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1966 Chevy II Nova That Busts Out Over 870 Horsepower

Hard Core: Determination, perseverance … and the essence of hot rodding

Ro McGonegal Jul 19, 2017
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For as many hot rodders that buy and sell rides as a way of life, there’s a legion of others that tend to stand by their original choice, building on, modifying, and enjoying the same car for many years. Al VerSchave’s been hanging around with this Nova going on 15 years. He’s taken many steps, even changed addresses a few times along the way. Here’s what happened.

He bought the Nova at the Pomona Swap Meet in 2003. His dad helped him hop it up with a 355 and a four-speed, and so they built the quintessential high-school driver. “Over the next few years, we transformed it with a healthier small-block, Richmond four-speed, and a Currie 12-bolt axle,” Allen said. “The car was a blast to drive even then, and living in Arizona at the time, I would drive it to the track and up and down Speedway Boulevard.”

1966 Pro Street Chevy Ii Nova Front 002 2/42

Early in 2006, Al navigated a different direction and the ’66 began to slowly evolve. He did the measuring, sourcing, and construction. In June 2006, he packed everything up, destined for Chicago. Something in that irrepressible atmosphere changed him: he decided to go full drag race and worked overtime in order to enable the essence of this car-building miasma: stuffing the biggest engine in the littlest body on earth. Slip a big-block in a pocket that was ever-engineered to take a small-block.

“It took nearly five years to complete due to the price of the parts I wanted. I started it when I was 18 and finished it when I was 22. I was working multiple jobs and doing fabrication work on the side, earned the cash necessary, and built a name for myself in chassis construction,” he said. He called his nascent enterprise AVS Fabrication.

1966 Pro Street Chevy Ii Nova Front Hood 003 3/42
1966 Pro Street Chevy Ii Nova Engine 008 4/42
1966 Pro Street Chevy Ii Nova Carbs 013 5/42

To make room for the fat-block 598 and the large diameter fenderwell headers, Al shaved the shock towers. He put the engine in; built the 12-point rollcage; installed the mini-tubs and the frame ties; constructed the beautiful, sweeping headers; and welded up the 4-inch mild steel exhaust system. AVS made the fuel cell and secured the battery in the trunk. In Tinley Park, Ray at Romito Racing Engines built Al a conservative 870-horsepower bullet and backed it with a custom-built 400hp fogger. To finish it off, AVS crafted the air cleaner housing.

Al did some finesse work, and for the suspension he inserted roller bearings in lieu of the usual bushings. He built some custom offset spring shackles to move the leaf bundles inboard and fashioned frame connectors to pull the car together.

1966 Pro Street Chevy Ii Nova Interior 014 6/42
1966 Pro Street Chevy Ii Nova Dash 015 7/42
1966 Pro Street Chevy Ii Nova Gauges 018 8/42

He pulled the rear seat out and covered the space with an upholstered panel. He made a custom package tray. Dave Schober covered the JAZ buckets. Closer in, Al fabbed the console but kept the rest of the setting as it has been ever since it rolled off the line.

As handy as Al is with the torch and the mechanical blueprint, he knows a thing or two about how to make that ride shine. He shaved the side moldings and the “Nova” nomenclature and completed the bodywork. Then he broke out the painting tools and blew on that Marina Blue. Dave VerSchave applied the graphics to complete the outward shine. The lads retained the factory grille but added Classic Industries front and rear bumpers and screwed a Glasstek 5-inch cowl hood over the pile.

1966 Pro Street Chevy Ii Nova Tire 024 9/42
1966 Pro Street Chevy Ii Nova Wheel 025 10/42

According to Al, the labor and the love were worth it. He’d “finished” the car two days before the 2010 Detroit Autorama; the Nova did well. The next outing was the 2010 Chicago World of Wheels where Al stood proudly to receive the Master Builder award. A few years hence, there would be a small impasse, otherwise known as “we need more power and we need more juice.” Yup. That potential 1,200 horsepower he already had just didn’t seem quite enough—as any seasoned hot rodder will gladly admit. He freshened the engine and adapted an upgraded Induction Solutions fogger. On horsepower, the hairy Rat ran 9.80s through the mufflers on pump gas. “I haven’t had a lot of time to run the car on nitrous but got it to go 8.90s on a small tune-up. I’m hoping this summer [2017] to run 8.50s with a large tune-up.” He says that the car sat a lot during 2013-’16 while he grew AVS Fabrication. In the fall of 2016, he moved it all back west, establishing a presence in Oceanside, California.

