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This 1972 Nova Yenko Tribute Combines the Best of Then and Now!

Mr. Yenko: Brian Potter’s 1972 Nova is a Yenko tribute on steroids

John Machaqueiro Feb 1, 2017
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As a young lad growing up, Brian Potter was part of a die-hard Chevy household. A big part of the Potter clan’s idea of family bonding was to plan their yearly gatherings around the various car shows across the northeast. Brian recalls, “Our family’s tradition was to go to the Super Chevy Show every year for our family vacation.” Chevelles seemed to be the household model of choice. His parents, Paul and Lucille, owned a ’69 Chevelle SS, while his older brother Doug had a ’70 Chevelle SS, so young Brian was eager to follow in the family footsteps with a Chevy of his own. It took many months of pumping gas to come up with the needed cash to make that first purchase, but in 1985, at the ripe old age of 15, he put down $600 on a ’72 Nova SS. Found in the local paper, the diminutive X-body was not exactly in pristine condition. It was a well-hammered roller that was missing its 350 small-block and four-speed—but when you’re young there are no problems, only solutions.

As soon as he got the Nova home, Brian tore into it. Working with a teenager’s budget, he disassembled the body and started scraping, sanding, and repainting everything. The non-existent floors were patched, and the body massaged to the point it was ready for a fresh coat of single-stage Cranberry Red enamel. His older brother helped him out by donating a spare 283 small-block that Brian then crowned with a Holley four-barrel. Mated to TH350 transmission, it solved the missing drivetrain problem. After two years of intense work on the car, in the summer of 1987, it broke cover. The following summer, the four-barrel gave way to a dual-quad setup. That combination worked until the engine grenaded itself. The demise of the 283 led to the installation of a 396 big-block that also had a short lifespan. That was followed by a 350 LT-1 backed by a four-speed. That pairing didn’t quite hit the sweet spot for Brian so it was pulled and sold off. Left with a roller again, he parked the Nova.

197 Chevrolet Nova Side 2/28
1972 Chevrolet Nova Rear Side 3/28

At that point in time Brian committed a sacrilegious act that went against family tradition. “I was 20 years old at the time,” he points out. “In 1990, everyone was driving around in 5.0-liter Mustangs, so I bought a brand-new one.” That was the daily driver for the next six years, but he does point out, “I put Chevy Bow Tie stickers on the back window, and that pissed everybody off.”

Once the Ford was sold off, Brian bought a Chevy Dually and he and his brother went in on a trailer. Family members were urging him to get the old Nova out and do some car shows, and reconnect with the family. As a result, he put together another 396 and wheeled the Nova out again.

Having attended all those shows, at the various locations over the years, left a mark on Brian. “I was fascinated with big tire cars,” he states. “It was always my dream to have a Pro Street car.” His buddy Paul Panesa was what you could call the facilitator by pushing him to the next level. He would often say to Brian, “let’s cut this car up; let’s do it!” And cut it up they did. The Nova spent the next three years at Panesa Automotive, in Poughkeepsie, New York, where it was sliced and diced. It was at that point that he discovered a secret hidden from him since he had bought the car. Once they really tore into the body, they discovered that at one point in its life the Nova must have been hit pretty hard because it was actually two cars that had been sectioned together. Brian explains, “For some reason, the back half of the car was blue and the front half was Cranberry Red. Why anyone would save that car made no sense, but they did a great job putting it back together because we put it on a frame machine and it was as straight as it could be.” They eventually cut out the bottom of the Nova from the firewall to the rear panel. New floors and a tranny tunnel were fabricated, and a dual Funny Car ’cage was installed. After three years of on-and-off fabrication, it was once again a roller, and at that point, it was mothballed.

No, Brian didn’t buy another Mustang. He had cut a deal on a low-mileage ’69 COPO Camaro. The guy he was buying it from had no idea what it was, and it was really cheap, as in sinfully cheap. It was, however, another roller project that was missing its entire drivetrain, including the rear. The Camaro was the new toy, and as you can guess, also the new money and time sink. His goal was to restore it, so the focus was to gather up as many N.O.S. pieces as possible. That lasted for about three years.

1972 Chevrolet Nova Side 4/28
1972 Chevrolet Nova Headlight 5/28

With one phone call, the COPO went to a new home because there was another toy in the pipeline. A close friend had located a ’69 Yenko Camaro, and as you can probably guess by now, it too was a roller project that was also missing its entire drivetrain, including the rear. The upside to that handsome deal was that the COPO went to a new home, but all the N.O.S. parts stayed. Brian spent the next six years toying with the Yenko, and by 2009 it was about half way complete when someone with a large sack of cash came knocking. “I didn’t want to sell it,” he notes. “Life changes and priorities shift so I parted with it.”

