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This 1966 Chevy Nova Went From Catastrophe to Killer Custom Street Machine

Schalk and Awe: Steve Schalk’s decade-long Nova project build threatened to kill him, but instead it made him smarter

Chris Shelton Aug 25, 2015
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It isn’t the nearly 600 cubic inches of engine that makes Steve Schalk’s Nova stand out. Nor is it the chopped top (bet you didn’t see that coming). Those things give his Nova incredible presence but the thing that makes the car amazing is its story.

You see, this car’s presence anywhere, much less a major publication, is a major accomplishment. During the car’s construction Schalk got hosed so frequently that he damn near — and probably should have — walked away. The enthusiastic seller’s modest asking price should’ve been a red flag. “From the outside, the car seemed in OK condition,” Schalk admits. But — and there’s almost always a “but” when you score a great deal — he discovered something shoved the right front wheel into the floor. Blasting the car revealed a heavily plowed rear.

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But Schalk carried on. He hired a shop to build a chassis behind a Chris Alston front clip. A friend then referred Schalk to another friend to finish the framework. Then — and this should stand as another red flag — the twice-removed friend referred Schalk to another friend who reportedly knew how to tin the interior.

The work took a year. But worse than that, the friend welded the wheeltubs to the quarter-panels, warping them. “His sheetmetal resembled ductwork,” Schalk laments. But unlike HVAC craftsmen, this one left gaps as large as half an inch.

After storing the car for a year, Schalk gutted the work and replaced the rear quarters with N.O.S. ones he found on eBay. He also clipped the rear with a good donor. Of course that wasn’t the end. The left side bulged. The passenger wheelbase was half an inch shorter than the driver side, and the frame wasn’t level. “The line-up shop told me that I could just cut and weld little sections into the current frame,” he says, laughing.

Thus began the real work.

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Schalk scrapped the entire chassis, including the front clip just for superstition’s sake. He made a jig in his garage and built a new one from Art Morrison components. He aligned the body and built a floor, firewall, and wheeltubs from 14-gauge steel. Duane Luckow formed panels to fill the area behind the rear wheels.

“After all the interior sheetmetal was in the car I took some body classes from Pat Nesbitt at Clackamas Community College,” Schalk continues. After several terms, Nesbitt visited Schalk’s house frequently to lend a hand. “This was like on-the-job training,” Schalk muses. “One day I mentioned chopping the top,” he says. He and Nesbitt clipped 3/4-inch from the windshield posts only. “I think we had the whole thing done in less than a day,” Schalk brags.

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Nesbitt taught Schalk paint basics and left him to his wits. He sprayed the underside in PPG Midnight Sapphire Blue. “Whenever painting your first car,” he warns, “don’t learn with a tri-coat.” Mitch Kim and Dick Pruitt laid out flames. Jason Crider at Portland’s STB Coatings finished the chassis prior to its reassembly. Then Schalk got ambitious. He welded the front fenders to the body and fender supports. He also designed inner front fenders and welded them to the front subframe downtubes, fender supports, firewall, and core support.

Schalk negotiated with a painter and paid in advance. The deal fell through. “He backed out and said he couldn’t and wasn’t interested in completing the car for SEMA,” Schalk laments. Nor was he interested in refunding the advance. Fat Wallet Customs came to the rescue. “They did an awesome job,” he praises.

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Schalk coated every interior surface with Lizard Skin insulation and sound damper. After dropping the car off at a stereo shop for wiring, another cloud rolled in: divorce. Best of all, the stereo shop bungled the job. Schalk and Ashley Beene wired the American Autowire harness themselves. Holcomb Upholstery replaced the stereo shop’s interior panels, shedding more than 200 pounds in the process. Holcomb trimmed the panels and 2006 Pontiac GTO seats in light-gray Spinneybeck leather and suede. The floor wears tufted-wool carpet.

Luckow fabricated the aluminum insert for the Stewart-Warner Maximum Performance gauges. Schalk mounted a Vintage Air Gen II Super Cooler and double-vane Streamline vents in the dash. Flaming River made the Cascade steering wheel and tilt column. Electric Life gear powers the windows and door poppers. A Kenwood head unit in the console feeds Exile and Hertz components. He also adorned the windshield with a Mito Corporation rear-view mirror. A CompuSTAR alarm and Drone mobile GPS-tracking system protects the investment.

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Yes, the car has an engine. It’s had two so far, the first a casualty of a builder’s sloppiness. Portland’s Tim Schnell based this one on a Merlin III Pro Block. Manley 4.56-inch pistons and a 4.50-inch Eagle crank give it 588 ci; 119cc chambers in World Products’ Merlin 3 heads give it 10.2:1 static compression. The 259-degrees at 0.050-inch duration in a Howards 128525-14 cam bleed enough pressure to run pump gas. Massive 2.6-inch oval butterflies in a Morrison Motorsports X Ram manifold feed the pump. An Accel Gen7 DFI meters fuel and controls an Accel distributor. Aeromotive pumps in a stainless Rick’s Hot Rod Shop tank pressurizes the system.

Canby’s BBC Steel water-jet-cut an accessory-drive system that Schalk designed. It mounts a Wrangler NW 150-amp alternator. A Meziere Enterprises pump-and-radiator combo regulates temperature. A Richmond 4+1 transmission with a McLeod flywheel and clutch couple to the 588ci, 600hp monster. A pair of 2-inch Stainless Works headers flank it on their way to an exhaust that Kasey Squires at Punks Muffler in Battle Ground, Oregon, assembled from 3-inch round and oval tubing.

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An aluminum Dynotech driveshaft transmits power to a 3.50:1 gear on a Moser limited-slip carrier in a Bill Scribner-built 9-inch axle. It in turn spins Moser 31-spline shafts. A stainless four-link suspension ties the axle to the chassis. A set of QA1 coilover dampers bear the chassis’ load.

An underdash Kugel Komponents pedal assembly transmits force to a Wilwood brake system consisting of 12-inch drilled-and-slotted rotors and six- and four-piston calipers. Bolted to those are 17x9 and 18x13 Rushforth Livewire wheels. They wear 225/45 and 335/30 Michelin Pilot Sport hides, respectively.

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Vancouver’s Kevin Batey cut glass to fit the openings. Harold Wallace straightened the stainless trim; Virgil Hobbs polished it. Electro-Chem Metal Finishing anodized the aluminum. Brad White at City Machine whittled the side-mirror stanchions for Muth turn-signal mirror heads.

A dark cloud overshadowed what should’ve been a fun period in Schalk’s life. But there’s always a silver lining. This one gave him the opportunity to do for himself, and as his car proves he rose to the occasion.

It was expensive and frustrating for sure, and the job took a full decade to complete, but Schalk has one hell of a story. And if anyone doubts it, he has the proof, a sapphire-blue trophy to show for it.

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