1966 Pro Street Chevy Ii Nova Grille 007 11/42
1966 Pro Street Chevy Ii Nova Side 004 12/42

But as you can see, the Nova isn’t for travelling the long haul—seats minimal and incapable of adjustment. There’s no audio, air conditioning, or overdrive transmission to wrangle those harsh 4.11s—which made Al think his project through again. Maybe down the road he’ll incorporate a strong five-speed manual and fuel injection.

“I’ve owned this car for 14 years now and being 29 years old, it represents a good part of my life,” he said. “I never see myself selling it and look forward to seeing the changes that will be made over the years.” Hot rodding never dies.

1966 Pro Street Chevy Ii Nova Rear 005 13/42

Tech Check
Owner Allen VerSchave, Oceanside, California
Vehicle 1966 Nova
Engine
Type 2007 Mark IV
Displacement 598 ci
Compression Ratio 9.8:1
Bore 4.600 inches
Stroke 4.500 inches
Cylinder Heads World Products Merlin III aluminum, Manley 2.30/1.88 valves, 310cc intake ports, 132cc exhaust runners, 119cc combustion chambers
Rotating Assembly Eagle 4340 crankshaft and connecting rods, JE pistons
Valvetrain 1.7:1 Crane rocker arms and lifters, Manley pushrods, Chevrolet Performance rocker covers
Camshaft Custom-grind roller (0.800/0.800-inch lift; 285/300-deg. duration), Cloyes double-roller timing set
Induction World Products Merlin X intake manifold, Holley 1,150-cfm Dominator carburetor, K&N element in custom AVS Fabrication (Oceanside, CA) air cleaner; Induction Solutions custom fogger nitrous system, MagnaFlow fuel delivery system
Ignition MSD 7AL (non-digital), Moroso 8mm primary wires
Exhaust Fenderwell-exit custom-built 4-inch mild steel system with 2 3/8-inch primaries, 4-inch collectors, Dynatech Split-Flow mufflers
Ancillaries Griffin aluminum core, 12-point rollcage by AVS Fabrication, custom 8-quart oil pan, Moroso water pump, Powermaster 120-amp alternator
Output 870 hp at 7,300 rpm, 760 lb-ft at 5,500 rpm on nuts
Machine Work/Assembly Ray Romito at Romito Racing (Tinley Park, IL)
Drivetrain
Transmission ATI Powerglide built by Dave Vyhanck, Coan 3,500-stall converter, manual valvebody
Rear Axle Mark Williams 12-bolt, spool, 40-spline axles, 4.11:1 gears, Strange Engineering 3.5-inch chrome-moly propshaft
Chassis
Front Suspension GM spindles, Performance Online tubular upper and lower control arms, Moroso 2-inch drop springs, CalTracs shocks (4-inch total front drop)
Rear Suspension CalTracs 2-inch drop leaf springs, 1-inch lowering blocks, CalTracs 9-way adjustable shock absorbers, antisway bar
Brakes Wilwood 11-inch rotors, four-piston calipers, front; Wilwood 10-inch rotors, four-piston calipers, rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels American Racing Torq-Thrust Pro 15x4 front, 15x10 rear
Tires M/T ET Front 26x4.5 front, M/T ET Street Drag Radial 275/60 rear
Interior
Upholstery Custom factory-style appearance installed by Dave Schober, OE door panels
Material Marina Blue vinyl
Seats JAZ race buckets, Simpson harnesses
Steering OE
Shifter Hurst Quarter-Stick
Dash OE
Instrumentation Factory augmented by AutoMeter gauges
Audio None
HVAC Open vents, windows, and usually an expletive or two
Exterior
Bodywork Allen VerSchave
Paint By Allen VerSchave, graphics by Dave VerSchave
Paint Glasurit Satin Marina Blue base and clearcoat
Hood Glasstek 5-inch cowl
Grille OE
Bumpers Classic Industries

Photos by Dominick Damato

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