Editor's note: Whenever we're shooting a car feature for this magazine, the owner invariably asks how long it'll take before it will be featured. I tell the truth-usually between six-and-16 months. Heck, we work three months in advance so the soonest would be four months. In the case of Vince Pileggi, it took slightly longer. OK, a lot longer-24 years. But it's not our fault. Really. Read on for the full scoop.
New York's Vince Pileggi graduated high school in June, 1965. A few months later, he bought a '59 Impala convertible with a 3x2 348 and Powerglide automatic. In no time, he changed it to stick shift and had lots of fun. In July of '67, he visited the now-legendary Motion Performance in Baldwin, Long Island, seeking a big-block Chevy II. At this time, Motion Performance only sold big-block Camaros, Chevelles, Corvettes and full-size cars.
Almost three years later, in June, 1970, Pileggi placed an order for a dark green '70 Nova SS, L78 396 (402) 375hp, four-speed and bench seat at Curry Chevrolet in Scarsdale, New York. He took delivery on August 17. For the record, few solid-lifter, 375hp Novas ever remained stock. Within 60 days, Pileggi began making his personal updates: Hooker headers, Sun tachometer and gauges, American Torque Thrust wheels, Goodyear Polyglas GT tires and a much-needed Hurst shifter.
Pileggi then cruised the local area for three years and 32,462 miles. His very first quarter-mile run was at Dover Drag Strip in late 1973. The drag racing bug bit him hard. So with help from brother-in-law Richie Lobus and best friend John Pascale, along with some assistance from E/T Speed Shop in Croton/Ossining, New York, and Fred's Speed Shop in Yonkers, the Nova SS was set up for NHRA SS/E competition.
Completed on a Saturday, to break in the cam and drivetrain, Pileggi drove his Nova home that night on Route 9 hours before his big debut on Sunday. The highway was deserted so he decided to do a trial run. But a New York State Trooper was lurking undetected in the shadows. After Pileggi explained himself, the trooper simply said, "I'm really impressed with your Nova." He then let Pileggi head home.
In the months that followed, the Nova won big and ran in the high 11s at 123 mph thanks to a correct combo. Try 5.38:1 gear ratio, legal head work, carb re-jet and prep work, Crane S/S cam and lifters, Hayes clutch and flywheel, Lakewood scattershield and engine block plate, Moroso deep-sump oil pan, Hurst Super Shifter 2 and M&H slicks. Pileggi's last race was two years later in October, 1975. His SS was then parked in his garage.
For the history buffs, a total of 107,667 V-8 Sport Coupe Novas were sold in 1970. The SS models totaled 19,558. A mere 3,765 of them were L78 396s. Far fewer were bench seat cars with rubber floor covering and dark green body color.
In 1980, he and his wife relocated to California for a law enforcement job opportunity. The Nova stayed in New York until 1986-then it was shipped via car carrier and stored for another 20 years. Interestingly, Pileggi first met this author by chance at the Super Chevy/Argus Publishers headquarters back in 1986. Pileggi was assigned to take a vandalism report there. He was about to turn the Nova into a Pro Street machine. I suggested that he instead refurbish it to its original drag racing stance. I told him Super Chevy was interested in doing a feature article in the future and here it is in print, a mere 24 years later.
His rust-free Nova SS was professionally prepped and repainted at Bill & Diane Anderson's Hot Rod Alley in Lompoc, California, then Bel Air Ranch (Buellton, California) rebuilt the engine and cleaned up various body and chassis items.
In certain areas, the car screams early-'70s, but Pileggi chose not to stay strictly in that era when he refinished the car. Updated items include the water pump, coated original Hooker Pro Stock headers, Dart intake manifold, thermostat housing, Be Cool dual electric radiator fans, fuel line, fuel pressure regulator and valve covers. The exhaust system was updated for street driving with a mandrel-bent system featuring a balance tube. The oil pan is a vintage Moroso Performance item and the scattershield with block plate is a Lakewood original.
Pileggi updated his mint original interior with an Auto Meter Monster tachometer, shift light and gauges, a trick Grant GT cushion grip steering wheel, and Crow Industries race-type lap belts. When he ordered the car new, he didn't realize that interior carpeting was an extra-cost item. So, his Nova has the very rare basic rubber flooring.
The front tow bar brackets are the originals, created back in New York in 1973. They represent the Nova's external "calling card." The Nova SS now runs in the 12s without hurting itself. The suspension is original but the car has a slight frontal downward rake due to the large Mickey Thompson P275/60R15 rear tires. The only decal on the car is an NHRA Division 1 "Lane Of NED" original (NED=Northeast Division).
Pileggi has owned lots of other hot Chevys, including a '56 Bel Air drag car, a '66 Corvette, '66 Nova four-speed, and a '67 Chevy II. But his '70 SS will always be a keeper. He still has his owner's manual with Protect-0-Plate. Today, his Nova is driven on weekends and now and then to his police precinct.