When Cale Yarborough got into a nationally televised slugfest with Bobby and Donnie Allison at the end of the 1979 Daytona 500, NASCAR became a fixture on the radar screen for many motorsports enthusiasts. Watching drivers drink milk in the Winner's Circle or kiss bricks at the finish line was OK for some, but the image of good ol' Southern boys trading paint and body blows was what really caught the lasting imagination.
In the shadow of Bristol Motor Speedway, Derrick Smith's 1969 Nova is a throwback to what many of those fans readily identified with. A stock, lightweight body with a Spartan interior and a big engine under the hood turned a lot of heads back then—and it still does today.
"My good friend and customer Stacey Banks originally bought the car off eBay," Derrick said when asked about the history of his Nova. "It was an original six-cylinder car with just 47,000 miles, and it came with the original Protect-O-Plate, owner's manual, build sheet, and bill of sale. There was even a thank-you letter to the original owner. When he got it, it turned out to be too nice for what he wanted to do, so my business partner, Bill Harris, and I bought the car to showcase what we do at our shop, Smith's Paint & Restoration."
Derrick and righthand man Jimmy Whitten spent a lot of time smoothing and prepping the stock body panels and Glasstek fiberglass hood, which is accented by a white stinger. Even more attention was spent under the car. Everything was stripped to the bare metal and finished in PPG Concept Scarlet Red acrylic urethane, while the subframe, core support, and front fender aprons were sprayed with PPG Black. While this was being done, Doug Rogers of American Supercars had the spindles, steering arms, sway bars, rear shock mountings, as well as the hood hinges and latches in for powdercoating.
With the exception of some Stewart-Warner gauges and a Hurst shifter, the interior remains all stock right down to the factory rubber floor matting. A stock bench seat, manual door locks, windows, and a radio/heater delete shows the car is strictly business.
A quick peek under the hood shows this car is more than capable of taking care of business with 496 cubic inches of stroked Rat muscle. Greg Walker assembled the 454 short-block with an Eagle crank and Manley H-beam rods that can take all the downward thrust that the 12.1:1 Wiseco pistons can dish out. Larry Smith Automotive worked the L88 heads and did the final engine assembly with a Comp Cams bumpstick and a GM intake. Holley's Custom Shop rebuilt and plated the 427/435 tri-power carbs. A Pertronix distributor and coil helps light the combustion chamber mixture, which is then carried away by ceramic-coated Hooker headers and Flowmaster mufflers.
Behind that is a Tremec TKO 600 five-speed with an 11-inch Ram clutch that connects the aluminum driveshaft to a 12-bolt limited-slip rear with 4.10 gears. Hudlow Axle in Rossville, Georgia, narrowed the rearend slightly so the oversize rear tires would fit within the stock wheelwells. No Limits supplied the relocation kit so the shocks could be moved inside the rear springs. Detroit Speed drop leaf springs helped lower the rear ride height by 4 inches. A set of solid subframe bushings from Global West were also used in the finished assembly.
The front suspension utilizes a Heidt's Pro G subframe assembly with 2-inch drop spindles and subframe connectors. Also, QA1 coilover shocks and Wilwood 13-inch inch rotors with six-piston calipers help provide superior handling and braking. American Torq-Thrust rims measuring 18 inches in diameter mount Diamondback Red Ring Classic tires both front and rear.
"I really haven't driven it that much, but I took the car out the other day and put my foot in it deep enough to open all three carburetors and it was really a wicked ride," Derrick said. "With 496 cubes, high compression, and the tri-power carbs, I'd estimate it's making 600 horsepower."
With that kind of power and a clean body style from the still-popular 1968-'72 line of Chevy II Novas, Derrick's car is a modern classic that would doubtless make many of the old-school NASCAR boys think it's playtime.
What would he do differently if he was to build the car again?
"Nothing!" said Derrick flatly.
I think we'd have to agree.