The question was simple. How far can you take a Nova street machine without spending a lot of money on costly fabrication? An experiment of sorts, that's what this Chevy II feature car is (though the owner/builder may have gone a little overboard in some areas).
Steve Dembinski owns Hot Rods by Steve in Howell, New Jersey, and he understands first-hand how the cost of a build with lots of one-off parts and custom work can escalate out of the reach of the average enthusiast. But what if it was mostly a combination of store-bought goodies and a bit less fabrication? This would significantly cut down the many costly hours of labor. Won't be cheap, mind you, but playing with hot rods rarely is.
"With the economy being the way it is, a lot of people don't have a lot of money to spend or don't want to spend a lot of money. There are a lot of killer bolt-on parts available, explained Steve, whose shop only does turn-key cars. "Most people associate a nice car with a high price. I set out to minimize build cost by lessening the amount of harcore fabrication and focused on attention to detail while using aftermarket bolt-on parts in lieu of over-the-top fabricated ones."
The finished product proved out his point, that you don't have to chop, channel, cut up and do a lot of slicing and dicing to get an outstanding end result. Since its completion, Steve has shown the deuce at a variety of shows and cruise nights and has gotten four jobs from it.
Please don't get the idea that this Nova is nothing but bolt-ons. While 99-percent of the piece can be purchased, to create a car of this caliber Steve did plenty of custom finishing work. For example, the front clip is from Chris Alston's Chassisworks, but Steve ground down every weld and refinished it. Same for the steering wheel. It was taken apart and tweaked to his liking.
"You can still buy it off the shelf, but we did our own thing with it," Steve noted. Bottom line is he says he's willing to work with the customers.
The engine is a standard-displacement 454 built by Steve and his father, Ken, a longtime drag racer who at age 70 still races for points at nearby Raceway Park in Englishtown every Sunday. The block is from Chevrolet Performance, as are the aluminum oval port heads with 2.25-inch intake valves, 1.88 exhausts, and 110cc chambers. The cam's a custom grind with 0.510 intake lift and 0.540 exhaust. Duration is split, 211-degree intake and 230 exhaust. A 750 Holley sits atop an Edelbrock Torquer intake manifold. Chassisworks 2-1/8-inch headers flow into 2.5-inch Borla XR1 mufflers. Backing the Rat is a reverse manual valve body Turbo 400 by Pross Transmission (Jamesburg, New Jersey) and a Currie 9-inch with 31-spline axles and a 3.08 ring-and-pinion.
As you can see from the photos, the engine compartment itself has been heavily worked over. Steve spent 400 hours underhood making sure everything matched his vision of what it should be. The Ansen valve covers have been machined to eliminate the logos and Steve designed the air cleaner, which was CNC'd by Terry Smith at Smith Machine (Howell, New Jersey). The March Performance pulley system is powdercoated black and all the wiring and fuel lines are hidden. Many of the hours were spent tweaking stuff so the Rat would fit under the Nova's stock flat hood.
As we mentioned earlier, the front clip is from Chris Alston Chassisworks, with single adjustable QA1 coilovers, tubular control arms, 1-inch swaybar, and 2-inch drop spindles. For the rear suspension, Steve went with a Total Cost Involved (TCI) four-link assembly with a center diagonal link. As with the front clip, all the components were ground down, sanded and powercoated matte black for a better–than–OE–look. Brakes are 13-inch Wilwoods up front and 12.19-inchers rear.
The wheels are Intro model ID321 (18x8 and 19x11, all with 4.5-inch backspacing). To make them his own, Steve sliced the rears and widened them to be flush with the stock framerails. Hankook Evos (215/40 and 285/35) keep the wheels from scraping the pavement.
One area Steve didn't go the bolt-on route was the interior, which was completely customized. Mike Lippincott at Lippencott Custom Auto Upholstery did the seats, door and side panels, the dash (off a design by Steve), and the console. All-American Tradition gauges from Classic Instruments ensure the driver knows what's what underhood. The customization didn't stop at the interior, either. The trunk was designed to resemble a modern-day luxury car.
The paint is 2008 Chrysler Steel Blue (Sherwin Williams two-stage) and it was applied by Scott Dorie and Bill Dickson at Shore Customs in Neptune, New Jersey. The bodywork was handled by Marty Diantonio and Aaron Fike.
Steve figures that the parts (including every fuel fitting, screw, clip and washer) ran him $45,000. He definitely went overboard on the labor, but since it's his only toy and a rolling business card, he doesn't regret the 1,500 hours he spent working on it. These numbers are not a pre-requisite, though, if you want him to build you a car. In the end, this one's still mostly bolt-ons.