Home-Built Hero: This ’72 Nova Is More Than Just A Car, It’s Family

It was the 1972 model year that saw the Chevrolet Nova Super Sport reach the end of “high performance” as a build style. Sure, the ’73 models still had a V8, but they were emissions-laden small-blocks. The 1972 model was also the year Detroit turned to net horsepower ratings for cars and trucks. In other words, the engine was installed with all the accessories attached and running. In 1972, the Nova SS powered by a 350 with a Quadrajet four-barrel delivered a whopping 200 net horsepower.


The driver version features “mag” wheels, while the show version relies on Rally wheels.

The ’72 Nova SS was still a decent performer when pitted against other cars of the day. In fact, Hot Rod magazine tested one at the track and saw a 15.42 e.t. at 88.40 mph in the quarter-mile. Nova SS production reached 12,309 in 1972, and since the “other guys” halted “muscle car” models, enthusiasts like Russel Shirk graced the showrooms of many Chevy dealers.

My friends talked me out of getting power steering, because it would take too much horsepower. – Russel Shirk

Back To The Beginning

Russel was 18-years-old and working on the family farm when he decided the new Nova Super Sport was the car he wanted. “I ordered the car at Williams Chevrolet in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, On October 9, 1971. My father co-signed for me. It was a bare bones car with the SS package,” Russel continued, “my gearhead friends told me not to order Rally wheels, because I would end up putting “mags” on it anyway. So, the car came with the stock steel wheels and dog-dish hubcaps.” On the day he took delivery, Russel says the weather was very nasty with rain and snow mixed. He begged the dealer to hold off delivering the car until a nicer day presented itself, but his request was declined.


The restoration did not require Russel to replace the interior. It’s still factory delivered.

What he ordered was a Placer Gold, L48 small-block-equipped street cruiser with a four-speed and the “corporate” 8.5-inch 10-bolt rearend. “My friends talked me out of getting power steering, because it would take too much horsepower,” Russel quipped. One item that he deleted from the order sheet to avoid an added expense, was the console-mounted gauges. “Console gauges were an up-charge, and I planned to eventually install a Sun Tach later. Anyway, funds were in very short supply. Because console gauges were not ordered, many people still argue that it cannot be a true Super Sport,” he said.

Russel used the car for several years as his daily driver so he could get to school, eventually to work, and even go out on dates with his girlfriend. In addition, the Nova was the family car used for vacations and trips to the Jersey shore. “With the exception of the air shocks that I added, I drove the car for several years just as the factory delivered it. Just before I got married, I finally added the “mag” wheels. My wife and I actually drove the car on our honeymoon,” said Russel. “My wife learned to drive a stick in the Nova, and yes, the clutch survived. She could handle the SS with a jacked-up rear that rode like a buckboard and four on the floor very well.”

Creating A Barn Find

He continued to use the car as his everyday ride all the way through the gas shortage days. Eventually, after 10 years of daily-driver duty, he finally retired the car with 72,000 miles on the odometer. “The car sat covered up in a barn for many years, until 2007. That’s when I decided to do a restoration,” he continued, “While the car was in storage, my wife frequently begged me to ‘get rid of that piece of junk, it’s costing us a fortune in insurance to just set there’. Of course, I didn’t follow her wishes.”

Many times you’ll hear the words frame-off restoration touted, and since the Nova does have a removable front subframe, it does actually apply here. Russel is not one to have someone else do his work for him, so the gold Nova was relocated to his home garage and completely dismantled. He began by removing the factory interior and placing it in a safe location. That’s because it was in good shape, and he planned to simply clean it up and reinstall it in the car when it was time for reassembly.

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“The restoration took almost 10 years to complete, and I finally finished in 2015. I did all the restoration work myself, including body and paint. It was the first car I had ever painted. I did enlist the help of a couple of friends to hang the fenders, bumpers, and trunk lid,” he stated. “I even bought a pinstriping tool to add the factory beltline stripes. But, after 10 failed attempts, I called Steve at Rose’s Auto Body to apply the pinstripes.” As a final touch, it was determined that the dual exhaust system should be replaced. After a conversation with Eric Gardner of Gardner Exhaust Systems, a factory-spec system was ordered and installed.

When it was time to make a decision about whether to rebuild the engine and transmission, there were only 72,000 miles on the car, so it really didn’t need anything. All of the factory components are still in use. In fact, all it received was a good cleaning and some fresh paint.


With 72,000 miles on the clock, the engine was still in great shape, and only needed some cleaning and paint.

Like we said, the interior was in exceptional shape and didn’t need to have new seat skins or other soft parts replaced. Even the carpet, headliner, and AM/FM radio are the same pieces the factory installed.

If you think that this well-preserved piece of American history is relegated back to storage now that it’s factory fresh, you are mistaken. Russel has put more than a few miles on the odometer since the rebuild, and in fact, the “mag” wheels and B.F. Goodrich tires are for when the car sees time cruising, and Russel even has a set of factory Rally wheels with Goodyear E70 bias-ply repops for car shows. Apparently, the smooth steel wheels and dog dishes are spending more time in storage than the rest of the car.

About the author

Randy Bolig

Randy Bolig has been working on cars, and involved in the hobby ever since he bought his first car when he was only 14 years old. His passion got him noticed by many locals, and he began to help them with their own vehicles.
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