Church Boys Racing 1967 Chevy Nova

From full-out drag car to autocross star in two months

Patrick Hill Feb 1, 2013 0 Comment(s)
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Usually when a car becomes dedicated to the quarter-mile life, it’s a marriage with no end other than straight-line warrior. The specialty modifications required to run fast are usually one way, with cages, back halfs, subframe connectors, and other parts being welded onto a chassis usually mean once a Bow Tie becomes a drag racer, it stays a drag racer. But here at Super Chevy, “usually” tends to stay in the back corner, while “unusually” steals the show.

Chuck Church Sr. first built this ’67 Chevy II in 1988 as son Chuck Jr.’s first car for high school. In 1994 Chuck Jr. back-halved the Nova while retaining the front and rear seating arrangements, then went bracket racing weekly until 2001. About 2004 the X-body had a complete paint makeover, and an all-aluminum 421 small-block bolted between the front framerails. This was too much dicey for the car to run safely, so the first Church Boys Racing rack-and-pinion conversion was developed to solve the problem. After that, the Chevy II was running mid-9s at 140 mph.

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In June of 2012, Chuck grew tired of drag racing, and decided to convert the ’67 back into a street car for our Super Chevy Suspension & Handling Challenge, presented by Nitto Tire. Problem was the event was just two months out. And using a back-halved Nova that hadn’t seen street duty in some time? No small task, but not herculean either when you work for a company that specializes in early Nova suspension upgrades.

Up front, the car has Church Boys Racing’s (CBR) bolt-on upper control arms together with CBR’s latest bolt-in rack-and-pinion conversion. The rack has a quick ratio with three and a half turns lock-to-lock, and eliminates the factory front steer system, allowing for standard oil pan use with any engine. Available in both manual and power versions, the CBR rack works with standard and drop spindles, stock control arms, and is a bolt-in item, meaning it can be removed at any time without having to grind on the front subframe.

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The arms feature billet cross shafts that add ½-inch of camber while increasing front fender lip clearance, and lower the inner pivot of the arm for an improved camber curve that keeps the tires firmly planted on the pavement as the suspension travels its range of motion. These are combined with CBR’s lower control arms that help improve camber while leaving the car’s original track width unaffected. Cushion is provided by a set of Varishock two-inch drop coilovers.

In the back, CBR’s triangulated four-link suspension is employed, using CBR adjustable shocks and 2-inch drop springs.

On the Autocross
If someone hadn’t told me Church Boys Racing had brought me their old 9-second wheelstander ’67 Nova drag car after spending the better part of the past month transforming it into something that thought a corner was cool, I wouldn’t have believed it. One look underneath, however, revealed huge tubs for the huge slicks that once graced the axle flanges and the bracing required to keep that rear planted. The Church Boys swapped the ladder bar set up for their corner-carving triangulated four-link rear held secure by double-adjustable shocks.

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For the front, parts were strengthened and lightened with tubular arms, double-adjustable coilover VariShocks, and a front bar designed to accommodate a wider wheel and tire combo. Coupling all this goodness with great balls o’ drivetrain, awesome brakes, and those amazing Nitto NT01s, on paper things were looking good for me this day.

Predictably, the Nova got off the Start line very well. Unfortunately, with a much smaller front tire, a 235/40ZR17 versus the rears at 315/30ZR17, at the first corner I encountered the dreaded push that almost always presents itself with this size disparity. Unfortunately too, this is the largest tire able to be fitted inside a stock front fender, but I was able to counter the initial corner-entry understeer by lightly “pre-turning” way before my apex. This slowly loaded the front end a little and once set, I could work the steering with throttle and left-foot braking to get the rear coming around. It was doable, but not very comfortable and with a high potential for push if my timing was off, nowhere near predictable. Driven sanely, you’d never notice any of these issues but then what’s sane about flinging a car around a mess o’ cones in a very spirited manner?

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Through the fast slalom was where the Church Boys Nova really shined as it didn’t have to work or load the front end to death. I found the car to be very nimble and precise through here, and if there was an autocross course where the layout was “Death by Slaloms,” then I’d want this slate-grey roller-skate as my ride. Powered by a Mast Motorsport LS3-bassed 416, the Nova quickly made waste of this section, and I found I could almost stand this car on its nose entering the turnaround at the end. Those Wilwood’s were perfectly balanced, and while I could lock the wheels if I tried hard enough, braking feel was linear and of all the cars tested that day, these brakes were the easiest to modulate.

