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1969 Chevy Nova SS - Time Warp

This Is Norm Meads' Second L78 Nova, And It's Very Similar To The One He Bought New As A High School Senior.

Jim Campisano Jan 1, 2011

It's a story as old as the car hobby itself: Boy buys car. Boy drives car. Boy loses car. Boy longs for another.

Sucp_1101_01 1969_chevy_nova_SS Right_front_angle 2/11

There's not a reader in the congregation who isn't nodding his head as he reads this. Every last one of us has a vehicle in our past that we wish was in our present. Sometimes said automobile was sold to pay for college or a down payment on a house. Oftentimes, children came along and made the beast impractical. In the '60s, a draft notice from Uncle Sam sometimes meant selling your treasured ride. Maybe it was wrecked. You pine for it 30, 40 years later.

There isn't a day that goes by here at Super Chevy Command Central when we don't get an email or letter that describes one of the scenarios above. Today, we tell the tale of Norm Meads, a Baltimore police detective. His story is unusual in that the car he longed for was the '70 SS396/375-horse Nova SS he purchased new when he was just a 17-year-old high school student. As a young boy, Norm took note of all the cool cars the older guys owned. This inspired him to start selling newspapers when he was 12 years old. His parents encouraged his dream, telling him that as long as he stayed out of trouble and did well in school that he could use the money to buy whatever automobile he could afford.

Then it happened. Norm read the road test of the L78 Nova in the July 1969 issue of Hot Rod magazine. He knew immediately after absorbing that article what he wanted. Norm, accompanied by his mother, went down to Park Circle Chevrolet in Baltimore and ordered his very own big-block X-body. He put down $1,000 of his hard-earned savings and financed the rest through GMAC-$91.92 a month for three years. His mom had to co-sign because, legally, he was too young to sign the papers himself. Norm used a new part-time gig as a truck driver to pay for the note, gas, insurance and race track entries.

In November of his senior year, he picked up the black-on-black brute and was instantly the envy of every kid at Woodlawn High School. It had 3.73 gears with Positraction, a Turbo 400, deluxe interior with bucket seats, a remote control mirror, rear defogger, AM-FM radio and the Z21 exterior style trim group.

"Very few seniors had the means to purchase a brand-new high-performance car while in high school, and most parents would not allow it," Norm explains. "I didn't have to convince my parents. I wasn't a bad kid. I was responsible, and they had the philosophy of 'do what you want to do until you show us otherwise.' They stood by that policy as long as I wasn't breaking the law."

As Norm waited for his baby to arrive, he started accumulating a slew of aftermarket goodies. Ultimately, a Sun tachometer and gauges, Hooker headers, Mallory distributor and some tuning tricks (with the help of friend Tom Joyce) were added. Norm was racing the Nova just about every Saturday at nearby Capital Raceway in Crofton, Maryland-there would be no illegal street racing. Ultimately, he whittled his elapsed times down to the 12.20s at 111 mph with the above, plus 7-inch slicks and a 3,000 rpm stall converter. This was very competitive in NHRA B/Stock Automatic competition.

The good times lasted about 2 1/2 years. With marriage and a career in the Baltimore Police Department on the horizon, there was no time for drag racing and the little black Nova SS was sold in 1972.

It was in 2007 that Norm began the quest to find his old high school dream car. He had no luck in his search and after a while decided he'd have to settle for one like it-not exactly an easy task since so few were built like his (there were just 1,236 L78 Novas produced with the M40 Turbo 400 option in 1970)-and, how many could be black-on-black?

Ultimately, he found the genuine L78 SS396 you see here. Yes, it is a '69 and it has a four-speed and not an automatic, but it was close enough. It was black-on-black like the original, and it's got the A51 Strato bucket seats, 3.73 gears, glove compartment light and custom interior package. Ironically, this Nova SS was local to the Baltimore area, having sold new at Sport Chevrolet in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The SS was in very good condition when Norm found it. The original heads were on a 2-bolt 396 block that was underhood, but miraculously, the original block was included in the deal. The Nova had been a drag veteran, so there was some work to be done. Jerry and Jay Jeferies of Jerry's Auto Body and Paint refinished the body-mostly, it was the roof, hood and trunk that needed attention. Tom Joyce freshened the correct 396 block and heads, and they were reunited and re-installed in the Nova. Noted Chevy restoration authority (and high school classmate) Jerry MacNeish of Camaro High Performance rebuilt the M20 gearbox.

Rather than turning into a 100-point restoration, Norm personalized it to his own specifications, circa 1970. The engine is stock except for a hotter solid-lifter cam and 2-inch Hooker Competition headers (blowing into 3-inch Flowmaster mufflers). There are slapper bars, Stewart-Warner gauges under the dash, and a Zoom clutch assists with gear changes, but that's really it. Except for the vintage of the car and the gearbox, it mirrors how his was from the early '70s.

Though it's not his original '70 SS, it is a '69, just like the car he read about and lusted after in the Hot Rod road test. And every single time Norm gets behind the wheel, it reminds him of the fantastic ride he ordered and loved as a teenager.



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