Virtually every Chevrolet enthusiast we’ve ever met has one, two, or a book full of reasons why they love the particular model they own. Some are new cars, some purchased running and complete, but the vast majority began and continue to blossom as what we call “projects.” Raymond St. Julian is no different, and his project 1966 Nova provides a mix of old and a touch of new.
Going at his own pace, Raymond took four years to transform this Nova into his dream, but his love affair with the classic Chevy II stems from decades ago. “It started back in 1971 when I bought my first Nova, a two-door post model I used to drive to work,” said Raymond. “It was a rust bucket, but provided good transportation.” Unfortunately, the gas crisis of the early ’70s caused him to park, and then part with, the Nova.
About 10 years ago, while out for a cruise, Raymond saw some street rods and started thinking about the old deuce. “I said, ‘Boy, I wish I had my old Nova,’ but I left it at that. Six months later I mentioned to my wife, La Von, that I would like to find an old car and I got the ‘I don’t think so’ look so I forgot about it—but I was always looking,” he admitted with a chuckle.
“About a year later I saw an ad that read ‘For Sale, Nice 1966 Nova hardtop, daily driver with A/C.’” Raymond headed to the used car lot and phoned the owner, but there was someone blazing the same path to purchase it. Nevertheless, Raymond picked up his son and went to investigate.
“When we got to the lot, the owner invited me to take a look it. He said the other guy never showed up. I asked him in a soft voice if he was selling it. He said yes and in a loud voice I said, ‘Yes. I want it!’”
The Nova was in pretty good shape, needing only minor repairs, and with Raymond close to retirement it would make a great project to keep him busy. His mind was racing with the possibilities of cool drivelines to replace the factory six-cylinder and manual tranny. Of course, the reward at the end of the rainbow would be driving and enjoying the Nova and sharing good times with his family. The Nova project sat idle in the garage from 1996 until 2003 when Raymond started swinging wrenches.
Goodrich Auto Service cleaned up the body and applied the Ermine White paint, while Raymond and the crew at Baytown Auto Upholstery worked their magic on the interior. In the name of comfort and style, they maintained the stock-like 1966 Deluxe cloth and vinyl look on a set of ’00 Pontiac Sunfire seats, and added Classic Industries door panels to match. Next, they modified a ’64 Impala SS console to fit, refurbished the armrests, and installed GM factory Soft-Ray Green-tint glass. Not completely stock, the interior has a B&M Quick Silver shifter and Auto Meter Sport Comp gauges. Tunes come from a system comprised of a Kenwood head unit with JBL speakers.
Wanting that V-8 rumble, Raymond yanked the six-banger and installed a rowdy 406 small-block with a 280 Isky cam, Pro 1 Dart heads, an Edelbrock Performer intake, and a 750 Holley. The mill breathes through Sanderson headers and a full exhaust with Flowmaster mufflers. He estimates output at 475 horsepower.
The small-block is backed with a 2,600-stall converter and a 700-R4 overdrive built by Wendell’s Transmission Shop. The 10-bolt rear is stuffed with 3.73 gears, the perfect compromise for performance and streetability.
Sticking with the street/strip theme, Raymond installed a set of frame connectors and CalTracs traction bars, along with American Racing 17s wrapped in Kumho rubber. The Nova’s smallish wheel openings are stuffed with 235s in the front and 245s in the rear. He completed the look by dropping the Nova 2.5 inches in the front and 1.5 inches in the rear.
When we asked Raymond if he’d change anything, he initially said, “No way. I wanted to keep the car as close to the factory look as possible, but have a muscular appearance.” But while he’s happy with the 406, he didn’t rule out an LS swap one day.
It was a thrill for us to spend time with Raymond, who is humble and really cherishes his ride. He is a proud owner, but was quick to give thanks to Dennis Faerman, Raymond Martin, Wendell Franklin, Isidro Garcia, Chris Goodridge, his son Raymond II, Rudy Chambers, Harry McCoy, Joseph St. Julian and, of course, his wife, La Von, who helped turn Raymond’s dream into a rolling reality and reunite him with his favorite classic Chevy.