1969 Chevy Nova - A Z/28 Nova

We test a "what if" car that actually came to be

Mike Harrington Aug 30, 2007 0 Comment(s)
Sucp_0709_01_z 1969_chevy_nova_z28 Rear_view 1/23

A world of "what ifs" gathered and swirled in Steve Strope's gray matter, much like a summer storm moving in from the horizon. Strope, a restoration specialist and purveyor of custom automobiles, and Gary Gagliardi, an avid collector of American muscle cars, were planning a project. At first, the car you see on these pages was going to be a '70s-vintage Buick Apollo with a full-bore, Dutweiler-built Grand National turbo V-6. Somewhere along the line, that plan fell through.

The world of "what if" is a far more interesting place to explore, as in: "What if Chevrolet had offered the Z/28 option on the Nova?" This became a recurring theme with Strope. Never being satisfied with the "what if" factor, he quickly shifted into the realm of "why not?" Why not build a 1969 Z/28 and put "the what ifs" to bed? The car would sport many first-gen Camaro Z/28 features-cross-ram, dual-quad intake, rear spoiler, houndstooth interior with console-mounted gauges. However, the suspension and brakes would be grounded in the 21st century and the powerplant would make more power than the factory 302 ever dreamed of.

Sucp_0709_16_z 1969_chevy_nova_z28 Front_view 2/23

Starting from the ground up, the Nova's subframe was worked over like one of Tony Soprano's victims. The original suspension was given a pair of cement shoes, then deep-sixed. In its place went an infinitely more capable Global West G-Plus system of upper and lower tubular A-arms, coilover springs and shocks, 1-inch sway bar, subframe connectors and body mounts. The rear received Global West leaf springs and Del-A-Lum bushings, Strange S60 Dana axles and 3.73 gears.

The OEM steering and braking were also dropped in the drink and replaced with an American Touring Specialties aluminum spindles and C5 hub. The front brakes are genuine C6 14-inch rotors and six-piston calipers, while the rear rotors and calipers are Wilwood 12-inch rotors and four-piston calipers. A fine custom touch on the rear calipers is the factory Corvette logo, which was etched on by the architects at Pure Vision. A Flaming River fast ratio power box handles the steering duties.

Sucp_0709_15_z 1969_chevy_nova_z28 Engine 3/23

While everyone else in America seems hung up on Torque Thrust rims, Strope wanted something different. Budnik wheels and Pirelli tires (235/40ZR18s in the front and 305/30ZR19s in back) take care of the rest. As any third-gen Nova owner may know, only pizza cutter wheels and tires can fit in the rear. Gold Coast Customs took the lead role in the installation of the Detroit Speed & Engineering deep-set wheel tubs, along with the modification to the framerails and stellar paint and body.

A 406-stroker small-block Chevy was built to look just like an original DZ 302 cross-ram engine. Even the modern World Products heads were made to look like a set of double-hump camel heads.

One of the problems with the Z/28 Nova is that Pure Vision built it so perfectly-most assume all it had to do was swap Camaro parts for Nova ones. Nothing could be further from the truth. Take the white interior-this was never offered on this vintage Nova (forget about in a houndstooth pattern). The door panels are completely custom made. The rear seat is much wider than in a Camaro, so the houndstooth seat cover was another one-off specialty. The Nova script in the dash, the console, and numerous other items inside mimic the Z/28 F-body, but in actuality were hand-fabricated.

Sucp_0709_21_z 1969_chevy_nova_z28 Passenger_side_view 7/23

Now, we can throw an all-day-long parts list of what was done to this Nova and why, but speculation and "what ifs" are just that. Can this Z/28 wannabe really cowboy up and punch the doggies? Yes, it can. And to prove it, Gagliardi, Strope and the crew from Pure Vision met us in Fontana, California, at the California Speedway to showcase the Nova's mettle.

While at Fontana, we ran the Z/28 Nova through a 420-foot slalom, skidpad and 60-0 mph braking tests. (We would've had drag numbers, too, but the unexpected lack of an ambulance crew killed that idea.)

Numbers by themselves are not impressive unless there is a side-by-side comparison made to that of a like or similar vehicle. After the Z/28 Nova, we ran a completely original 1970 Nova through the same tests, giving us some pretty tasty numbers to look at (next page).

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