Ron Cherry: Reverse inheritance — ’63 Chevy II Nova SS
May 4, 2018
In 2001, when Danny Miller was only 14 years old he got his first car, a 1963 Chevy II Nova Super Sport. It was nothing special, stock with a 194 cubic inch inline 6 cylinder engine, but ran.
"It was primered, no side windows, basically running and that's about all. He drove it around the acre where we lived then," Mike, his father, said. "One day I heard him drive down the road. His mother let him drive it to the mail box."
Although he was young, Danny had been around cars all his life because his father was a body man since 1980 and life-long car enthusiast, getting him involved with the passion at an early age.
"He went to his first car shows in a stroller," Mike said.
Hot rod fever
About 10 years ago, Mike helped Danny hot rod the Nova. They put in a Ford 9 inch rearend, mildly tubbing the wheel wells (cutting them into the trunk for larger tire clearance), then putting in a Muncie 4-speed trans and a big-block engine a friend of Mike had built.
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It was a 454 cubic inch that was bored to 468 with aluminum heads, roller rockers and a high-performance flat-tappet cam, topped by an Edelbrock Air Gap intake fed by a Holley 850 cfm carb. Ignition was an MSD distributer and box.
Mike had opened his own business by then, building hot rods and doing upholstery, so he and his son were well able to do their own work on the Chevy. And since that mill dynoed at 600 horsepower, the little Nova had a lot of power.
"That was a problem," Mike said. "The parts were not matched to the horsepower. It was just stuff I had laying around. It was a kid's car then, we just got it running as cheaply as possible. First the Muncie went, then the rearend."
Brushing the dust off
Although Danny did take it to some local car shows when it was running, he parked it at Mike's shop in 2009 and left it.
"He went to school, started working, and then got married, so he didn't have the money to finish it and it just sat around," Mike said.
After about six years, Mike decided to build it for himself.
"I was tired of pushing it around the shop to get it out of the way," he said.
And he built it right.
First, he custom made a tube frame, using coil-over-springs front and back. He replaced the rearend with a beefed-up Ford 9 inch, narrowed to fit inside the fenders with wide tires and running 3.89:1 gears.
For the front suspension, he built his own version of a Mustang II with rack and pinion steering. For all four wheels he opted for Wilwood disc brakes.
Although he kept the big block engine, he stepped up to a Tremac 5-speed manual that would handle the horsepower. For wheels and tires, he went Mickey Thompson drag ones, with 15 X 3 inch tires in front and meaty 15 X 12 inch tires in the rear.
Next came the body.
Although it was already lowered, Mike extended the rear fenders, the rockers and front fenders two inches down, giving the Nova an "in the weeds" look. The exhaust dumps in front of the rear wheel wells on each side, cut through the rockers.
He stretched the rear wheel wells to accommodate larger tires than the stock 6.50X14's. He also shaved the drip rails above the doors.
In front, he custom-built a new bumper. To give plenty of engine clearance, he added a cowl-induction fiberglass scoop on the hood. He did all the body work himself, but had a friend spray it white.
Inside, Mike installed Stewart-Warner gauges and a Flaming River steering column. For seating, he used a Chevelle bench in front and only the back of the rear seat due to the wider tubbing needed for the rear tires crowding out the bottom, but made it look like there was a full seat.
"At first glance, it looks like there's one, but you'd have to be a three-year-old to sit back there," he said.
He re-upholstered all of the car in black Mercedes vinyl. A full roll cage provided safety for the occupants. He did not put in a sound system of any kind.
"Just the sound of the engine," he said.
It took Mike three years to build the Nova, finishing it this year. About the only work he did not do himself was building the engine and spraying the paint.
The car has the look and performance of a drag racer, a sport Mike enjoyed right out of high school and probably will do again.
"My son lives up by the NHRA track in Redding," he said.
How does his son feel about his dad having the Nova now that it's such a cool rod?
"He likes it and kind of wants it, but doesn't have time or room for it," Mike said. "Besides, he has his own hot rod, a '29 Ford roadster pickup."
Many guys give their kids their hot rods as a form of early inheritance, so how Mike got the Nova might be considered a reverse of that.
Except that Danny may inherit the car back again some day.
Ron Cherry's books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His new book, "The St. Nicholas Murders," is a Christmas mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills that is remarkably similar to Nevada City and is now out in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. Check out his website at http://www.rlcherry.com.
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