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How to Wire a 1963 Chevrolet Nova - Project Hardtop Hellion

Power On! - The Hardtop Hellion's Electrical Gadgetry

Jake Amatisto Mar 12, 2014
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Wiring a car from scratch can be a daunting task, especially before the days of companies like Painless Wiring. We can recall wiring one of our first projects years ago in our driveway using individual bundles of wire and a standalone fuse box from an auto parts store; all the while there's got to be a better way—these days, there is. We're definitely not auto electricians by any means, and honestly, most gearheads we know hate wiring. It's tedious, time consuming, and can be one of the most annoying things to diagnose if there's an issue. The folks at Painless, however, have a whole catalog of kits designed to make wiring a car a breeze, so the days of wondering what gauge wire for what accessory and tracing unlabeled wires are over.

Sure, we can turn wrenches, but when it came to the electrical system of the Hellion, we contacted the professionals at BCR Motorsports in Arcadia, California. Whether it's a multiple nitrous system heads-up car, a stock restoration, or even a simple street machine setup like ours, the Baglieri's have been working on performance applications since 1980 and are vastly experienced when it comes to wiring up a performance vehicle. Also, since the owner is an NHRA Tech inspector, it meant we'd be getting a system that had all the dragstrip-legal items, such as a neutral safety switch and battery cut-off. BCR was a tremendous help in getting our car powered up, and the clean and simple installation will make adding on other systems down the road a snap.

Besides Painless Wiring, who supplied us with their 8-Circuit Race Wiring Harness/Panel Kit, we also teamed up with other companies that made getting the Nova powered up possible. Since this car is designed for an NMCA class, where hot lapping the car is part of the competition, we chose a pair of Optima's Red Top Batteries mounted in the trunk of the Hellion. Our idea was to run our electric fan and water pump in the staging lanes before each run, without the worry of a stalled hot rod. The dual batteries also promotes better weight bias over the rear wheels. Feeding amperage to our system is a Performance Distributor's Mr. Amp alternator. At 150 amps, this piece can adequately keep our system charged and the one wire connection made hooking it up a non-issue. Since the batteries would be mounted in the trunk, we needed a solid way to secure them. Speedway Motors is a great source for affordable-yet-nice hot rod items under their brand, such as their 3-Bolt Deluxe Billet Battery Mount and 18-foot Battery Cable Kit.


Another main part of wiring the Nova was the instrument cluster. We learned of Classic Instruments line of muscle car gauges at the Goodguys show in Ohio and immediately fell in love with their '63-65 Nova Gauge Cluster. Using the factory bezel, this setup is worlds better over the factory setup and the pre-terminated harness made hooking everything up incredibly easy. We'll reveal the features and the detailed installation of the Classic Instruments dash in a future issue. One of the final pieces to the electrical puzzle was the battery cut-off; if the batteries are in the trunk, then NHRA requires a master cut-off switch in the rear of the vehicle, so we contacted Flaming River for their Big Switch with Lever Kit. The long lever gives you multiple mounting options in the trunk and it even comes with a bracket to mount the switch itself.

Our Hardtop Hellion Project has moved right along over the past year, and you'll soon be reading about the dragstrip test results from our aggressive street car. However, in the meantime, look for a few additional articles where we continue to piece together this pump gas brawler.



Part Number

Classic Instruments '63-65 Velocity Gauge Cluster NO63VSB-F
Flaming River Big Switch & Lever Kit FR1003-2
Optima Batteries Red Top AGM Batteries 910-66411
Painless Wiring 8-Circuit Race Harness/Panel Kit 50005
Performance Distributors Mr. Amp Alternator MR-150
Speedway Motors 3-Bolt Deluxe Billet Battery Mounts 91666601
Speedway Motors 18-foot Battery Cable Kit 91064505
TCI Automotive GM Extreme Racing Starter 351109
Year One LED Taillights TJ75SET


The factory wiring was a rat’s nest of hardened wires that we were happy to remove. The ancient glass fuse panel was sketchy at best and we really didn’t trust it to run our new system.


The heart of our system is dual Optima Red Tops, which are an AGM (absorption glass mat) design that have great startup burst, longer life than conventional style batteries, are spill-proof and have excellent charge-up ability.


Holding the batteries down are Speedway Motors’ Deluxe Billet Hold Downs, are a steal at just $99; we simply bolted them to the floor of the trunk.


Here’s a huge time saver: the Painless 8-circuit harness comes already hooked into the fuse panel. It’s up to the installer to trace the pre-labeled wire to the appropriate component.


At our Irvine Tech Center, Baglieri started by feeding some of our wires in Painless’ Powerbraid loom, using this nifty tool that makes covering up wires less time consuming.


Feeding our dual batteries is a 150 amp alternator from Performance Distributors. Their Mr. Amp line of alternators is a great choice for high-powered street machines, and they even off an H.O. model that cranks out 250 amps! It’s important to note that they only come with a v-belt pulley, so those with serpentine belts will need to install the correct alternator pulley.


Here’s a good example of why it’s better to have a professional handle the tasks you’re inexperienced with; specialized tools like the wire loomer tools, pen torches and zip-tie cutters makes the overall installation cleaner. And since the Painless kit is largely pre-terminated and clearly labeled, it makes it even easier for an experienced professional that’s used to more complicated systems.


TCI Automotive’s Racing Starter was ordered to crank over our 500-plus horsepower small-block. It produces 20 percent better cranking power than a stock piece and was engineered with racing headers in mind.


The neutral safety switch is located inside the shifter cover and works off of a detent plate that prevents you from starting it when the transmission is in gear. To check the alignment of the switch, a voltmeter is used, which showed us that the circuit was open when it was supposed to.


Baglieri was able to wire our transbrake into the circular horn connector in our steering wheel. This allows the wheel to fully turn without any cables or wires getting tangled in the column.


Baglieri opted to mount the Painless fuse and relay panel to a plate we attached to the passenger side floor. This gives us easy access and will make add-ons down the road easier.


Relays were mounted in the trunk for the fuel pump and fan-equipped transmission oil cooler. A relay’s job is to protect the component from electrical abnormalities, surges, overloads, etc.


The taillight lenses of early Novas are pretty small and dim, so for safety and cosmetic reasons, we contacted Year One for pair of LED Taillight Kits. With these, it’s much easier for other drivers to see when we’re stopping and what’s really cool is they come pre-terminated with factory connections that hook into the O.E.M light bulb pigtails.


To truly get a solid connection, BCR practices using solder and heat shrink on all of the connectors. This ensures a long-lasting, weather-resistant connection.


If you have your batteries located in the trunk of your car and want to drag race at sanctioned tracks, the NHRA requires a battery cut-off switch, like the one we opted for from Flaming River. The Big Switch and Lever Kit is a complete setup that provides a lot of mounting options for the user and meets all the SFI requirements. Bear in mind, that it is imperative to route the alternator wire through this switch as well (not just the positive cable), otherwise the alternator will keep your engine running.


If you’re a Nova guy looking for a better way to monitor engine vitals, then be sure to read all about our detailed Classic Instruments’ gauge cluster install in the months to come.CHP


TCI Automotive
Ashland, MS 38603
Performance Distributors
Memphis, TN 38132
Flaming River
Berea, OH 44017
Speedway Motors
Lincoln, ME 68528
Classic Instruments
Boyne City, MI 49712
Year One
Tucker, GA 30085
Optima Batteries
Milwaukee, WI 53209
BCR Motorsports



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