Gordon McGilton’s 1963 Chevy II is one ‘Angry Nova’

Every once in a while we come across a car that speaks to our soul. For Gordon McGilton, it was the Novette, the March 1985 Hot Rod cover car built by Lil John Buttera for his son Chris. The early-60’s Nova was innovative for its time. It used bolt-on, modern technology and was the first of its kind to incorporate the front and rear suspension from a C4 Corvette.

The build was powered by an aluminum supercharged engine and a number of sheet metal changes were performed to “remove some of the ugly.”

While it preceded many other cars that have been credited with the pro touring movement, the Novette made a lasting impression with its unforgettable design.

The Angry Nova

Twenty years later, a friend mentioned to Gordon that he knew of a first generation model for sale in a local neighborhood. “He stopped to inquire about the car, as car people are known to do. He was amused to learn the car was being offered at a very low price by the wife of the owner because she needed bail money to get the owner out of jail.”

“A minor misunderstanding I’m sure” Gordon mused, adding that after he heard the story he had to buy the car to help the owner out.

“The car languished among others in my collection until I became aware of Detroit Speed and its owner, Kyle Tucker, a fellow and former Detroit native” he said.

Gordon was new to North Carolina at the time, as was the shop owner, which prompted Gordon to visit.

“I have been around cars and fabricators for most of my life, so recognizing talent when I see it is very easy for me” he said. “Kyle and his staff had a vast pool of it and it was easy to see that they were the shop for me.”

1967 Nova, 1970 Camaro built by Detroit Speed

The first project Gordon had Detroit Speed do was create a purpose built 1970 Camaro for his son to win with at race events all over the country. The quality and performance of that car, in addition to a front and rear suspension upgrade on his daughters 1967 Nova, confirmed that Detroit Speed was the right shop to produce a contemporary interpretation of the Nova that he had lusted after for years.

“I learned long ago to finalize the design of the vehicle that you want in detail before starting the build” Gordon said. “Too often I see people start a project and make changes to the design after every event they attend or after they have read the latest magazine that shows up in the mailbox. The result is a car that looks like it was designed by a committee.”

“I have heard people say that a camel is a horse, designed by a committee” Gordon added. “Not to knock camels, but as a horse it just isn’t the best design.” As a result, Gordon went over every attribute and component of the Nova. He developed a clear idea of how he wanted to use the car, how he wanted it to look, and how he wanted it to perform.

As a result, the Nova accomplishes exactly what he sought out to build.

The Angry Nova sits atop a complete Detroit Speed Chevy II suspension with JRi Shocks and a Detroit Speed Built Ford 9-inch rear end. Baer 6R 6-piston Calipers peak out from the Forgeline Grip Equipped Rodster wheels. The Nova is powered by an LS7 engine built by Kurt Urban, mated to a Tremec T-56 transmission.

“It’s still being dialed in, but I’m convinced that nothing is suspect from a functional perspective” Gordon said, adding that the decision had been made to use the car in several driving events to ensure all systems worked and to verify the car needed no additional fabrication work before it was sent to Paul Atkins’ shop in Hanceville, Alabama for paint and one of the world class interiors the shop is famous for.  

As it sits, the exterior is bare steel. Gordon had the roof chopped, the rear wheel arches moved back and widened, and the front wheel arches raised. He also had the entire chassis channeled and installed a custom floor, hand fabricated fuel tank, custom quarter panel vents, and deleted the window vents.

The steel interior is also bare and holds a custom roll cage along with Recaro Specialist Seats and a fire suppression system.

“My approach has always been to use the very best people for every aspect of the project, without regard to cost, or other factors” Gordon said. “I have never once regretted the choice to do so, but I have many times regretted using a budget solution in the past. Do it right, or don’t do it.”

Gordon added that once the Angry Nova is complete, it will be driven by his daughter Cheryl Herrick, his son Tim McGilton and his wife Deb McGilton, and other, select, “hot shoes that want to see what an old economy car is capable of.”

Photography by Alex Stivaletti and Chad Tomlinson | Detroit Speed, Inc. 

About the author

Nicole Ellan James

As an automotive journalist and avid car enthusiast, Nicole Ellan James has a passion for automotive that is reflected in every aspect of her lifestyle. Follow Nicole on Instagram and Facebook - @nicoleeellan
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