In a world gone jaded over mega-buck celebrity-signature street creations that cost more than the national budget of many third-world countries, the appearance of an old-school street machine recalls a time not long ago when street was neat. This classic '63 Nova SS is a prime example of how rodders kept it simple, subtle, and sanitary back before the Y2K days. And yet for all its understated appearance, this little Nova SS is actually a resto-rod legend and the inspiration for a die-cast model.
Built in the late 1990s by Norwood Wooding of Roanoke, Virginia, the '63 Nova SS appeared in the July '99 issue of Super Chevy as the "Resurrected SS" and was also featured in Popular Hot Rodding. Its transformation from derelict wreck to dazzling show car is a story of imaginative design and determined engineering.
Wooding discovered the rotted hulk in a barn and purchased it for $2,000-a large sum even in today's dollars for what was literally a rust bucket. Wooding dragged the Nova's carcass home and began what he assumed was going to be a correct concours restoration.
Like most projects, things have a propensity for going astray, and that's exactly what happened to the Nova. Along the way, the notion of a restoration gave way to a "restification," which eventually led to the decision to build a street machine, and the project took on a whole new direction.
The Nova's body was stripped and the rusted areas replaced by new metal. Wooding also paid attention to smoothing the firewall and the inner fenders. Since Wooding planned on replacing the anemic six-banger with more grunt under the hood, he wisely installed subframe connectors to the Nova's unibody for the extra torque his yet-to-be-installed engine would produce. Wooding retained the Nova's clean lines and kept the exterior dimensions original; however, he chose to mini-tub the rear to fit big rubber in the dead cat hole (the space between the tire and the wheelwell). With these chassis mods, Wooding turned to the front-end sheetmetal.
Finishing the front clip wasn't as easy as the body. The original fenders were rotted beyond repair, and locating new old stock '63 Nova front fenders was like finding snow cones in the Mojave. There were no reproduction fenders available either, so Wooding found a used pair. These also had faults, but he was able to cut and paste sheetmetal from both sets to produce one good pair. With the panelwork complete (the hood only required some ping straightening), the body was then primered and painted. Wooding chose Admiral Blue, a color offered on '94-96 Corvettes. All the bumpers, trim, grilles, and emblems were correct '63 Chevy II and Nova SS.
The interior is an amazing amalgamation of stock and custom. The original seats were reupholstered in tan soft touch vinyl, as were the door and quarter trim panels. Detail touches like painting the armrest bases blue instead of rechroming them, upholstering the kick panels, and embroidering the Nova SS script into the seat backs make the interior's color and texture theme consistent.
The instrument panel's design and construction is about as novel as you'll find. Wooding removed the factory gauge cluster and the radio and, using exhaust and driveshaft tubing, fabricated the buckets that contain the VDO Night Vision instruments that extend all the way to the glovebox, all wired up with a trouble-free Ron Francis harness. All the factory switches and controls were removed or replaced with air-conditioning vents in the lower center and both ends of the panel. The billet-faced HVAC control panel is to the right of the ididit tilt column. Wooding chose a four-spoke Lecarra wheel with a tan leather rim to match the interior. Inside the glovebox is a high-powered Clarion AM/FM/cassette audio system with a six-disc remote CD player.
While the Nova may look stock on the outside, it's plenty radical on the inside. Start with the underpinnings. Wooding chucked the stock front drums in favor of a set of big discs and added a dual master cylinder. The factory steering box was replaced with a rack-and-pinion setup from a Mustang II. Gabriel shocks were placed at all four corners, and a half turn was removed from the front coils to lower the front end. Out back, the reinforced leaf springs support a narrowed Currie nine-inch Ford rear with a 3.72:1 Posi rear.
No self-respecting Nova SS street machine would be caught dead without a big-block, so Wooding chose a 425-horsepower 454 GM Performance Parts crate motor from Berguland Chevrolet. Wooding added a 750-cfm Edelbrock carburetor, a high-flow Stuart water pump, ACCEL ignition, and Taylor wires. To keep the engine temperature nominal, a BeCool aluminum radiator with twin fans was installed. A set of custom headers were bent and HPC-coated, and the big 2.5-inch pipes stretch out to a set of Flowmasters. A Hurst shifter controls the Muncie M20 manual transmission. For looks, Wooding chromed the intake manifold, the 110-amp alternator, and the A/C compressor, and added shiny valve covers and an open-element air cleaner.
After the Nova appeared as a feature car in Super Chevy's "Real Street" series, the folks at Johnny Lightning liked it so much they made it into one of their "Famous Chevys" line of 1/64-scale die-cast models.
Like most car builders, Wooding grew tired of the Nova SS once it was finished and made the rounds on the show circuit. After all, you can only polish the fenders so many times. The Nova SS crossed the block at one of the major collector car hobby auctions and ended up in the All-Chevy collection of Rick Treworgy in Punta Gorda, Florida.
Rick Klinger, who maintains the massive Treworgy collection, spruced up the engine compartment with a chrome finned air cleaner lid and valve covers and replaced the rubber radiator and engine hoses with braided lines. He also went through the Nova SS to ensure it continues to remain in the top-quality condition Norwood Wooding maintained it in when it hit the pages of Super Chevy. It's one of Treworgy's favorite cars in his collection, not just because he enjoys an occasional blast down the highway or because it's a sweetheart to drive; no, Rick's got a warm spot for the Nova because it's the only car he owns that has a Johnny Lighting die-cast model made in its image. How many other car owners can say that?