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1972 Nova Wheel Wells - Makin' Room For Rubber

When 275 Tires Just Won't Cut It, Detroit Speed & Engineering's Deep Tubs Provide Some Added Room For Big Skins.

Mike Ficacci Aug 1, 2009
Sucp_0908_01_z 1972_nova_wheel_wells Wheel_housing 2/25

Pro Touring is the new Pro Street. Road warriors that can pull triple duty on the street, through the corners, and even down the drag strip are being built all across the country. By adding state-of-the-art technology to 40-year-old street machines, '60s-era cars can ride like a dream and go toe-to-toe with new Corvettes. Tubular control arms, coilover shocks, overdrive transmissions, and thin-wall tires combine to create some of the most versatile hot rods out there.

Some of the Pro Touring qualities that appeal to the masses include a sleek, low-to-the-ground body matched with some of the widest skins tire companies can manufacture. A thick rear tire can both fill out a wheelwell for that needed eye appeal and make a necessary contact patch at 150 mph. In 1972, the General did not suspect gear heads would be jamming in 315/35ZR20 tires out back and now we all are being faced with cutting and grinding to make this happen.

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Detroit Speed & Engineering is at the forefront of Pro Touring technology, marked by these time-saving deep tubs. Made of 18-gauge stamped steel and accompanied by an installation CD, its inner wheel housings are designed to accommodate a 315mm (12.4-inch) tire, yet still retain a stock appearance.

For years, people have performed frame notches and created inner tub extensions mainly for giant Pro Street tires. As of late, the g-machine boys have jumped in on the action--so much so that Detroit Speed & Engineering decided to make life simple with deep tubs for the '68-'72 Nova and many other hot rod applications. Designed specifically to accommodate 315mm-wide tires, DSE's stamped steel, 18-gauge tubs take the headache out of such projects, yet still provide a factory look to the untrained eye.

Provided with the mini-tubs, DSE packs an installation CD with all the information and templates for cutting and grinding. Also, they explain the proper way to perform the frame notch on both sides of the rear framerails to allow for the 315s. Talk to any "old school" fabricator and they will explain to you the countless hours that were needed to cut the old tub out, slice a line down the middle, and weld a 2-inch extension back into place. Though still a job that takes a great deal of time and over $1,000 in labor at your favorite chassis shop, this install is something you could perform yourself with the proper tools and some higher level metalworking skills. Follow along as we make some room for some large skins out back.

Both the mounts for the trunk lid and edge of the seat back are attached directly to the inner wells. Using a chisel, drill, and cut off wheel, we were able to persuade both from the wells. Be careful as you will be reattaching both once the installation is complete and don't want to damage anything, especially the trunk mounts. Don't be afraid to jump in the trunk if need be to get to the hard-to-reach places. Just make sure no one is working underneath the car when you do so.

The supplied CD contains a printable template for making your cuts and creating patch panels. This comes in handy as it will all but eliminate much of the grinding and cutting that would need to be done if you were to cut the wells out free hand. The new DSE tubs will mate to this cut line awfully close, which is why it is a good idea to follow it. Place the template along the wheelwell accordingly, make your marks with a magic marker or chalk, and get to cutting.

If you have a plasma cutter, this is the perfect time to blow the dust off it. A plasma cutter will drastically reduce the amount of time it takes you to cut around the well. If you don't have one, a cut-off wheel will do a great job. Make sure to wear eye protection as sparks will be bouncing off every corner of the trunk. One way to attack these cuts is from the trunk and we found that to be most effective. Another way is to work from the back seat as the seat back has a bunch of giant holes in it from the factory.

Along the way, we made sure to take several measurements from the framerail to the outer wheelwell and from the outer wheelwell to the trunk so we know exactly how far we need to make our cuts into the trunk for the new tubs, and how much to cut out of the framerail. We know that the new tubs will sit almost flush with the outward edge of the framerail, a whole 2.5 to 2.75-inches further in than the factory tub, which is where you get the added space from.

Now is the best time to notch the frame and make the template of the new sheetmetal we will need to be installing. The factory framerails are not straight from front to back and bow out as they reach the front upper corner of the wheel. Our frame notch, in a nutshell, cuts into the framerail and eliminates the bow that would ultimately rub out 315 tires. Here, we cut out the notch following the template.

Using a piece of 1/8-inch steel as recommended by DSE, we made our new piece using some sheetmetal, bent it into shape using some manpower, and tack welded it into place. The 1/8-inch piece of steel is essential to maintaining the rigidity of the framerails even though we basically eliminated more than half of its thickness.

It is now time to slide the new DSE wells into place and see how close our cuts are. Once we found about where the tubs were going to stay, we clamped them in place and ground down some of the uneven edges from our earlier cuts. DSE recommends using spaced tack welds around the wheelwells while making the connection to ensure the metal does not warp in the process. During welding, the pieces of metal can actually become so hot that they lose their shape.

Sucp_0908_26_z 1972_nova_wheel_wells Spot_welds 19/25

Once our spot welds were complete, we welded the entire well into place. This takes some time, but it's worth the effort in the long run. The last thing you want is this piece coming loose at high speed. Once the deep tub is welded into place, take a grinder and smooth them out. This will give the trunk a much better look upon completion.

We can then reattach the trunk lid mounts we were careful not to destroy at the beginning of the day. These should simply fall right back into place, as the height of the wells should be almost exactly the same. We did not raise the wheelwell from top to bottom; we only elongated it from side to side.

From under the car, the new DSE deep tubs look 100 times better than the factory wells. This is especially true in our case as the previous owner of the Nova took a hammer and beat the inner lip into submission to try and jam as big a tire as he could into the well. Also, we will be coming in here with some black paint. We gained over 3-inches from stock much needed for our big skins.

As I stated before, the untrained eye would be hard pressed to notice the difference looking into the boot after some trunk paint. Especially with these Novas, gearheads have constantly looked for ways to install bigger tires as the factory wheelwells are tighter than those in Camaros and Chevelles. We installed these tubs on a previous Nova and were hit by a string of questions from the Nova peanut gallery at the first track day wondering how we fit a 10-inch wheel underneath. We simply shrugged our shoulders and responded, "It's all stock and they fit." Pay no mind to the chrome moly bar.

In the coming months, we are going to have some fun with this Nova. As this is a prequel so to speak of some awesome overhauls to come, make sure to follow along as we make this school bus one of the baddest Pro Touring hot rods in all the land. I specifically chose the Nova to prove that it can be done cool, and it can be done to compete fender-to-fender with all the Camaros out there.



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