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1964 Viper Red Nova - Paint It Red

Because, Let's Face It, A Blown 502 '64 Nova Simply Can't Be Brown.

By , Photography by

Before I die I will own a car with a blown big-block," said Mike Nicholls to wife Michelle one night. "You want it? You're gonna regret it," came her reply before they both dozed off.

Little did Mike know that the dreams of filling his '64 Nova's engine bay with a ferocious force-inducted 502 would become reality sooner than he could imagine.

How a laid-off maintenance tech managed to find the time and resources to retrofit this monster motor to his sled is just part of today's lesson, but let's start at the beginning.

In this case, owner and builder Mike Nicholls is the second owner of the car. The original owner purchased it from the dealership for $2,685 around the same time that troops were starting to trickle into Vietnam. The original owner had the original black color repainted white.

Years later, in 1979, Mike came along, sporting a perm and oversized sunglasses and purchased the car for $1,800. It still had the original 283 and four-speed tranny with a 10-bolt rear end and 3.08 gears. Mike tooled around with this setup for awhile, pretty sure he looked cool with the birds nest on his dome. Then he decided to make some modifications-both to his hair and to his ride.

He straightened out the Jheri-curl, creating a sexy mullet that grows naturally to this day, then he found a worn-out 350 that he took to the machine shop and had bored and honed .060-over and fitted with a number of performance parts.

When all was said and done, Mike managed to run a 12.53 at 109 mph at Bandimere Speedway. Mind you sea-level lackeys, this took place in Denver. Colorado is a mile above sea level. It was 1982. Mike had a 12-second Chevy and a mullet. He would've been the king of Thornton, Colorado, if he hadn't decided to paint the car metallic dark brown, which was the color it remained as it sat outside of Mike's house until he met his wife, the lovely, vibrant and loquacious Michelle.

"It looked like a turd," said Michelle before she was dismissed from our little group interview.

"I'm not sure why I painted it that color," was Mike's weak response to his wife's observation.

It didn't help that the car had been sitting under a cottonwood tree for years and was covered in sap. Subsequently, it became known as "The Sap Wagon." Not the most sought-after nickname if you're looking for street cred in Thornton, or "T-Town," as its known to the cognoscenti.

One reason the Nova sat under that leaky tree for so long was because Mike had pulled the motor and slapped it in the shell of an 1,800-pound Volkswagen Beetle. This car ran a respectable 10.52, but was hated by both camps.

"Everybody hated us," said Michelle, returning to the discussion. "The VW guys, they especially hated us," said Mike. Hell, Chevy motors make cheap, reliable power, regardless of the chassis they propel-be it an OW2, a Porsche, or a Beetle. Can't we all just get along?

Anyway, after Mike and Michelle's son was born, he stopped racing and put the Chevy powertrain back into a chassis that wouldn't be ridiculed by brand snobs. He also installed a Mark Williams narrowed 12-bolt rear end with 4.10 gears.

"We cruised the car for a while, and then in 2001 we decided that it just didn't seem right to have a quick car that looked like a tree trunk," said Mike.

Cue Matt Paris of Paris Custom Automotive in Longmont, Colorado, who stripped the fecal-hued exterior clean, then prepped, primed, and painted the Nova with three coats of Chrysler Viper Red. While this was being done, Mike had the seats refurbished, and purchased a headliner, carpet kit, and door handles among other items. These included a set of Colorado Customs Billet wheels measuring 15x6 up front and 15x7 out back.

These Lazear Max rims that remain true to the heritage of the car geographically and design-wise (sort of), are wrapped in 195/60/15 radials up front and Mickey Thompson Street 235/60/15 drag radials out back. Obviously, at this point, the car underwent a major renovation to replace other stuff besides the patina.

"I became bored with the look and ride of the front suspension," said Mike. "I purchased a TCI front clip kit and an Air Ride Technologies front suspension. Around this time last year, Mike and Michelle and their finished ride caught the eye of a Super Chevy reporter. The magazine shot the car with the 350 and a somewhat obtrusive cowling. Forward to June '08 and we find out the 350 had been replaced with a blown 502 making close to 800 horsepower. That, of course, called for a reshoot.

So how did Mike afford a $9,000 blown big-block during a recession and right after he'd been laid off from his job? Blame it on Michelle, his somewhat opinionated wife. What a sweetheart. She purchased the motor for him and let him toil through the winter in the garage with only the help of a coil heater. The heating bill was huge, but now Mike has a badass blown big-block.

As far as we're concerned, his wife can pipe up whenever she feels the urge.

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