When Editor Cole called me into his office to tell me about the Nova convertible he had just found I was unprepared for the craftsmanship I would soon witness. While most editors are overzealous and jumpy, Terry said the car was neat and I'd like it as soon as I laid eyes on it. So, at Terry's request I gave the owner a call and set up a shoot for the following week.
When I showed up at John Roubian's doorstep, I stepped beyond the threshold into Nova heaven. Inside the walls of his precision grinding shop was the most perfect, well-executed '63 Nova SS convertible I had ever seen. As a magazine guy I have the opportunity to see a selection of cool machines, but the combination of proper elements is what makes a car worth its weight in steel.
John recalls an early childhood memory of a neighbor down the street who-you guessed it-had a '63 Nova SS convertible, Palomar Red, of course. The young lady gave John rides to church on Sundays, and occasionally around the block. While John concedes that his love for Novas probably stems from that car, he had no idea at the time what a profound impact one car can have on an 11 year old. When looking back on his adolescence, all John can recall is the feeling of freedom while cruising to church.
About 6 years ago, John got his first itch to restore a Nova convertible. He began his quest by reading the Sunday paper classified section. One morning John came across an ad for a perfectly original '63 Nova SS convertible. After giving the number a call John was on his way to meet his beauty for the first time. When he arrived, he played dumb and acted as if he knew nothing of cars, hoping that might give him a tactical advantage when negotiating. A few hours later he was on his way home, but not in the car he came in.
After getting the '63 home, John and his brother began formulating a plan for the restoration. As all self-made entrepreneurs say, every task has to have a plan. John wanted a car that resembled the one from his childhood, with a few minor changes, of course. His version had to perform to the standards of a modern muscle machine, while maintaining the pristine look of an original '63 Nova SS. The entire unibody was disassembled, including the bolt-up front clip. The original front end was replaced with a Heidt's tubular independent coilover front end. To handle the horsepower from the retrofit ZZ4, a beefy 12-bolt rearend was installed with KYB shocks and a multi-leaf suspension. Power was transferred through a 200-4R Buick GN automatic overdrive backed by a custom aluminum driveshaft. To make shifting smoother John fabricated a one-off shifter linkage to accommodate the stock SS center console.
After the chassis was rolling John approached a longtime friend to complete the paint and body. After hearing that it would take four months to complete the exterior John saw the end in sight. One-and-a-half years later the cosmetics were completed. The body was straight as an arrow and the Sikkens multi-stage urethane was flatter than a glass lake on a Sunday morning.
While John's patience was wearing thin, the toughest part of the project was yet to come, the search for SS trim. In John's own words, "Finding SS trim is like looking for the Pacific Ocean on the western border of Arizona." Needless to say that 18 weeks of trim searching and restoration was well worth it, but hard on the blood pressure. With the trim, paint, drivetrain, and suspension complete the interior was the only lacking element in John's equation.
In keeping with the theme of his resto-cruiser, John kept all the correct SS interior down to the paint used to coat the inside of the trunk. John's only major modification was the Custom Autosound head unit. When looking at the entire package, John's attention to detail and skilled background in engineering makes for a winning package. We were fortunate enough to flog John's machine for a few short minutes, take it from us the only thing we wished is that we had flogged John's '63 for a few short days.