
On Good Friday (April 10) 2009, a spring tornado paid a brief but destructive visit to Pete's hometown of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, wiping out his house and flattening his workshop atop three cars, including the Chevy II. Rooting through the rubble after the storm's passage, he found his little sedan's roof all bent and deformed, which gave him an idea. "The top was mashed down real bad," he said. "At that point, I decided to chop the top, since we had to put another on anyway."
Pete brought in Rod Arwood to chop 2 full inches out of the new top height, which—of course—also required cutting down some of the glass. Cutting the flat-side glass was probably pretty simple. "The back glass was laid forward, and we didn't have to cut it," Pete said. "The windshield had to have 2 inches cut off the top, which was not so easy. We broke two before we got a good one." Looking at the project's sleek profile, we'd have to say the chop was worth the effort and expense.
Speaking of effort and expense, the project now rides on a chassis that in no way resembles its workmanlike factory beginnings. Front and rear suspensions are now from Heidts, and the nose wears a Mustang II setup with rack-and-pinion steering, while out back is Heidts' full early-Nova four-link kit (with polished stainless steel links). Heidts coilovers reside at each corner, adjusted for that perfect rake and poise over Schott Octane rims that partially hide 11-inch Wilwood discs in each wheelwell.
By now you've probably spotted the big, long six-banger that longitudinally fills the fabulously smoothed engine bay. "I've always been a six-cylinder fan," Pete said. "Back in the '60s and '70s, I used to drag race six-cylinders … I got this Nova and decided I wanted to do something different [from a typical V-8.]" The 292 inline-six was commonly found in UPS delivery trucks and, when they were being phased out, Pete and his nephew Randy Vaught went and bought "about five of them and got a couple good ones out of the bunch." Both Randy and Pete's son, Donnie, are machinists and contributed greatly to the project. Randy rebuilt the big truck six, boring it to 3.950 inches for some TRW 9.0:1 pistons and ended up with about 303 ci of final displacement. A 0.648-lift Ultradyne roller cam adds considerable life to the stovebolt, as does a pair of two- barrel Weber 44IDF downdraft carbs atop a custom- modified Clifford manifold. Snorting through Tom Langdon cast headers, the combo churns out a healthy 328 hp and 383 lb-ft—and looks and sounds great in the process.
While Pete, Randy, and Donnie completed much of the build themselves, they wisely left the custom interior and bodywork to specialists. That leather-skinned cabin is the custom-crafted handiwork of Paul Atkins Interiors (Hanceville, AL). The buckets are Procar (Scat) Elite 2000s, and the rear is hand-built to match. The ultra-sanitary six-gauge cluster is from Classic Instruments' All American series, and the steering wheel is a Monaco from Billet Specialties. And, yes, there's air conditioning to deal with the Tennessee humidity, thanks to Vintage Air. In all, this is a modern, flowing interior matched only by the equally detailed and pin-neat exterior bodywork.
Sure, the most obvious body mod is that sleek, chopped top, but Gene Arms and Ashley Johnson also get credit for the shaved door handles, cleaned-up cowl area (no wipers), filled and smoothed trunk lid, and similarly smoothed bumpers. Their subtle two-tone finish came from the DuPont Hot Hues collection, with the colors being Hammered Lead over Nickel Silver, separated by some graphics by Gary Mizer. And notice that the whole super-clean exterior is utterly devoid of any badges.
In the end, the build—after all its false starts and revisions—took about nine years and was finally wrapped up in 2012. Among its many honors to date, at last summer's Super Chevy show in Memphis, Pete's six-powered Deuce collected the Outstanding Craftsmanship and Best Nova awards. So his hard work is certainly paying off, leaving us to wonder what his daughter ended up with for her first car.