Just your ordinary '67 Nova, huh? While it may look very much like the other guy's game-like those in the magazines-the Van Nus Nova is one of a kind. Yes, it has the same stuff in the same places that yours does, and yours might have even been built under a father/son license just like this one. What makes it unlike any other is its unique story, or more succinctly, the history of Joe and Paul Van Nus.
Van Nus the elder: "I would like to tell people that the build on this car was a father/son build in our garage at home. Yes, this is Paul's car, and I know people will find that hard to believe. The time spent together on this build has kept us close...The car has been motivational to keep Paul out of trouble and...his grades up."
Both men were adamant about beginning with a cancer-free vessel, thus saving thousands (of hours as well as loot) in rebuilding the body. The Nova was a native of Fresno via an Arkansas muscle car dealer, so cataclysmic rust and debilitation would never be an issue. Paul began to steer the project into a niche in his mind's eye. Do the unexpected and do it with flair and substance. Use the props provided and encourage them to speak in strong, unadulterated tones.
Team Van Nus incorporated a subtle raft of details in what appears to be a pretty stock-looking body. They shaved the side molding, smoothed and shaved the firewall, molded and smoothed the doorjambs, and tucked in the smoothed-out bumpers. At first they were adamant about keeping the car intact-no cutting, no splicing, no elective surgery-but when they rolled the Nova into the light of the real world, they knew immediately that the skinny 17x7 back wheel wouldn't work like they had envisioned. Joe mini-tubbed the metal to the frame perimeter so they could incorporate 10-inch-wide rims with 285-series tires and plenty of room to spare.
Though the rest of the car is finished in a tasteful blend of Pro Touring and mild custom, the engine compartment stands alone, somehow divorced from the rest of the car. Paul: "We went to a dark gray for the engine bay and an all-aluminum look for the iron-block engine."
To simplify the build and save many hours' labor, Joe Van Nus had no compunction about replacing the Shoebox's buckboard underpinnings with a Chris Alston No-Fab front suspension and spindles. He upgraded the rear of the car with a Dutchman Motorsports 9-inch axle on a TCI four-link system and combined it with the adjustability of coilover shock absorbers. Although the Nova has air conditioning, a full-on sound system, and power-assisted brakes, Paul had to have himself a manual-gear Alston steering rack too. Through it all, the Van Nus boys held curb weight to just 3,000 pounds. In turn, they wouldn't need a hellion of a motor to make the car do what they wanted.
"Originally we were going for a street and strip look, but things just got out of hand. It seems like everything we've done to this car we've done at least twice," opined Joe. "The wheeltubs are a good example of that." One thing's for sure: These guys didn't get hosed on the body prep and paint. Amazingly, no paint jail either.
Joe did the aforementioned straightening and rubbing and applied the sizzling orange at home in Vicksburg, Michigan. "I would like to say it's great to see a young man like Paul so dedicated and working to keep our hot rod hobby going strong. And oh yes, we couldn't have done it without the help of all my buddies."
Will we ever lose the ubiquitous small-block? When the LS engine plan got cracked, Team Van Nus had Mike Hanson of Portage, Michigan, produce a little-block with 355 iconic cubic inches and a shadowy echo of the past. He shipped the parts to Steve Tagget in Kalamazoo for the requisite machining. Hanson began with a '71 cylinder block and filled it with the Ohio Crankshaft rotating assembly (forged crank, H-beam rods, and SRP pistons with an 11.7:1 compression ratio). Total seal ring packs and SRP pins complete the big picture. What else but a Comp hydraulic roller (0.507/0.510 lift, 240/246 degrees duration at 0.050 inch), springs, pushrods, guideplates, and Harland Sharp 1.5:1 roller rockers? Hanson tied it all together with a Cloyes Tru-Roller timing gear and bolted on a kicked-out Moroso oil pan. He flipped the engine upright and proceeded with the Edelbrock Performer cylinder heads (2.00/1.60-inch valves) and companion Air-Gap intake casting. The 750-cfm Demon sentinel is topped with a DSE air cleaner. Healthy tendrils of spark emanate from the MSD 6AL box, and total timing for this naturally aspirated pirate is 34 degrees BTDC. Exhaust matters are left to Chris Alston headers and a custom-bent 2 1/2-inch system. No dyno testing yet, but Van Nus estimates 450 hp. He had Todd Perry do up Turbo 350 the right way and included a Coan 11-inch, 2,600-stall converter. He linked the transmission to the rear axle (3.50:1 gears, Detroit Tru-Trac differential) with Denny's Driveshaft kryptonite propellers.
Team Van Nus trashed the dashpad and policed the area, smoothing the flats and sealing up the holes for the ashtray and cigarette lighter, all the while making new inserts for the Vintage Air HVAC controls and vents. Auto Meter gauges cluster in the slick, matte-finish Covan's panel, looking as if the ensemble grew there like a beautiful rogue moonlight mushroom. Joe supplanted the fuzzy electrical system with an American Autowire Highway 2 loom. Krist Kustoms (Fort Wayne) changed the face of the interior to mirror minimalist thinking and understated elegance. Nary a thread out of place. Almost too pretty to sink your rear into, but it's a fine foil for the urgent exterior. A B&M Pro Stick is at the ready. That snakeskin-wrapped Billet Specialties steering wheel isn't something you'd find on your daily beater.
Joe and Paul saved a bunch of loot by doing this part themselves. Joe has intimate knowledge of bodywork and spray guns, so paint jail wasn't an issue. They didn't have to wait for anyone. Joe applied PPG/Southern Polyurethanes Bizen Orange Pearl and treated the immaculate, uncluttered engine compartment with contrasting dark gray metallic.
Big V amended the Nova's ox-cart seriousness with a complete Chris Alston No-Fab front end module that includes subframe and firewall stringers, tubular control arms, spindles specific to the application, Vari-Shock coilovers (550 lb/in springs), and a Chris Alston antisway bar. Joe also suspended the narrowed Dutchman 9-inch axle with Vari-Shock coilovers (210 lb/in springs) dependent on a TCI four-link conversion.
Wheels and Brakes
On the skinny end, V posted 17x7 Intro Ram5 billet wheels and Kumho Ecsta SPT 215/45ZR tires. At the rear, he blew things up a little with 10-inch Ram5 wheels and 285/45ZR17 rubber. Consistent rough-duty braking is ensured by 13-inch Baer Tracks up front and 12-inch Baer Touring, on the back axle.