No one can argue the greatness of the LS engine family. Since its introduction in the '97 Corvette, GM's new small-block has taken the performance world by storm. Over the last few years as LS salvage motors and purpose-built crate engines have become readily available to the masses, transplanting a "modern" small-block into classic Chevy iron has become more popular than ever.
For Bob Phelps, dropping LS engines into various cars has become a hobby. Starting with LS1s to today's LQ9s and LS7s, Bob has become an expert at putting the Gen III and Gen IV powerplants in between the fenders of various Chevrolets. From Novas to Chevelles to Tri-Fives to Corvettes, Bob has even stuffed LS power into a few '30s-era Bow Ties. According to Bob, he became infatuated with the LS engine after it first came out. To date, he's done almost 30 installs of LS engines into various types of cars. When the LS7 crate motor came out, Bob bought one immediately for installation into a '70 Chevelle, then grabbed two more to have on the shelf for other projects, like the '67 Deuce shown on these pages.
This particular Nova caught Bob's eye at Super Chevy Gainesville in 2007. Bob had brought one of his LS-powered Tri-Fives to show, and spotted the red Nova down the show line. After talking to the Nova's owner, a deal was struck, and Bob had purchased the car minus the engine and trans. The Nova was already fully restored and in excellent shape, but in Bob's eye there was massive room for improvement.
The car was shipped to his shop in Michigan (he also has one in Florida), where Bob and his crew went to work disassembling the '67 for a ground-up rebuild. Being involved with aviation most of his life, specifically the business of refurbishing and overhauling aircraft for various duties, Bob is no stranger to major projects, and knows that while anything mechanical is disassembled, there is never a better time to improve things. Bob has rebuilt airplanes like the DC-7 and DC-9 jetliner, and compared to an operation that has to survive FAA scrutiny, totally reconditioning a car is easy.
First up for the Nova's improvements was the installation of a full Heidt's front end, to eliminate the inherent weakness of the stock design. This part of the project was a bit tricky though, because Bob had to transplant the Nova's original core support onto the new front subframe.
"At the time no one made an aftermarket core support for these cars, so we had to reuse the old one," Bob says.
To handle rear suspension duties, Bob went to DTS for one of its narrowed 9-inch rears with 31-spline axles and a 3.70 Posi unit, and a full four-link setup to keep the rear under control. The rear wheelwells were opened up so modern-width tires and wheels could be added to give the Nova a full Pro Touring look.
Once everything for the front and rear suspension was taken care of, the car was treated to a full sandblasting to remove every trace of corrosion, then the entire car was rotisserie painted red, except for the interior floor of the car's shell, which was sprayed white. Why white? Bob tells us
"When you're building/reassembling a car and the interior metal is painted body color, it can be difficult to see sometimes if you drop things like screws, small fasteners, or other parts. When the interior's white, you can easily spot anything you might've dropped."
Can't argue with that logic!
When the Nova's body was reattached to the front and rear subframes, Bob also added a set of subframe connectors from his own company, Bob Phelps Motorsports, so chassis stiffness and rigidity wouldn't be an issue. Like most subframe cars, Nova's are notorious for chassis flex under high torque loads.
Bob bought the 505hp crate LS7 from GM Performance Parts just after the engine was made available. At the time, no one was doing wet sump conversions to the Z06 engine, so Bob and his crew kept the dry sump oiling system for simplicity. And it fit nicely inside the Nova's engine compartment, except for the oil tank being a bit too tall.
During mock up, Bob noticed the tank might hit the front right tire on hard turns, so he shortened the tank for extra clearance, cutting its capacity to 6 quarts. Handling cooling duties for the LS7 is an aluminum PRC radiator with Meziere water pump and an electric fan to draw air. MSD coils handle ignition duties, and a set of reworked Camaro headers spits the exhaust out back to the Stainless Steel Works exhaust system. Funneling air into the LS7's intake is a custom-built inlet that runs from the left front wheelwell to the throttle body, created by Bob himself. A Street & Performance serpentine system keeps the A/C compressor, alternator, and oil pump spinning with the motor.
Behind the LS7 is a built 4L60E. To help the transmission work with the motor, Bob changed the reluctor wheel on the LS7 crank to an LS2 wheel, and also upgraded some of the 4L60's internals with some 4L65 parts. Transferring power from the trans to the DTI 9-inch is a custom-made driveshaft that Bob built. After working on airplanes for decades, making custom parts for cars is no problem
With the drivetrain installed it was time to finish off the interior. To make driving the car as comfortable as possible, a Vintage Air system was installed to handle interior heating and cooling duties, Nu-Relics power windows take car of the glass, and to make sure interior noise isn't a problem, Bob used Dynamat to insulate all the interior sheetmetal. The custom leather upholstery on the stock bucket seats and center console were done by Joe Ruelle at Left Coast Trimmers, and keeping tabs on the LS7's performance are Auto Meter Pro Comp gauges mounted in a Covan's Classic Cluster. Controlling the Nova is done with a Billet Specialty steering wheel, and a Shiftworks shifter handles gear selection duties.
For stopping, Bob went with Aerospace Components disc braes with four piston calipers (front and rear), and 12-inch two piece rotors that areboth slotted and drilled.. Finishing off the Nova are a set of American Racing five-spoke chrome wheels, with 235/40R18 tires up front, and 275/40R18 rubber out back.
Best of all, this Nova sees lots of pavement. Bob drives the car for a week every couple of months (when you have a huge car collection, this is quite a bit, and all the cars in Bob's collection are drivers). He also drives it to various shows.
In today's world of retro looks, nostalgia craze, and trying to meld the best of Detroit's golden era with modern technology, we think Bob Phelp's Nova shows everyone how a new heart in an old soul of a car can make for one awesome ride.
Watch for more on Bob Phelp's car collection and some of his other LS-powered creations in future issues of Super Chevy-Ed