1963 Chevrolet Nova II SS - Reader Resto

By: Kevin Doyle with Guy Allen, Photography by: Steve Nally

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This Chevy Nova has actually been done up twice!


1963 Chev Nova II SS Resto

I went over to the US on a car-buying trip around 1998, a little before it became such a big thing locally, and found this Nova at Huntington Beach. It appealed because it was something a bit different and it was value for money.

Built at the Norwood plant in California, it had next to no rust, though it was a bit rough. Someone had painted everything blue, including the bumpers, and it wasn’t done well. I think the only thing they missed was the door handles!

It had a 327 small block engine and Turbo 350 Transmission, with the standard 10-bolt differential. I liked it because it was something a bit different and it cost just $5000.

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Once we got it back here, I needed to do a right-hand drive conversion. This was just before the rules were changed and allowed left-hookers. Still, I don’t regret doing it, as it makes the car a lot nicer to drive when the roads are geared to right-side steering.

I’m a diesel mechanic and worked at Holden’s Dandenong, fitting interiors, so I’m comfortable tackling most of the work myself and have had plenty of practice over the years with cars such as an SL/R 5000 Torana, VN SS Commodore (wish I’d kept that) and a 1969 Chev Camaro.

What I did was get an engineer to go over the car and he left me with a list of things to complete so it could pass inspection. We even changed the wipers over to the ‘correct’ side – that was a big job! The car passed and I tidied it up and used it for around 10 years.

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By then it was becoming a bit tired, with some of the paint starting to go. I started to fix things and then – well you know how it goes – one thing led to another and I soon had it stripped back to bare metal. Nearly all the work was done in my garage, with one exception being the paint (I did the prep), which was done by my brother-in-law, who owns Burwood Panelworks.

There was very little rust in the car – a little in the bottom of the doors, but it’s still running the original floorpans, quarter panels, firewall and roof. We were surprised by how good it was.

| Market review: Chevrolet Nova, Chevelle, El Camino, C-10

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Rather than just tidy up the car, I got a fair bit more ambitious, with a fair bit of work under the panels. For example, the front end is now CCP tubular A-arms, with coil-over QA1 shocks. The steering box is actually an HK Monaro unit, modified with a different drag arm and connected to a Nova steering column that’s been splined and modified to fit.

At the rear we now have a 31-spline 9-inch diff running on a Caltrac leaf spring rear, again with QA1 shocks. We used this as an opportunity to tub the rear so we could get wider wheels in.

Brakes are a mix of HQ Holden discs on the front and EA Falcon on the rear, with an LX Torana booster and master cylinder.

Chevy -nova -resto -23Ready for its second resto

As for the engine, that’s now a 383 small block, running a 750 double-pumper Holley, modified ignition, hydraulic roller cams and a 10.5:1 compression ratio. The transmission is a three-speed Turbo 350.

One area we spent a lot of time on was the cooling and we had to try a few things before we got it right. It’s now running a radiator from Northern Radiators in Minnesota, with a 17-inch single thermo fan that can move around about 2500cfm. it really needs the cowling to work properly. That fan is variable speed and responds to the temperature. The Nova hasn’t got a big grille opening and this set-up works really well. We tried twin 10-inch fans, but they didn’t work as well as the single with the cowling. A 160F (71C) thermostat works well too. We rewired the car, getting a generic Chevrolet wiring loom and modifying it to fit. That included changing the length of some of the wires to allow for the steering on the opposite side.

Chevy -nova -resto -22While most of the sheetmetal is original, the door skins were replaced

Really it was the body that took most of the time. We took the shell back to bare metal, reskinned the doors, and we had to align the front because the hood never sat square on the car. The mouldings were taken off it when I bought the car, so I had to source reproduction or old parts and rechrome everything and build it up to where it is today.

Most of the issues had to do with poor alterations by previous owners. For example the doors had been welded up over where the original locks were and it hadn’t been done well. There were all sorts of holes in the body where previous owners had changed the mouldings and then changed their minds, which created as lot of work.

Most of the parts were sourced overseas as there isn’t a lot in the way of local supplies for these cars. I couldn’t get the right shocks in Australia for this car. I decided hang the expense, get them from there – they’re the right parts and they all fit.

Chev -nova -resto -24Steel dash made right-hand conversion simpler

There’s a whole Nova scene in the states, while there isn’t here. Novas are only just catching on here over the last few years, while the Nova Nationals in the USA can attract over 5000 cars!

Without doubt the most useful contact I made was with a company called Nova 2 Only. It’s located on an old farm in Kentucky where it wrecks Novas and sells new parts. I would have got about 80 per cent of my components from them.

The toughest part? Underestimating the amount of work required to do it. With a lot of cars, assembling the parts is a lot of the work. It’s like a puzzle with no instructions, getting it all together.

Chevy -nova -resto -25Rear was tubbed to take wide wheels

I’ve been doing panel beating and stuff for 30 years, so it’s not difficult for me to get it ready to paint. But it takes a huge amount of time. Getting the car ready for paint is the most labour-intensive work you’ll do. What is impressive though is the paint is straight off the gun – it hasn’t been polished.

My advice for tackling a Nova. Take your time and get the right information from the right people. It’s good driving the car in right-hand drive. It’s a steel dash and it’s not that hard to do, and now you can now get a right-drive kit from the US. All up the project took a very solid 18 months to complete. That’s getting into it every night after work and spending the weekends on it. It’s a big job, but the result was well worth it.


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1. Labour intensive prep There’s no getting away from it

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2. Painstaking body resto Consumed most of the resto time

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3. More coats Than a Myer winter sale

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4. Yankee cooling to combat Aussie heat

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5. Big thermo fan needs to move lots of air

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6. Small block delivers big performance


Original car: 1963 Chevrolet Nova II SS

Length of restoration: 18 months

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1963 Chevrolet Nova II SS Specs

ENGINE: 383ci (originally 327ci)
TRANSMISSION: Three-speed Turbo 350
LENGTH: 4686mm
WIDTH: 1798mm
HEIGHT: 1397mm




Vote for Kevin's Chev Nova in the Unique Cars Reader Resto of the Year and you could win one of five $100 Visa gift cards.



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