With the Yenko in the history books, he started working on the Nova again. The first thing that he did was have the existing dual Funny Car ’cage cut out and a new, cleaner designed one added. His buddies Michael Sapienza and Doug Nelson did the installation and also fabricated all the tinwork on the car. At that point, the narrowed Ford 9-inch rear stuffed with 4.86 gears was set in place. Brian also had Ray Doughty build up a Turbo 400 with a 4,000-stall Trans Specialties torque converter. The Hurst-shifted transmission turns the Ford 9-inch via a modified PST chromoly driveshaft.

After the chassis was sorted, it was shipped off for bodywork to Speedo’s Autobody in Rhinebeck, New York. Shop owner, Brian Semancik spent many hours massaging the body. He repaired the existing quarters and stretched the wheel openings 5.5 inches, while new AMD fenders and 4-inch cowl hood were installed. Brian didn’t like the ’72 doors with the vent windows, so he replaced them with a rust-free set of ’73 doors with the single side window. When it came time to pick a color, he was thinking anything but Rallye Green. “That was never my favorite color,” he claims. “It’s a color that I rarely saw done right, but it’s so pretty when it is.” At the last minute, he opted for Rallye Green. The logic was, “if you don’t hear me coming, I want you to see me coming.” The final detail was the addition of the Yenko stripes. These are exact duplicates taken from a template off of a survivor car.

1972 Chevrolet Nova Engine Bay 6/28
1972 Chevrolet Nova Engine 7/28

The engine that he was planning on using had a story of its own to tell. In the late ’90’s, he had purchased a 427, along with a set of GM aluminum heads, which he was planning to put together. His goal was to have something similar to an L88 in terms of performance. At the time, his brother was also having an engine built for a ’69 Camaro that he was working on. He had the folks at J&B Performance in Poughkeepsie, New York, start with a fresh GM 454 block that they stroked to 496 cubic inches. They installed a Callies billet crank, Lunati cam, Comp Cams roller rockers, Titan oil pump, Stef’s oil pan, and a Barry Grant electric fuel pump. The short-block was capped with a set of Dart 320 CNC aluminum heads that, together with JE pistons, yielded a stout 13.5:1 compression ratio. A Weiand Team G intake plumbed with a Top Gun fogger system, a Holley 4500 HP Dominator carburetor, and a big shot plate topped it all off. On the dyno, without the nitro assist, it cranked out a conservative 810 horses at 6,800 rpm, but he lost interest in the Camaro and sold it as a roller. Brian ended up giving the 427 to his brother, and buying 496 from him. All it had was dyno time, so it sat dormant from 1996, just waiting for him to finish a car to drop it in.

1972 Chevrolet Nova Undercarriage 8/28
1972 Chevrolet Nova Wheel 9/28

It wasn’t until late 2015 that all the pieces of the puzzle could start to be put back together. The Nova was rolled into his garage at home where the assembly process would take place. Since the engine was fresh but had been dormant for so many years, it was torn down, checked, and put back together. Mated to the Turbo 400, it was finally in its intended home. The exhaust system of choice was a combination of Hooker Super Competition headers mated to 4-inch steel pipes. Borla XR-1 mufflers do what they can to temper the big-block’s decibel levels. Wheel choice is always a subjective decision based on a number of variables. Brian objectively opted for a set of American Racing Pro Series wheels sized at 15x3.5 up front and 15x15 at the rear. The front wheels wear Mickey Thompson Sportsman tires measuring 26x7.50-15, and the rears are shod with DOT compliant Hoosier Quick Time Pro rubber sized at 33x22.5-15. Stopping power comes courtesy of cross-drilled Wilwood rotors squeezed by Wilwood four-piston calipers at all four corners.

1972 Chevrolet Nova Interior 10/28
1972 Chevrolet Nova Steering Wheel 11/28
1972 Chevrolet Nova Trunk 12/28

The final step was the installation of the interior. Kurt Reiche at K&P Upholstery in Wallkill, New York, handled the installation of the vinyl top and all the custom carpet. Brian wanted to preserve a certain level of original ambiance, while he opted for a set of Jegs GS-1 seats; he retained the factory door panels, dashpad, glovebox, and instrumentation, but supplemented the OEM ones with tach, oil pressure, water temperature, fuel level, and voltmeter gauges from Auto Meter. One particular aspect that is somewhat cryptic and overlooked by most is the frozen odometer. It’s not broken! 1437 has a deep meaning for Brian. His mother used to send him that number combination on his pager when he was younger. The numbers match up to “I love you forever,” and that is his constant reminder of her.

By the beginning of 2016, Brian was ready to hit some shows with the Nova. After 31 years, he has finally been able to have the car that he always aspired to own as a young lad, and also revisit some of the places that he shared many good times with his family.

1972 Chevrolet Nova Rear Side 13/28

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