Brian Tessneer’s ‘Terror Nova’ Is A Grudge Racing Stunner

In 1962, the creation of the Chevrolet II/Nova came in the wake of the diminishing sales of its predecessor, the Corvair. The Corvair was outsold by the more conventional compact car, the Ford Falcon. Thus the need for the creation of a more traditional car to compete against the other manufacturers. But it wasn’t until 1964 that the Chevy II received its first V-8 engine option, needed to compete against Plymouth and its already-proven slant-six engine design. The Chevy II, later becoming the Chevy Nova, instantly became the body style of choice for hot rodders. To this day, the Nova is still a prime choice for many drag racers across all levels of drag racing.

The story reads similar for Oklahoma native Brian Tessneer, who shared, “when I was young, my dad had a Chevy II that I had helped him build. The build took a while but I helped him as much as I could.” Just like that, Brian was brought into the hot rod lifestyle almost instantly. Brian’s father raced the car for a while until his health forced him to the sidelines. Brian upgraded the Chevy II for the next season and raced it for the next five years.

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Some time later, the hot rod was parked due to parts failure and a major crash at a local race; unfortunately, Brian didn’t have the money to rebuild the Nova after the mishap. However, at the tender age of 17, he started building another Chevy: a 1970 ½ Camaro. His love for the Chevy II body style never left him; little did he know that he was soon going to be grudge racing against a car he would soon own. Brian couldn’t keep his mind off this Nova, calling the owner several times offering to trade his Camaro for it. Finally, they agreed to meet and inspect one another’s cars, but no deal was had. For months, the owner of the Chevy II stated that he only wanted to sell it outright. Then one day, he finally called to strike a deal. Brian didn’t hesitate once he received that phone call and drove over five hours to pick up his new hot rod.

The Candy Apple Red metallic paint and Pear White roof matched with the white-walled tires make the Nova a popular attraction at any race. Brian tells us that he has always loved the look of the early 60's Chevy II so he wanted to keep a mostly original appearance.

Once Brian acquired the Nova, he vowed it was going to be one of baddest and cleanest small-tire grudge cars in the famous 405 area code of Oklahoma City. At this point, he dubbed it the, “Terror Nova” even before the build.

Gearheads of all generations will come to appreciate the workmanship that has gone into the Terror Nova — it maintains the classic muscle car look inside and out while adding touches of modern flare and power. Of course one of the first things you will notice on the Nova is the beautiful Candy Apple Red paint and Pearl White roof, mastered by Dave Foster of Foster Auto Body in Edmond, Oklahoma. To keep its classic appearance, Brian chose classically-stylish Billet Specialties wheels wrapped in white-walled Hoosier 29.5×10.5 rear tires and Moroso front runners.

For power, the Terror Nova is running a wild 421 cubic-inch small-block Chevrolet with an Inductions Solutions nitrous system tuned and perfected by Steve Johnson. Internally, the small-block hosts the best of the best in go-fast parts. Brian is running a stout Dart block, 23 degree -11 Brodix cylinder heads and intake, JE nitrous pistons and camshaft, and a Pro Systems 1050 Dominator-style carburetor. Brian mentions the combination has worked amazingly and, thanks to Norbert Alaniz from Port Workz, they were able to free up some extra horsepower.

You'll find Brian campaigning his Nova throughout the Midwest at some of the biggest grudge events on the street and the strip. The Terror Nova is a true sleeper in disguise ... one of the most feared small-tired cars in the highly competitive and infamous 405 area code. Photos by April Bryant

Strapped to the back of the engine is a Hughes Powerglide transmission and a billet bolt-together torque converter customized by Marty Chance from Neal Chance Racing Converters. Harnessing all the power is a ladder bar suspension setup utilizing QA1 double-adjustable shocks; up front, the crew installed a TRZ tubular front end and added another set of the QA1 shocks. Stopping power is provided by Aerospace Components lightened disc brakes. Aside from the fully built 12-point roll cage, Kirkey seats, and 5-point harnesses, the Nova’s interior looks much like it would have from 1964 — Brian noting, “that’s the way we wanted it! I love the overall look of the Nova, so we had to maintain as much of the original appearance as we could.”

The high-output nitrous oxide-assisted small-block Chevy looks simple yet conventional. Don't let it fool you, though, as Brian and Steve Johnson from Induction Solutions have it tuned up and ready for any competitor.

Since the Terror Nova is a grudge car, we couldn’t pry any horsepower or track times out of Brian, but he did share, “she’s got plenty of power on-demand, and rarely lets me down.” But as one of the most recognizable grudge cars in the scene, the Terror Nova is no stranger to any big-money grudge race. Brian will continue to race throughout the Midwest but also plans to travel a little more as grudge racing continues to grow.

“I could not have built this car without all the people and companies that have supported me along the way. I especially need to thank my mom and dad for the encouragement they gave and continue to give me. My fiancé, Candace Watkins, has also been incredible to me … she has dealt with the long nights and the endless amounts of money required to create a build of this caliber.”

Drag racing is brimming with beautiful machines, but with classic white-walls and candy paint, perhaps none have the curb appeal of Brian Tessneer’s Nova. The cherry on top — this thing can run!

About the author

Eddie Maloney

A resident of Las Vegas, Eddie has been involved in drag racing most of his life. Currently an NHRA tech and photographer, he has served 17 years in the military.
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