Although we meet hundreds of enthusiastic drivers throughout the year, it’s easy to spot a one-of-a-kind level of passion when you step inside one man’s garage that’s bigger than most airplane hangars. In fact, Bob Phelps started out in aviation, owning his own air cargo business since the ’70s. He retired in the ’90s to pursue his hobbies of drag racing and car building, excelling at both. He holds several AA fuel dragster records and has created literally hundreds of custom cars over the years. He keeps a full-time staff busy in his sprawling 30,000-square-foot headquarters in Naples, Florida, along with a similar facility in Addison, Michigan. Happy to admit that he is a bona fide Bow Tie addict, he’s owned dozens of Corvettes, Novas, Chevelles, and more in the past. Each one gets the full Phelps treatment, where “the next car in line” is completely disassembled, modified with the latest aftermarket equipment, then reassembled and customized into one-of-a-kind status.
His 1966 Nova, originally bright yellow, was purchased at auction and already had a few aftermarket upgrades. Preferring to start with a clean slate, Bob had the car completely disassembled in preparation for new frame members that were custom designed to augment the Nova unibody. Because the car was scheduled for a modern, supercharged V-8, they took the unusual step of lengthening the front fenders by a full five inches. Two new factory fenders and a hood provided the necessary sheetmetal to make everything match. The same approach was used to lengthen the inner fender panels with the final result creating an engine bay big enough for the supercharged LS9. You really don’t notice the changes from the outside unless Bob points them out to you, other than that somehow the car looks better balanced. The next step was the inboard mounted framerails, boxed for strength and designed to add rigidity to the Nova unibody. The final tweak was metal strips added to the rear wheelwells to accommodate the new, wide tires scheduled for the car. Johnny Brown in Addison, Michigan, did the bodywork.
The suspension begins with Phelps’ favorite combination: a Ford 9-inch rear running 3.70 gears, Panhard bar, and Positraction held in place with a triangulated four-link from DTS. The front suspension is a Chris Alston clip designed for a Corvette and modified with their 1-inch drop spindles. QA1 coilovers and Wilwood brakes snub and stop all four 18-inch Billet Specialties wheels, equipped with Continental rubber: 215/45ZR18 up front and 285/40ZR18 in the rear. The larger wheels allow for even larger brake discs, an item on the short list of future mods for this car. Power rack-and-pinion along with Hydro-Boost brakes round out the package. The custom stainless steel fuel tank by Rock Valley has a custom quick-fill gas cap mounted on top of the fender because Bob likes the convenience of a high-mounted cap when he fills up. Bob’s mechanic, Jim Clark handled the modifications to the frame.
It can’t be a cool ride without a hot engine and Bob got a deal from the local Chevrolet dealer, buying a pair high-performance crate engines at a discounted price. The LS9 that he chose came supercharged from the factory and certainly filled the bill. It was virtually plug-and-play although Jim Clark set up the engine with a few extra additions. Lingenfelter pulleys squeezed a little extra power from the factory Eaton blower and Bob has run the engine with as high as 10 psi of boost just for fun. Once everything was properly tuned, he settled back to a slightly more a manageable level of 8 psi for everyday cruising. Custom stainless headers were built to fit the tight confines of the engine compartment, and the rumble from the MagnaFlow mufflers make it clear that this ain’t ’yer Daddy’s old Nova. The supercharger’s boost is immediate and unrelenting, delivering a wonderfully flat torque curve and sending a dyno-certified 675 hp to the TREMEC six-speed. It’s equipped with a McLeod clutch disc and pressure plate. A half-century-old on the outside, this modern road rocket can exceed the speed limit faster than you can say “Sorry, officer!”
Once the chassis mods and performance elements were established, it was time to move inside. The custom interior, clearly an exercise in people pampering, begins with a modified dash, fitted with a full complement of Auto Meter Pro Comp series gauges, vents for the Vintage Air HVAC, and fuel pressure and manifold pressure gauges located where the radio use to be. The elegantly contoured seats originally came from a 2008 GTO. The seatbacks were lowered and covered with a combination of high-grade Italian leather, along with a distinctive Florida touch, alligator inserts! Six leather hides were used in the process, covering the seats, door panels, headliner, and new custom center console. While Bob may not be a bona fide car stereo nut, he does enjoy the pursuit of crystal-clear sounds as part of the customizing process. Since modern aftermarket components overcome the tragedy of wimpy factory sounds, he chose an Alpine IVE-W530 In-Dash DVD/MP3/USB stereo/receiver with 6.1-inch VGA touchscreen. It fits perfectly in the center console and provides concert hall entertainment. Alpine component sets in the kick panels and the rear package tray fill the cab with cool ’50s sound tracks. The trunk was upholstered to match and incorporates a panel that drops down to reveal the Optima YellowTop battery. Joe Ruelle of Left Coast Trimmers did the work.
The final step was paint and Bob took the car from yellow to PPG Jetstream Blue, spraying the Nova in his shop. He drives and enjoys the car regularly, taking it to shows near his home in Naples, Florida. Since you can’t rush great art, the No Nonsense Nova took almost three years to complete but it has already accumulated more than 3,000 fun-filled miles since it rolled out of the shop. Understandably, it has become one of the favorites in Bob’s collection.