Flashy paint, artisan body mods, and high dollar bling an awesome car do not make. We're not saying any of those things are bad mind you, just that any of the three aren't prerequisites for having a killer Chevy. Sometimes, simplicity can be more awe inspiring than over engineered complication. Tobie Johnson's Nova is that type of simplistic beauty. "Everything on the car is a bolt-on part. And outside an area of the passenger rear quarter panel that's been blended, all the Aztec Bronze paint is factory original."
The car rolled into Tobie's life one sunny afternoon when a friend who owned the car at the time stopped by for a visit. She happened to be in the garage talking with her husband Randy when she saw the Nova for the first time and fell completely in love with it. She even remembers turning to Randy and saying, "Now that I like!" A rust-free survivor from California that was in superb condition, a deal was negotiated that made the Nova her early 40th birthday present in the February chill of Wisconsin. Not wanting to take any chance with her new toy, she kept the Nova wrapped up safe and sound in the garage until things thawed out and the roads were clean and clear.
After her first cruise behind the wheel, Tobie realized quickly she didn't like the feel or ability of the old factory suspension and steering. After talking with her husband Randy (owner of D&Z Customs), they decided some updates, upgrades, and improvements were in order. But the couple didn't want to harm the original look of the car, so everything had to be carefully considered. The first thing decided was all changes would be bolt-on, so the car could be taken back to factory stock in the future if they ever felt the desire to.
Leaving the body unmolested, the first area receiving attention was the front suspension. '62-'67 Novas are notorious for their lackluster front underpinnings, which is why the aftermarket has released all sorts of bolt-on parts to remedy that problem. Since D&Z had helped Heidts out with the development of its independent rear suspension for second-generation Camaros, Randy decided to stick with Heidts for everything needed in getting the '66 feeling good on the road. R&D guru Vaughn West got involved shortly after, and the Nova ended up serving as the R&D mule to develop the Pro G suspension kit for '62-'67 Novas.
The Heidts Pro-G front subframe is loaded with rack-and-pinion steering, optimized geometry short/long control arms, Wilwood six-piston calipers and asymmetrical slotted rotors, and adjustable QA1 coilover shocks. The real beauty is the whole package (once assembled off the car) can be bolted right up in place of the factory stick suspension. And by eliminating the rear steer layout, installing any engine combo becomes a breeze. Moving us to the next upgrade.
With all the improvements in store, the Nova's factory powerplant wasn't going to cut it. Since this car was going to be driven and enjoyed, an LS1 built by Wegner Automotive was bolted between the new front framerails. The engine runs 5.7L/346 inches, and is topped with Wegner ported LS2 heads, Comp Cams custom valvetrain, and fed by a pair of Holley EFI throttle bodies to crank out 350 dyno tuned horsepower. A Bowler Transmission built 700-R4 with 2,600-2,800 variable stall converter is bolted to the modern Mouse, sending power to the third major part of the Nova's upgrades.
Building on the success and design of the second-gen Camaro IRS, Heidts used Tobie's shoebox Nova to develop a new IRS kit for '62-'67 Novas. It's based around a 9-inch housing with 3.50 gears and Tru-Trac limited slip, machined steel halfshafts, tubular control arms, and cushioned with QA1 adjustable coilovers. To help the Nova stay planted on the asphalt, Forgeline DS3P 18x9 wheels wrapped in Nitto rubber are bolted on all four corners over the Wilwood brakes.
Inside the car is fairly stock, with Auto Meter American Muscle gauges using a Kwik Wire gauge harness replacing the factory sweep units. Corbeau belts keep the front passengers in the factory buckets, and the original SS automatic console controls the Bowler 700-R4. At first glance it just looks like a stock '66 Nova with wheels and a lowered stance. But under the guise of simplicity, a corner carving animal lurks within.