We’ve all heard stories of the perfect Craigslist find—no, not the one from the Casual Encounters section that you’re afraid to take home to mom—about the car your buddy has always wanted and claims he got it for not much more than the cost of a set of tires for a modern car. Well, in the case of Joe Seeno and the shoebox Nova SS he’s always wanted, that’s exactly what happened.
“I happened to be looking at Novas on Craigslist one afternoon in February 2017, and stumbled across this ad for a 1963 Nova SS,” he says. “There were a few photos of a disassembled car with no engine, transmission, or front clip. The ad was posted for about 10 minutes. I called the guy and asked him to hold the car for me. I grabbed a trailer, front body dollies, and made the three-hour drive to Penngrove, California.”
After inspecting the car and realizing that it had the correct X on the body tag, the right SS trim holes all over the body, and the correct dash trim and gauges, he made the deal. Even though the interior and front clip were gone, the rest of the parts were stashed—fenders, hood, grille, bumpers, and glass—and came with the car. After exchanging $1,000 for the title, he bolted his body dollies to the chassis, loaded everything up, and rolled out.
But at the time he was building a ’71 C10 pick-’em-up truck, so he took the Nova home and covered it up while he finished the truck. All the while, he was collecting Nova parts when and where he could.
“I bought a set of restored side trim pieces, found the correct SS bucket seats, and bought a TCI Pro Touring front clip. I already had a 355 small-block and I picked up a T-56 six-speed trans from a ’95 Camaro,” he says. Once the C10 project was completed, the plumber from Granite Bay, California, dragged the Nova to the work area and stripped the many layers of paint that had accumulated over the years, then reassembled the entire car—using the parts that came with it along with all of the others he had purchased to finish it—and drove it for a few months to make sure all of the bits and pieces worked properly.
Are you exhausted yet? Hearing about the time and effort and sweat equity that went into Joe’s rebuild process, we sure are—but we’re just getting to the good stuff!
“In January 2018, I stripped the car back down, doing the bodywork and straightening all of the gaps for the doors, fenders, hood, and decklid. And I blocked the car for days,” says Joe. Nobody likes blocking, but it’s a necessary evil, and Joe shows no aversion to hard work. He completed this entire project from top to bottom and front to back. To get the body lines perfect, the front end of the car was removed and he worked the firewall to get it just right, welding up all of the extra holes in the process. The factory harness hole was closed off; he made a custom piece to weld in around the steering column to clean up that area and even filled all of the spot welds on the firewall before painting it and the cowl sides.
The front fenders and trunk lid were painted off the car, and the body and doors were last in the queue. The body panels are covered in base-clear Torch Red Matrix pigment, a color clearly designed to catch the eye. A 2-inch steel cowl hood from Auto Metal Direct completes the car’s exterior appearance modifications. “I cut and buffed the front fenders so I could install the trim before installing the fenders, then cut and buffed the rest of the car,” he says.
With about eight weeks to completion, he placed an order for a set of custom Schott Octane wheels, which measure 18x8 all around, with 4.75-inch front and 5.25-inch rear backspace settings. All of the stainless trim was shipped out to have the dents removed and a complete polishing process completed. The entire car was reassembled with new gaskets and seals.
With the body refinishing complete, he turned to the engine. The 355 was completely torn down, whereupon he painted the block, bought a new Edelbrock RPM Air-Gap intake, Holley Avenger carb, Comp Cams hydraulic cam and roller rockers, and MSD Pro Billet distributor among other goodies designed to help the SS run as strong as it looks. On top of the block rests a set of Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum cylinder heads, and 10.5:1 compression provides the pop. A 7-quart oil pan, Melling high-volume oil pump, double-roller timing chain, and three-row aluminum radiator complete the essentials.
Ceramic-coated 1 3/4-inch headers lead into a 2.5-inch aluminized cross-pipe. From there, the exhaust gases exit through a set of Flowmaster Super 44 mufflers to provide that classic muscle car sound. The TCI front clip includes a set of 2-inch drop spindles, tubular A-arms, 300-lb/in springs, and adjustable shocks. GM front brakes with 11-inch rotors help to stop the car from speed. In the rear, he retained the traditional OE leaf-spring arrangement but with a set of 2-inch lowering blocks to get the car to sit just right. For now, he left the stock drum brakes in place, but we suspect that will change soon enough. A 10-bolt rear with fresh 3.73:1 gears and a Positraction differential to maximize grip found its way under the car. Lastly, he welded a set of subframe connectors in place. His plan is to eventually put a four-link rear suspension underneath the car to optimize its performance even more.
Inside the car, all of the stock components like seats and door panels are covered in black vinyl, with a new cut-pile ACC carpet covering the floor. Of course, Joe installed it all. Although these photos show stock gauges, they have since been replaced with Dakota Digital VHX instrumentation for an updated, modern look and performance. The transmission is controlled by a Hurst shifter, which is topped off with a Pistol Grip handle. He even went so far as to have a custom billet aluminum parking brake handle manufactured to finish off the interior’s appearance just so.
The entire project, with the exception of powdercoating, polishing, and other small tasks of the sort, was completed by Joe Seeno and his own two hands. Over the course of a year—and with the never-ending support from his wife, Ashley, who didn’t complain when he spent every night working on it over that time period—he’s built a Nova SS that any Chevy lover would be proud to own.
“I couldn’t believe the deal I got on this car. It was a shell and a box of parts,” he says. We can’t believe the deal either, and we can’t believe what he turned it into with a ton of hard work and careful planning. Bravo!
Photography by Jorge Nunez