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1968 COPO 9738 396/TH400 Nova SS

50 Built, 12 Left

By Doug Marion, Photography by Doug Marion

Dick Harrell '68 427 Nova
"Mr. Chevrolet" Dick Harrell (as he was known) opened his first high-performance facility in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1967, then moved west to Kansas City in early 1968. He was a top Chevrolet national championship drag racer originally from New Mexico. In 1968, his business was a legal arm and representative of Fred Gibb Chevrolet. Gibb's service area wasn't set up to swap engines and build cars, but Harrell's was.

Harrell's very first new car offering was this COPO 9738 Nova SS-either super-tuned and tricked out or with the L72 425hp 427. Harrell also offered an L88 427 race engine. As few as 10 and as many as 20 out of the 50 COPO 9738 396s originally built were so modified, say those close to the fold. Harrell also offered modifications to the COPO 9738 396 such as super-tuning, tubular headers, hot ignition, traction bars, custom wheels, Stinger hood, and more. Of the 12 remaining or known COPO 9738s today, two are said to be super-tuned 396s, and two are transplanted 427s. Only one, a 427, is still an original owner car, Ray Morrison's Danube blue beauty.

Morrison was 28 in 1970. Today, he's a lad of 65. He had owned a new '66 L79 Chevy II and liked it. He did a lot of top-end blasts out in the southern Missouri countryside, but ultimately he wanted to go quicker and faster. A complete story on this car is in my Chevy II/Nova book coming out March 24, 2008, at major bookstores, Wal-Mart, Amazon.com, and other Internet book stores.

Morrison campaigned his COPO 973/Harrell 427 for its first three years. He said he won enough money the first year at the drags ($2,700) to pay off the car's bank loan. When the '74 gas crunch hit, he replaced the 427 with a stock 350 and drove it to/from work. He then stored his Nova SS from 1976 to 1989. Because everyone knew that Fred Gibb Chevrolet had the latest "scoop" as well as the fastest machines, lore has it that a few COPO 9738s were traded in on the new '69 ZL1 427 Camaro (a Gibb/Harrell creation). A SS/CA 396 big-block COPO Nova SS was certainly great, as it could run in the 11.30s, but to go even quicker and faster, an iron or aluminum 427 big-block Camaro was even better. Published reports and drag records indicated it could run in the 10.70s to 9.60s.

The Stock Eliminator '68 COPO 396 Nova SS indeed had low 12-second potential at 110-plus mph in the quarter-mile and could run much quicker and faster when prepped for Super/Stock Eliminator. The Dick Harrell 427 Novas were downright scary monsters that could do 0-60 mph in less than 4 seconds and burn rubber at virtually any road speed. We've known Ray Morrison for more than 25 years, and we distinctly remember him mentioning a time or two, or three, when his shorts were puckered up REAL good.

Folks, that's Chevy big-block, solid-lifter performance! Interestingly enough, not everyone raced at the dragstrip, not even a little. Many owners hopped up their stock-appearing '68 Novas with a hot small-block engine as well as a 396 or 427 big-block (or bigger) for street racing. But that's another story. Long live the Fred Gibb '68 COPO 9738.

RPO Four-Speed Big-Block '68-70 Nova SS
Let us not forget the '68, '69, and '70 RPO manual transmission big-block Novas. The L34 350hp 396 sales were 234, 1,947, and 1,802; L78 375hp 396 sales were 667, 5,262 and 3,765. We owned a '70 L34 for many years.

By Doug Marion
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