One-owner cars hold a special place in the pantheon of automotive lore. With exciting new vehicles coming out every year, changes in marital and family status, accidents, rust, old age, and so on, it's rare to find a vintage machine that still has the first buyer's name on the title.
Gary Caton can proudly boast that this '77 Nova has been his since Day One. He was just 17 years old when he plunked down $5,200 at Mason-Walker Chevrolet in Morganfield, Kentucky, and drove away in this X-body.
"I was 17 years old. I had to sack a lot of groceries and stock a lot of shelves to pay for it," he explains. "I ordered the car with light-blue metallic paint, 305 ci engine, Rally wheels, and, of course, an 8-track/AM-FM radio."
While the mid-to-late '70s was a dark period for American cars, you could still buy some interesting vehicles at your local Bow Tie emporium. In '77, the flyweight Monza could be ordered with a V-8, giving you the basis for an interesting hot rod. There was the Corvette, now sans the Stingray moniker, though it was probably out of the range of a 17-year stock clerk. (Can you imagine the insurance rates?). The Z28 made a return midyear with all the requisite suspension mods and a 185-horse 350. But for Caton, it was the Nova that piqued his interest.
"Why a Nova? I guess I always liked them from an earlier age," Gary reported. "I still think this body style is the best looking of the bunch. It has the best lines. Our family had a '63 Nova wagon for a spare car. I drove that and got a job. It was definitely not a hot rod. I was always more interested in Novas and saw a different look in this car."
While these "compact" Chevys were sold in great numbers in the mid-'70s, it is rare to see them in any condition today. Fewer still are show-winning hot rods like this one. Maybe it was the 5 mph bumpers; maybe it was the lack of copious amounts of horsepower. Perhaps it was the smog gear and/or some combination of the above, but the bottom line is these so-called disco-era Novas lack the popularity of the earlier models. Perhaps some will look at what Gary's done to this one and re-think their position. He's created perhaps the finest example we've ever seen.
Let's go over some of the highlights:
• LS3 engine with ProCharger blower making over 500 hp at the wheels
• Completely customized interior with a one-off console and body-hugging seats.
• Upgraded suspension with 18-inch wheels and fat Nitto tires.
Presented with tasteful light-blue metallic paint and silver stripes, this '77 has all the trappings of a classic hot rod, which is probably why we were so drawn to it in the first place at the 2012 St. Louis Super Chevy Show at Gateway Motorsports Park. It had the stance, it was nicely executed, and frankly, the interior nailed it for us. Gary went the extra mile with his fourth-gen Nova. Usually, the insides of these X-bodies are horror shows, regardless of how well the exterior is turned out. Lack of replacement parts from the aftermarket usually means a lot of cracked older pieces, bad door panels, and torn stock seats. This one was the complete opposite. The front buckets are Corbeau GTSII seats covered in dove grey and graphite suede. Ace Custom Upholstery whipped up a set of matching door panels and a complete custom console. A Pioneer head unit blows out the tunes with the aid of a Fusion amp and speakers.
The fact that specific suspension parts are few and far between for this gen Nova didn't stop Gary. He had Hoosier Hot Rods and Classics fit a modified Detroit Speed '69 Camaro back half kit and four-link under it (including mini-tubs). In the front are Detroit Speed spindles, Heidts tubular A-arms, and the factory sway bar. Afco springs and adjustable shocks are used all around. The Baer 13-inch brakes at the four corners ensure this Nova's straight lines and shiny paint and stay that way.
Providing the grip for all those suspension parts are Nitto 555 Extreme radials measuring 235/40ZR18 and 295/45ZR18. The Budnik Fontana wheels measure 18x8 front and 18x10 (with 5.250-inch backspacing) rear.
For a car that came from the factory with a scant 145 net flywheel horsepower, the shock of receiving some four times that much from a supercharged LS3 must have been quite startling. Gary started with a Chevrolet Performance LS376/480-horse "hot cam" crate engine. Jeffrey Shelton of Hoosier Hot Rods added the ProCharger centrifugal blower (3 psi of boost) and tuned the combination. A set of custom-made Dynatech 1-7/8-inch headers draw the spent gasses and spew them into the environment via 2.5-inch Magnaflow mufflers. At the end of the day, the aluminum LS put down 505 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque on the Dynojet. A Bowler 4L80E transmission sends the power to 9-inch from Detroit Speed with 3.25:1 gears.
As the car only had 27,000 miles on the clock and had never been hit, there wasn't a lot of bodywork for Hoosier Hot Rods to do—nothing more than smoothing out one door ding and some factory body waves. They did shave the door handles. Modifying the bumpers so they were pulled closer to the body (and look less obtrusive) was in the original game plan, but this would have left him no room for the intercooler and assorted plumbing. This is something Gary may revisit at a later date. Remarkably, the original bumpers are on it and they've never been rechromed. There was a thought to painting them body color at one point, but "it was almost a shame to paint them," Gary said. "They were in great shape."
The car was sprayed a slightly different shade than when new, a medium blue metallic that's close to Nassau Blue from the mid-'60s. It was offset was silver stripes and a tubular front grille.
Except for perhaps redesigning the center console, Gary's thrilled with the way his ride has turned out. He's got 36 years worth of memories tied up in the Nova, and we guess there are plenty more to be made.