Do you remember the one that got away? I’m not talking about your first girlfriend. I am talking about your first car. For Bill Brown of Danville, Virginia, the car that was meant to be his first ride, unfortunately, got away from him many years ago. Sure, our story has a happy ending, and who better to convey it than Bill himself? Read on as he tells us the story of this ’68 Nova and how it took 40 years for him to finally get the first car he always wanted.
It’s been 40 years in the making, but this 1968 Nova was my introduction to Novas, hot rods, and drag racing. As a 13-year-old boy, I first saw this Nova sitting at a shop near where we lived. The number belonged to Archie Gammon and at the time, was one of the fastest cars around our area. I began to hang out at the shop after school as Archie took me under his wing. He would let me help work on his Nova and wash and wax it. He even took me to my first street race.
After a couple of years had passed, Archie bought a 1967 Camaro body to build a drag car. One day he asked me how long would be before I could get my driver’s license because he was going to sell the Nova and wanted to sell it to me as my first car. He knew how much I liked it and told me to ask my mom. I had my mom convinced to let me buy the car until she asked my older brother about it and if it would make me a dependable first car.
My brother’s reply was, “no way. That is one of the fastest cars around town. Needless to say, my mom said I could not get the car. I was mad at the time and was determined to have a Nova, so I pieced one together. That was my ‘69 Nova I had in high school.
The One That Got Away
The ’68 Nova was eventually sold in 1981. I kept up with who owned it ever since then hoping that one day I would be able to buy it. It passed through a couple of different owners, the engine got blown up, and most of the speed goodies were eventually removed. I found out from the second owner that I actually knew who he sold it to and where it was. The third owner of the Nova had put a big-block in it but never really drove it much. It had been in the garage since 1984. I finally got in touch with the third owner and tried to buy it but it was not for sale at the time.
I stayed in touch with him hoping that he would eventually sell it to me but that never happened. In October of 2020, a mutual friend told me that he knew about a Nova that had been in the same garage since 1984 and had recently been traded for a Ford roadster.
Since I knew the owner at the time, I called him up to see if I could get the contact information for the new owner. I never received a callback and had no idea where the Nova had gone. I thought it was gone forever, or so I thought.
Finding A Long-Lost Friend
Fast forward to November 2020. My business, J&W Nova Parts is doing well. One day there was a customer in my store buying parts for a Nova. He mentioned to my wife and my sister-in-law that we should know the car that he’s working on because it’s a local car that’s been in a garage in Eden, North Carolina since the early ‘80s. My wife immediately knew that the customer on the other side of the counter was the new owner of the ‘68 Nova from my childhood and she got his phone number.
I called to inquire about the car only to get a voicemail. I left a message waiting for a return call. I grew impatient and called him back later that night and after talking with him, I realized it was in fact Archie’s old ‘68. I explained that a friend of mine owned it for years when I was a kid and I used to work on it and asked if he would consider selling it. He just finished building a big-block for it and was almost ready to crank it up. I asked him to let me know if he ever decides to sell it.
The ’68 Nova Comes Home
The following day, he called me and asked if I was really interested in the Nova, to which I replied, ‘I sure am’. Come to find out he only lived five miles from my house. Unbeknownst to me, the Nova was closer to me than it ever was since 1984. He asked if I wanted to come to look at it so I called my wife at the store to see if she could meet me to go look at the car that I’ve not seen since the early ‘90s.
As we checked out the Nova, I asked if he would sell it without the engine as I had no interest in it, but if I had to take it with the car, I would buy either way. While I was there, he raised the car on the lift I could see that it was still in great shape. I explained things to him that I remembered about the Nova.
I can remember thinking I was finally going to own the ’68 Nova that would have been my first car and the one that got me interested in cars to begin with. We struck a deal and bought the car without the engine. I was at his house first thing the following day and loaded it up. Before I left, I told him the rest of the story about how this should have been my first car and how long I have been trying to buy it. I still find it hard to believe that after all these years, I finally own it.
I quickly went to work sanding and buffing the paint. In fact, this is the same 44-year-old lacquer paint that I waxed as a kid. I started collecting parts to build it back like it was and located a Sun tachometer, Blue Line Gauges, Walnut steering wheel, Rally wheels, and Goodyear Polyglas tires.
I had Gene Fulton of Spartanburg, South Carolina build a 406 small-block with a solid roller cam and all the goodies. Behind that is an 11-inch Ram clutch inside of a Lakewood bell housing connecting to the Muncie four-speed. Another friend, David Leavy at R&D Race Cars in Reidsville, North Carolina put together a 12-bolt rear with 4.11 gears and a Posi.
I added frame connectors, disc brakes, all new brake and fuel lines, and rebuilt the front suspension. As far as the interior, I added a new headliner carpet and door panels. However, the seats are still the original ones.
When you see the car today, this was how it looked back when I first saw it as a kid. I feel like a kid every time I get behind the wheel. I was not able to drive the car when Archie owned it, so the first time I got to drive this ‘68 was December 21, 2021. That’s more than 40 years after the car was offered to me and my mom said no.
I’ve been a Nova enthusiast since the day I first saw this ’68 Nova. I am fortunate enough to own some very rare Novas, but of all of them, this is my favorite. Archie and I remained friends until his passing in April of 2011. His wife Linda even gave me Archie’s racing jacket some 10 years ago and it hung in my shop. That is until I finally got this car. Now the jacket is proudly displayed with the car.