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1968 Chevrolet Nova - The Nuclear Option

Ken Clarke's Weapon of Mass Construction

Dale Amy Mar 24, 2014
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Way back in the hippie days, I was a car-crazed teen in a working-class neighborhood that was seldom prowled by anything more potent than, say, a Dart 340 Swinger. So when an occasional big-block Chevy II or Nova would swagger through town with its solid lifters clattering out a clear challenge to any and all takers, we locals—whether Chevy fans or not—pretty much considered it to be among the heaviest artillery of street racing. There was just something mechanically menacing and drop-dead serious about a stiffly geared little Deuce packing 396 solid-cam cubes and rolling on necessarily fat aftermarket rear rubber. And if such an L78 Nova was heavy artillery, then Ken Clark’s 489-inch project is nothing short of a tactical nuke.

 Chevrolet Nova Pro Street Front Quarter Top Hood 2/17

Ken is clearly and unabashedly a Nova guy. He already owned twelve of them—including a ’66 SS, a ’67 SS, and two ’66 wagons—but thought his collection of X-bodies was incomplete without a third-generation example: “So I started looking for a ’68 Chevy II,” Ken said. “Found one, but it was rough, and started looking for donor cars. I gave a 12-pack of beer for the first two junkers I found but still didn’t have enough parts. Found two more cars—paid $250 for a ’70 and a ’69 four-door. Used the ’70 body and parts from three other cars to build this one.”

Sounds like decent Novas are hard to come by in the vicinity of Ken’s hometown of Brandon, Mississippi. It wasn’t that his three ’70 and one ’69 donors were rusty; in fact, Ken says they were quite solid—at least what remained of them after various collisions terminated their driving lives. One was totally wrecked in front, another had serious rear damage, but all had some salvageable sections to contribute to the project puzzle, either in metal form or in the way of interior and other soft trim (much of which came from the ’69 four-door.) Guess that’s why they call them donor cars.

Mr. Clark’s scavenging and reassembly perseverance has certainly paid off, resulting—after an obviously major construction project—in what we might think of as a textbook example of nitrous Nova nastiness, though it sure didn’t start off that way: The primary ’70 donor car originally trundled out of the factory with a 230-cube six underhood. And, originally, the build got under way with the thought of small-block 400 power, but that, according to Ken, “just didn’t do it!”

1968 Chevrolet Nova Pro Street Engine 9/17

Ken’s build partner in this full-scale jigsaw puzzle was Tags Hot Rod Shop of Brandon, Mississippi, a shop that builds a lot of dirt, sprint, and drag cars, and is run by Bob Taggart with sons Ryan and Chris. Ken relied on the Taggarts for various aspects of the build, including any major metal fabrication, such as his Nova’s back-half chassis work that now uses four bars to locate a Ford 9-inch axle crammed with 4.10 gears and a spool. Obviously, to allow the rear 18.5x29 x15 Mickey Thompsons to stay within the fenders on 12-inch-wide rims, it’s been tubbed, too. The Nova now rides 4 inches lower than stock out back and 2 inches up front, thanks to Belltech spindles.

 Chevrolet Nova Pro Street Engine Front 10/17

Chris Taggart built the project’s current engine, starting from a 454 block, now with 4.280 bore and a stroke of 4.250 for 489 beefy cubic inches that threw 700 hp at 7,000 rpm, along with 600 lb-ft at 4,500 at the engine dyno. And then there’s a 190-300 progressive Big Shot kit from NOS, plated beneath a 1050-cfm Gary Williams 4500 carb.

1968 Chevrolet Nova Pro Street Interior Steering Wheel 11/17

But it’s not all built for speed; there’s also some comfort to be found in the black and silver interior, skinned by Melly’s Upholstery, and with a custom console fabricated by Bob Taggart. There’s a Kicker 7000 amp in the trunk that faces the herculean task of overcoming the big-block’s rumble through a Sony head unit, 6-inch drivers, and a Punch 12-inch subwoofer.

Ken is particularly pleased with the finish embellishing his latest Nova’s clean lines. Jamie Berry does Ken’s painting and gets credit for the Nova’s subtle ghost rally stripes atop the Candy Brandy Wine paint. Up front, those stripes glide over a Harwood 4-inch cowl hood that proved necessary to clear the lofty big-block.

1968 Chevrolet Nova Pro Street Rear Side 17/17

Most of us might stop there and take time to savor our 13th Nova, but Ken has plans to yank this one’s 489 in favor of a 632-inch really big-block. And those plans aren’t pipe dreams: One of his other Novas—a ’67 SS—already has a 632 incher onboard, in front of a 6-speed manual gearbox, so he apparently has both the means and method worked out. Let’s hear it for the arms race!

“I gave a 12-pack of beer for the first two junkers I found but still didn’t have enough parts. Found two more cars—paid $250 for a ’70 and a ’69 four-door. Used the ’70 body and parts from three other cars to build this one.”


Engine and Drivetrain
Block 454, iron
CrankshaftEagle stroker
Pistons SRP, 12.7:1 compression
CamshaftLunati, 0.705/0.710 lift; 320/320 duration
Power-Adder NOS Big Shot 190-300 progressive nitrous
Cylinder Heads Brodex BB2
Intake Manifold Edelbrock Victor Jr.
Fuel System Barry Grant BG200 pump
Exhaust Hooker 21/8 x 31/2 headers; 3-inch MagnaFlow exhaust
Transmission TH400, TCI Pro-X 3800-stall converter
Rearend Ford 9-inch, 4.10 gears, spool
IgnitionMSD Pro-Billet
GaugesAutoMeter Ultra-Lite

Suspension and Chassis
Front Suspension
SpindleBelltech, 2-inch drop
ShocksLakewood 90/10
SpringsMoroso Trick
Brakes Wilwood 12-inch disc
Wheels Weld AlumaStar 2.0, 15x4
Tires Mickey Thompson Flame, 24.5x15
Rear Suspension
Shocks Koni adjustable
SpringsAFCO coilover
Control Arms Custom 4-link
Brakes Wilwood 13-inch disc
Wheels Weld AlumaStar 2.0, 15x12
Tires Mickey Thompson Flame, 18.5x29x15



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