Over the years, Shawn Steeber has had the pleasure of owning a pleasant array of classic muscle cars, including a Mustang, a Camaro, a ’56 Chevy, a Ranchero, and a 1965 two-door Nova. Shawn let out a loud yawn as he listed off all the boring cars he’s owned. Well, not really, but a few years ago he decided it was time to change it up. He wanted “something different than everyone else has out there.” So what did he get? He found himself a four-door 1962 Chevy II Nova station wagon.
Living in Westminster, California, Shawn was smack-dab in the middle of Southern California, giving him plenty of options when looking for his ideal wagon. The Craigslist hunt began and he searched until he found this ’62 Nova just around the corner in Garden Grove, California. The Nova he purchased then was nothing like the one you see now. It was a bone-stock wagon with a straight-six engine and two-speed transmission. The car had some rust here and there and was riding on the stock steel wheels with no hubcaps. There was no carpet, no headliner, and the seats were so ratty that they had to be covered with towels. The only good news was that Shawn picked up the running and driving wagon for a mere $3,000.
His intent when purchasing the car was not to go head over heels and dive into a full restoration. He just wanted to clean it up a bit, paint it, and then have a nice station wagon to drive around town in. But once he started working on his Nova, it became clear he wouldn’t stop until it was perfect.
When he purchased the car, the previous owner gave him a parts catalog from Modern Performance Classics, a shop specializing in Novas and Chevy IIs. When it came time to pick up some new sheetmetal and other various parts, he flipped open that catalog and found just what he needed. Better still, the shop was just a few miles away in the city of Orange. He showed up to pick up his parts and got to talking with owners Rudy and Dale, who, as it turned out, had a little workshop out back where they worked on Novas regularly. As a manager of an auto shop himself, Shawn knew a thing or two about working on cars, but he decided it wouldn’t hurt to learn from the Nova experts and they struck a deal to collectively work on his ’62. Over the next few years, the wagon lived at Modern Performance where Shawn would regularly come help Rudy and Dale.
Although Shawn’s plans for the car changed from “fixing a few things” to rebuilding the wagon from the ground up, he still wanted it to serve the same purpose. He wanted a cruiser that would grab a little more attention than usual. To adequately accomplish his goals of making it into a reliable cruiser, Shawn went straight for a tried-and-true 350 small-block crate engine from Chevrolet Performance. More specifically, he picked up a 350/290 Deluxe from his local Chevy dealership: Connell Chevrolet in Costa Mesa, California.
In factory form, the small-block is good for 300 horsepower and 335 lb-ft of torque. To complement the old-school look of the engine and help suck in a little more air, Shawn topped the 350 with an Edelbrock RPM Air-Gap intake manifold and a Holley 650-cfm carburetor. Providing spark is a PerTronix electronic distributor and plug wires while the exhaust system is comprised of stock ram’s-horn manifolds dumping into 2 1/2-inch pipes and out DynoMax mufflers. In front of the small-block lives a Vintage Air Front Runner along with a custom low-mount alternator bracket from Modern Performance. Behind the crate engine lives a 700-R4 built by KBL Transmissions in Huntington Beach, California.
In the suspension department, there was no need for anything fancy, Shawn just needed it to get him down the road and make him look good doing it. That being said, the stock suspension up front was rebuilt and powdercoated with the stock springs swapped out for 2-inch lowering springs and Monroe shocks. Out back, a 10-bolt rearend from a ’69 Chevy was swapped in along with 2-inch lowering blocks and Monroe shocks. With the upgraded powerplant, Shawn saw it fit to throw on some beefier brakes, so he picked up a disc brake kit from ABS Power Brakes that utilize four-piston calipers up front, single-piston calipers in the rear, and 11-inch rotors at all four corners. Tying in the new braking components is a master cylinder and booster from Wilwood.
Although Shawn did go a little beyond his original plans for the car, he didn’t forget his initial intentions completely. He still wanted a good looking cruiser so paint and bodywork was also a must. He and the guys at Modern Performance had no problem dealing with the mechanical aspects of the Nova, but when it came time for paint, they sent it over to Frank’s Auto Body in Huntington Beach, California. The wagon was then prepped and sprayed Jet Black using PPG paint. From there, all the trim was sent to Charles Sihilling Metal Polish to be rechromed and polished.
Tying the whole look of the car together is a set of 17x7 American Racing VN805 Blvd chrome wheels wrapped in Sumitomo HTR2 tires, 205/45R17 front and 225/45R17 rear.
Inside the spacious cabin of Shawn’s station wagon, he swapped out the stock front bench seat for buckets from a ’65 Nova and had Costa Mesa Upholstery in Costa Mesa, California, wrap everything in a tasteful mix of black cloth and vinyl. Within the stock dash live new gauges from Auto Meter behind a new steering column from Flaming River and a stock Chevy steering wheel. Beach Auto Sound in Huntington Beach, California, installed a RetroSound head unit that controls two 6 1/4-inch and two 6x9 speakers. Modern Performance finished up the interior by hooking up the Vintage Air A/C unit, which mounts underneath the dash.
Five and a half years flew by and all of a sudden Shawn’s 1962 Nova wagon was done and the car it became was years ahead of the car it once was. He finally had something a little different that he could proudly show off at his local cruise-ins. And show off he did, taking the wagon to many of the cruise nights around, soaking in the reactions of other car guys who also loved the unique hot-rodded station wagon.
Photographs by Jorge Nunez