Some folks become automotive enthusiasts about the time they’re old enough for a driver’s license. Others get into the hobby after they retire from the rat race. Larry Gottschalk, from Petersburg, Michigan, jokes that he has been an auto enthusiast since birth, and spent most of his adult life wrenching on Funny Cars and drag cars with his brothers Bob and Dutch. When Larry retired from his job as a heavy equipment mover he decided it was the right time to create his own first custom. He already had a good idea about the vehicle of choice and it certainly wouldn’t be something bought from the local car dealer. In addition to being a first-rate bodyman, Larry is also comfortable with fiberglass, involved with it since it became popular with the introduction of the Corvette back in the ’50s. Nostalgia also played a role in the selection since he had Novas when he was a kid. While the end result might be recognizable, his 1967 Nova is not what it seems.
Several years ago, the ProMax Nova fiberglass replica came on the market called the Vennom, offering a complete body and frame package. Vennom, spelled with two Ns, had a very limited production run and Larry guesses that they probably only made about 30 of them. The frame was a rectangular steel tube chassis featuring a 9-inch Ford rear held by a four-link, tubular A-arms up front, and QA1 coilovers all around. The fiberglass body had some subtle changes, even though factory ’67 lights, grille, and bumpers fit perfectly. Clues to the car’s ’glass origins begin with a subtle 7/8-inch top chop and a flush fitting Mustang II windshield; a forward-tilting hood that made a separate cowl piece unnecessary; shaved door handles; CNC-machined hood and trunk hinges; and a distinctive, trunk-mounted gas filler cap.
The package was a perfect match for Larry’s talents and he began the process by assembling the mechanical portions of the chassis, plumbing the Baer drilled and slotted disc brakes, adding the wiring, filling the empty Ford rear with 3.50 gears, and fabricating motor mounts for the aftermarket 389ci Dart block. In order to make sure his Nova was the quickest on the block, a BDS blower was perched on top, an approach that he and his brothers used successfully on the racing circuit over the years. “When you’re around Alcohol and Fuel cars your whole life, you learn to love the sound of a blower motor,” Larry told us with a smile. Stuffed with an Eagle crank and rods that hold JE 8.5:1 pistons, the engine uses a Comp cam, Dart Pro heads, and dual-quad 750 Holley carbs to feed the polished 6-71 blower. MSD ignition lights the fire and spent gases dump into TSP ceramic-coated headers. Larry built the custom exhaust using a collection of stainless steel pipe and calling on the local muffler shop to handle the mandrel bends. His friend Lauren Wilson helped with the engine build. The TCI Automotive Ultimate Street Fighter three-speed automatic and torque converter seamlessly transmit the power to the Billet Specialties SLG Series wheels, 18x10 in the rear and 17x9 versions up front, wrapped in Hoosier Street rubber.
Once the chassis was complete, the body was bolted in place with the roof and rear quarters in one piece and Larry aligning the fenders, hood, doors, and trunk. Shaved door handles preserved the clean lines of the car and electric solenoids got the job done. He says it was a typical ’glass body with a little massaging required, but overall it went together very nicely. His friend Richard Weirick, another Corvette specialist, helped him smooth the body prior to paint. Once everything was mocked up and gaps tightened, Larry took it all apart and trailered the body to Fountain Hills, Arizona, so that his brother Dutch could paint the car. The Cadillac Crystal Red and silver are separated by a brushed gold leaf stripe. Reassembling the body and chassis for the final time was a happy moment since it meant the car was finally ready for upholstery. Interiors by Thomas in Auburn, Indiana, did the interior, with Larry specifying light tan leather and ostrich inserts. The huge tubs necessary to accommodate the rear wheels left virtually no room for a backseat, but the plush Glide Engineering front buckets are wonderfully comfortable. A Pro-Comp Ultra-Lite gauge package in the fiberglass dash monitors vital functions, and Larry mounted additional fuel pressure and boost gauges on the back of the engine, right in the driver’s sight line. The center console holds assorted switches, JVC stereo, and the Hurst Quarter Stick pistol grip shifter. Modern touches include power windows, JVC stereo, and Vintage Air that makes the cockpit comfortable during hot Michigan summers. There’s a subtle rollbar built in, just in case Larry wants to put the Nova on the strip in the future. The trunk is upholstered to match and has Vennom’s distinctive combination trunk latch and gas filler along with a subtle set of oval trunk lights built into the rear panel.
Larry worked on the car every day for 16 months, starting back in 2010. Although it is streetable and everything is functional, the goal from the outset was to make it a show car. It’s been complete almost four years and it is a regular show winner wherever it goes, with enough trophies to require a separate garage to store them! “Everybody likes the car,” Larry says. “I don’t have any plans to change anything. I like it just the way it is.” When we asked if anything interesting happened during the build, he smiles and says “I got mad a few times and you could’ve bought the car for a dollar, but you walk away, come back later, and it’s okay again.” Larry sends special thanks to Donna White, his sidekick for the last 30 years and the Internet wiz who tracks down needed parts and accessories. She was also the one who suggested that Larry attend the Ohio Super Chevy Show where he won Best in Show and where we knocked out this photo shoot.