John Sutton is a different kind of car enthusiast. His passion for speed and performance didn’t start at an early age like a lot of others. In fact, Sutton can’t really recall when his love for the automobile became a state of consciousness.
“I guess you can say it just kind of crept up on me,” said the 73-year-old Indiana resident. “I was a workaholic my entire life and at some point I decided I needed to slow down a bit and begin enjoying life. I needed a hobby and that hobby became cars,” he said.
That was about 20 years ago. In the time since, Sutton has owned a number of different cars, including two pristine ’56 Chevys he keeps in his spacious garage along with this incredible ’67 Nova—a car he feels represents everything he ever wanted in a show car and driver. “I’d say this is about as far as I want to go with a custom car. I love my two other Chevys, but this car is probably my last project,” he added.
Sutton found this “project” roaming the streets of Delphi, Indiana, where he purchased it as a running car, and actually drove it home. “It had the stock 283 in it and a bench seat … it drove really well. It had been kept in a garage for a long time so the body was in great shape,” he said. Finding anything in the Midwest over 20 years old with no rust is akin to winning the lottery, and Sutton knew that. “I knew we could do a lot of cool things with this car because it was so clean,” he added.
The question Sutton had yet to answer with his new project was what exactly would the finished piece look like? “I had no clue,” he joked. There was no plan, no artist’s rendering, no “vision” at all for this car when he first took it to Collins Brothers Automotive in Marion, Indiana. “They did a lot of work on my two ’56s, but we really had no idea of what direction we wanted to go in when we started. We just started working on it and talking about it, but there was never a plan put into place of what it would look like when finished,” Sutton explained.
“I’ve seen a lot of these ’66 and ’67s through the years that had really been fixed up and customized. I really liked what I saw, as well as the body style. There was just something about the Nova that really grabbed my attention.”
Sutton did know he wanted a car with a late-model powertrain, and that also handled well. For those wanting to attach a label, the base concept could be best described as Pro Touring. “I’m not sure what I’d call it,” he laughed. “All I know is I like it and it turns heads. It’s a sweet little car.”
With the old suspension removed, Collins Brothers bolted on a Heidts Pro-G front subframe as well as a Pro-G IRS kit for the rear. For horsepower, they utilized a fuel-injected Chevrolet Performance LS3 crate engine from Street & Performance in Mena, Arkansas, along with a 4L70E transmission. “In my other cars I have traditional small-blocks—one with a carburetor and the other with injector stacks. I knew with this car I wanted to go with a late-model EFI setup, and the LS3 turned out to be exactly what I wanted. It gives me all the power I could ever need,” Sutton stated.
With the basic powertrain installed, at least the mechanical attributes of the car were beginning to take shape, but the cosmetic aspects of the car were yet to be resolved. “I was looking at the car one day and wondered what it would look like if we shaved an inch off the top. The style of the car is fine stock, but the top being as high as it was, made it a bit boxy. I thought if we took an inch off it would make the lines look a bit cleaner and more aerodynamic,” he said.
More than happy to bring out the saws and cutting torches, the roof was removed from the car and an inch removed. The end result was exactly what Sutton was looking for. “It turned out to be a bit more (work) than we planed—especially the vent windows. The windshield wasn’t bad at all, but eliminating the vent windows and getting the glass to fit was a pain. We were really happy, though, with the way it turned out,” he added.
While a purist may not like the idea of chopping the top, the result does give the car a more sinister stance. “If we took more off of it than we did, I think it would have been way too dramatic,” Sutton said. Even to those familiar with the ’67 Nova, the lowered top isn’t glaring, leaving people with a less-trained eye to figure out if it’s chopped or not—something Sutton wanted.
Another subtle addition was the small spoiler molded onto the trunk lid, which helps add an aerodynamic flare that isn’t over the top—just different enough to catch the eye.
Modifications that do stand out are the vents cut into the fenders just behind the front wheels that pay homage to the C3 Corvette. All someone has to do is look at this Nova’s license plate to get an understanding of where this project ended up. “NOVETT” says it all.
“If you put a stock Nova next to this thing, it really stands out. You may not be able to see all the differences when you look at the car alone, but park it next to a stock or even a slightly modified ’67 and you can really see the differences. You know it’s had a lot of work done to it. To me, looking at my car I think it looks like it should have when it was produced,” he says.
Sutton does admit his tastes may not match those of other people, but he’s fine with that. After all, if every car designer and custom shop had the same ideas there would be no room left for ingenuity, right?
“I do enjoy driving it, a lot,” admits Sutton. However, he won’t say if it drives as nicely as the C7 Z06 he also has in his garage.
“It has the kick I like and it does get plenty of attention. People who see it from the front really have no idea what it is. I’ll roll up behind someone and they’ll keep looking in the mirror, which is always fun,” he says.
“At one point we had a different grille in it, but ended up making what is in there now along with the 7-inch headlamps and the headlamp covers, which when looking at it from the front, can confuse someone,” Sutton said.
While he does drive it to shows around his home in Marion, Indiana, Sutton prefers to keep the mileage down and bug gut splatter to a minimum, and thus will trailer the car to shows farther away. “It’s one thing to drive it a few miles, but another to drive it hundreds of miles,” he said.
Regardless if he drives it or trailers it, when his Nova gets into the fresh air, people who spend the time to look at it closely will see the attention to detail that brought this one-of-a-kind ride to life.