That said, getting the Nova sufficiently and smoothly slowed was key, as the last thing it liked was more weight on that front end. Those poor 235s protested heavily but didn’t give up the fight and we got through the “Box” entry smoothly. At the exit 90-degree right, the car was happily easy to place here which gave me good transition out to the sweepers. Predictably, there was some push, but with massive Mast power, I got across the track to prepare for the switchback three-wallom section. Where sweepers over face this car’s front end, quick, lightning-fast turns are its delight. Trail-braking with the back end coming around put the Nova in a happy place and with it, me as well.

Improvements and changes? Yes, there are some. While I loved the power the LS put down, this engine combined with the disparity between front and rear tire sizes needed proper management and a deft right foot. A quicker steering ratio and my preferred inch larger diameter steering wheel would also help with corner-entry as I found the steering a bit light and slightly slower than I’d like. Adding some negative camber and positive caster, better balance in tire sizing, and my steering ratio suggestions would bring this wonderful suspension alive and allow it to do its job. Overall, I liked the Church Boys Racing Nova and as this was the very first test for version “Cornering 1.0,” I felt it did extremely well.—Mary Pozzi

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On the Street
Two months from drag car to autocross car. Once behind the wheel, the design and quality of Church Boys’ suspension parts was well represented. Since this review is really about the suspension, the interior’s still drag-oriented accoutrements and ergonomics were easily overlooked. Let’s face it, if you were building this car at home, you would swap the drag seats out for some sort of comfy, hip hugging buckets pronto.

On the street this car handled more like a true autocross car, with more of the road being felt coming through the suspension and into the car. The shocks were still set for autocrossing when we did our street drive, so this was a minor issue, one easily solved by readjusting the shocks to a more street friendly setting once the day’s activities are done.

The Nova was tight, responsive, and had a sports car-ike feel to it. Turning was quick and sharp, the fast ratio of the CBR rack eliminating a lot of sawing on the steering wheel to change directions. While the suspension was tight, it wasn’t bone jarring or uncomfortable. The manual Wilwood brakes complemented the Nova’s handling prowess well.

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Overall, this was another fun car, different from our other competitors, yet still providing that right balance between handling and comfort for the person looking to do both cruising and autocrossing. And with the bolt-on features of everything Church Boys offers, in a weekend anyone with a garage and modicum of mechanical skill could transform the typically weak-kneed and wandering stock Nova suspension into something that’d let you pull some lateral G’s without fear. —Patrick Hill c

Specs
Engine
Type: Mast Motorsports 416 from Pace Performance
Block: Aluminum
Fuel Delivery: Mast fuel injection, Ricks Tanks w/Vapor Works system
Drivetrain
Transmission: Abruzzi Racing 4L60E
Stall: Abruzzi 3000
Rearend: Moser 9-inch with 3.50:1 ratio and a Wave Loc diff.
Chassis/Suspension
Chassis: GM
Front Suspension: CBR upper and lower tubular arms with bolt-in rack
Steering: CBR power rack-and-pinion, 3.5 turns lock to lock
Springs: CBR 2-inch drop 450 lb rate
Spindles: GM
Shocks: Varishock coilovers double adjustable
Swaybar: CBR 1-inch
Brakes: Wilwood six-piston calipers and 13-inch rotors
Rear Suspension: CBR triangulated four-link
Springs: CBR 2-inch drop 175-lb rate
Shocks: CBR double adjustable
Swaybar: None
Brakes: Wilwood four-piston calipers and 12-inch rotors
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Forgeline DS3P, front-17x8, rear-17x11
Tires: Nitto NT01, front-235/40R17, rear-315/35R17
Cost of Suspension:
$5,667 (not including brakes)
Weight
Total: 3,128 (pounds)
LF: 889 | RF: 810 | LR: 679 | RR: 750
Percentage
F: 54.3 | R: 45.7
Results
Skid Pad: CW 0.84g, CCW 0.87g, Average 0.85g
Slalom: Best 46.9 mph, average of 5 runs 45.5 mph
Autocross: Best 52.82, average of 5 runs 53.83*
*One rear shock was broken during all the autocross runs
Baseline 1
2013 Corvette Grand Sport
Skid Pad: CW 0.98g, CCW 0.99g, average 0.99g
Slalom: Best 48.5 mph, average of 5 runs 46.9 mph
Autocross: Best 51.10, average of 5 runs 51.58
Baseline 2
1972 Chevelle SS396
Skid Pad: CW 0.69g, CCW 0.76g, Average 0.74g
Slalom: Best 38.7 mph, average of 3 runs, 38.2 mph
Autocross: Best 1.03.87, average of 3 runs 1.08.64

Testing facility provided by AMCI at eltorofield.com

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