There was a time when Jeri Campbell liked cruising her 1963 Nova convertible – the one she and her husband, Damion, found a few years back in Kentucky. Jeri especially enjoyed driving down the road with the top down, wind in her hair, and hands lightly influencing the car’s course without a worry. Unfortunately, the worry part was ever-present, as the vintage Chevy would oftentimes leave her stranded on the side of the road due to mechanical issues. And on the occasions when the car was in full cooperation, Jeri didn’t much care for the temperamental manual brakes and stubborn non-power steering – to the point that she would let the car sit for months. Damion felt the pressure and knew something had to be done so his wife could enjoy driving the car again – in a reliable fashion.
An avid enthusiast himself, Damion had his own automotive jones to feed by way of his 1963 Pontiac LeMans and hitting a number of Ultimate Street Car Series events, attending SEMA, and competing in the 2013 Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational.
In early 2014, Damion’s horsepower addiction was finally satisfied (for now, anyway), making time to focus on Jeri’s ride and address the manual steering and brake issue. One thing led to another and before long the ’63 was completely under the knife. “With the car in pieces, new parts were being delivered daily,” recalls Damion. “After a couple of weeks, all new suspension was under the car and the engine mocked up in place. By mid-winter we had the car running, with just the bodywork needing to be addressed.”
Not Damion’s first rodeo, he’s very familiar with the term, “happy wife, happy life.” Jeri’s grin widened as the Nova’s progress began moving in high gear.
The tired small-block had run its course, and Jeri was ready to move up to something with a little more sauce and a ton more reliability. Damion tracked down a 5.3L LS and had the crew at AMS Racing Engines in West Allis, Wisconsin, machine the block to perfection. Chris Robbin tied in a set of GM LS6 aluminum heads and LS6 cam then assembled the mill with a boost-friendly 9.0:1 compression before greeting the mostly stock bullet with a Turbonetics 72mm turbocharger, set for either 5 or 15 psi of boost. Topline Design & Speed are responsible for the custom-built intercooler and Damion included a TiAL Sport wastegate and blow-off valve. An Aeromotive A1000 fuel pump feeds the thirsty LS and a Derale oil cooler works in cahoots with the AFCO three-row aluminum radiator backed with a single SPAL fan. Holley cast-iron manifolds rapidly evacuate spent fumes and meet up with a custom 2.5-inch exhaust concluded with pair of DynoMax mufflers.
In a unique division of horsepower output, the drop-top’s final tally gets split into two configurations: flip the dash’s toggle switch to the “Hers” position and 5 psi of boost garners up an attention-getting 500 hp; “His” ups the boost to 15 psi and unleashes 700 angry ponies that hits like a 36-inch Louisville Slugger.
Jeri prefers to keep life simple, so shifting duties are handed over to a 4L60E automatic transmission worked over by Don Oremus and backed up to a PATC 2,800-stall converter. A narrowed 12-bolt rearend stuffed with Strange 3.55 gears, Mark Williams axles, and a Detroit Truetrac diff capably accept the engine’s force, at any boost setting.
With Damion and Jeri’s healthy appetite for road course and autocross driving, the stock suspension was replenished with offerings from the aftermarket. TCI Engineering got the nod for their front stub, spindles, and A-arms, while their four-link system handles business out back. Viking adjustable dampers take up residence on all four corners, as do Brembo brakes straight off a 2012 Camaro (14-inch rotors, six-piston calipers up front and 14-inch rotors, four-piston calipers out back) hung from custom-made brackets. The stock steering system was tossed aside for a TCI Eng. Mustang II rack.
TSW 18x9 rollers accommodate Nitto NT05 275/35 rubber on all four corners, yet the boxy Chevy’s stingy rearward confines fought Damion’s every attempt to house the wide rear hides. “We had to cut open and rework the stock wheelhouses a little to make room for the bigger tire,” Damion admits.
The topless cockpit evokes a simple theme adorned with a few obvious necessities for track-day driving events. Topline Design & Speed erected a rollbar, which can be removed when just cruising is on the day’s agenda, yet a RideTech five-point harness is part of the mix as needed. Damion’s handiwork on the interior reflects a stock proposition with the exception of the Dakota Digital VHX dash, Grant steering wheel, B&M shifter, and Kenwood CD player.
Damion, his wife, daughters, and some very good friends pulled together to tackle the bodywork and extensive sanding process. Their tireless efforts contributed to the success in bringing the over-50-year-old sheetmetal back to a suitable canvas for Scott Lustig at Nagel Auto Body (Waukesha, Wisconsin) to douse the car in a brilliant sea of PPG Kona Blue. The outcome reflects the aggressive personality of Jeri’s ’63 as one of the most unique and quickest drop-top Novas east of the Mississippi.
And as Damion puts it, “now she has power brakes and power steering.”
|Owner:||Jeri and Damion Campbell|
|Vehicle:||1963 Nova SS Convertible|
|Type:||2001 GM 5.3L LS, Machine work by AMS Racing Engines, Built by Chris Robbin|
|Cylinder Heads:||GM LS6|
|Rotating Assembly:||GM Stock|
|Power-Adder:||Turbonetics 72mm turbo (5 or 15 psi boost)|
|Accessories:||AFCO aluminum radiator, SPAL fan|
|Exhasut:||Holley cast-iron manifolds, custom exhaust, DynoMax mufflers|
|Output:||500 hp (5 psi boost), 700 hp (15 psi boost)|
|Transmission:||GM 4L60E overdrive by Don Oremus; PATC 2,800-stall converter|
|Rear Axle:||12-bolt, Detroit Truetrac, Mark Williams axles, Strange 3.55 gears|
|Front Suspension:||TCI Engineering subframe, A-arms, and spindles; Viking springs and adjustable shocks|
|Rear Suspension:||TCI Engineering four-link, Viking springs and adjustable shocks|
|Brakes:||2012 Camaro Brembo 14-inch rotors, six-piston calipers front; 14-inch rotors, four-piston calipers rear|
|Wheels & Tires|
|Wheels:||TSW; 18x9 front, 18x9 rear|
|Tires:||Nitto NT05; 275/35 front, 275/35 rear|
|Rollbar:||Custom/removable by Topline Design & Speed|
|Air Conditioning:||Top down|
|Prep/bodywork:||Family, friends, and Scott Lustig|
|Paint:||PPG Kona Blue by Nagel Auto Body (Scott Lustig)|
|Front Splitter:||Aluminum by Topline Design & Speed|