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1963 Chevy Nova Wagon - Not Your Dad's Chevrolet

Built as a tribute to his father, Ron Bartolomei’s '63 wagon has taken on a completely different persona than the daily driver of his old man

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Unless your dad rode the bus or was unemployed, we all remember how they got to work every morning. It just so happens that this reporter's rumbled off in a '72 Duster to paint houses. Some days, you could actually follow the trail of paint in the neighborhood back to our house. Handy if you lost your way home, but that car wasn't glamorous.

It served its purpose though--as a workhorse for him to support our family. Unfortunately it also served as our transport for everything else. The torn polyester seats in the back to where I always seemed relegated were about as comfortable as hot sandpaper.

But I digress. This story is not about me; it is about Ron Bartolomei and his Nova. Well, his dad also drove a Nova to work everyday, albeit a slightly older one. And in tribute to him, Ron decided to build another wagon, only this would be another type of workhorse, the kind that rears its hind legs, bares fangs, and snorts fire from the nostrils beneath its orange glowing eyes before it digs its hooves in and gallops off in a cloud of smoke.

Anthropomorphic comparisons aside, this transformation from four-door delivery wagon to fire-breathing panel is one that took more than the usual amount of blood, sweat, and tears--four years to be exact. Just as interesting as the technical hurdles that accompany turning a four-door into a two is the method in which Ron found the car.

"I purchased the car from a guy named Gerald," says Ron. "Gerald would go to the Long Beach and Pomona swap meets with a sign on his chest and back with cars and related items for sale. I stopped him and asked him if this four-door wagon was worthwhile or ready for the yard."

Gerald told him it was in decent nick and that Ron should come take a look at it. This is where the story gets interesting. As it turned out Gerald lived in East Los Angeles near Watts--not in a house or apartment, but in a tent on the side of a building. Gerald had about 20 cars here and they all had paperwork according to Ron.

"I had to circle the place a couple of times before he came out and flagged us down," says Ron. "We found the wagon covered with all kinds of things and about two hours later finally saw it. Everything was there, the straight-six Powerglide, dash glass, and even the back seat. I made Gerald an offer, and about three hours later the wagon was on its way home.

"I think I just bought a hot car," Ron thought to himself.

Ron would have to wait to find out whether or not Gerald the junkyard master would turn out to be legit. There was work to be done. First, Ron cut out the floor underneath, allowing for the installation of a full Alston frame. With help from his friend Tony Charamonte, the floor was replaced with 2x4 box tubing welded in piece by piece while specially lowered shock brackets allow for the ride height to be lowered up to 5 inches. In other words, this Nova can be dumped. In fact, it can nearly scrape the pavement. The Ride Tech four-link system has E-level for all four corners, but also can vary the ride height in each corner, allowing for more positions than a sleazy politician.

With the chassis sorted, Ron got started on the motor and tranny, producing the torque it would have to handle. Kibler Performance altered a '78-vintage Rat motor, taking the old 454 to 665 cubic inches with a bore of 4.3110 and a stroke of 4.250. The spec list on the motor is as long as Robert Downey Jr.'s rap sheet, but a few of the items such as SRP pistons, Edelbrock cylinder heads, and Holley carbs will sound familiar. A Blowershop blower may not sound so familiar, but the sound of exhaust blatting out of a 3-inch aluminum and steel extreme coated pipes and the whole orchestra of controlled mechanical chaos producing 698 hp at 6,500 rpm is music to anyone’s ears.

The Chevy TH400 three-speed tranny that handles this horsepower and estimated 600 pounds of torque has a Hughes Pro Street GM30 torque converter with a stall speed of 2,800 rpm, an aluminum Coast Driveline driveshaft with Moser 1350-series U-joint yoke girdles, a 9-inch big-bearing rear axle, and a transmission cooler mounted between the rear tubs.

With the majority of the mechanics sorted, it finally came time to transform this functioning four-door wagon with a rear tailgate into a two-door without them. Ron describes the process: "It was simple. We used sedan doors along with the B post and quarter window sheetmetal. We left the rocker on from the wagon and everything else from the donor cars. The panel is flat-stock 169A steel contoured at the C-post to make it look original."

With the help of Timeless Custom the body was massaged a number of different ways, including resizing of the windshield opening to fit the new glass, as well as the removal of the door handles, locks, windshield wipers, and drip rails. Did we also mention they sealed the rear tailgate but added an electric rear window? How convenient.

With the body smoothed out, it finally came time for Chris Bubb to spray it with Corvette Sunburst Orange, but not before Jack Merrill arranged the switches and diodes that are the nerve system of the car.

After three and a half years, the build was finally coming to a close. Ron’s tribute was almost complete. The car was basically finished, except that Ron and his wife Tricia needed a place to sit. Comejo Upholstery integrated early '80s Accord seats covered with Ultra Leather. The same material covers the console and the dash.

American Torq-Thrust rims wrapped with Hoosier Pro Street tires are the rolling elements that finally bring all the Nova’s power to the ground, while Wilwood 12-inch brakes with four-piston calipers do what’s necessary when speeds get to triple digits.

When all was said and done, it turned out Gerald was on the up and up. The title checked out, and the car turned out not to be stolen. "I've lost touch with Gerald," says Ron. "I would've liked to let him see the car or even let him drive it. Gerald actually said he slept in it for a couple of weeks. I haven't forgotten about you, buddy."

A more poignant salute to the source of a purchase could not be found in these pages. And a tribute to a father could not be expressed in a more volatile and relentless reincarnation of the humble delivery wagon.

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