When you go to a car show there is usually a solid mix of styles and tastes there, which can lead to an overload of the senses. While some cars simply blast you in the face with their wild colors and modifications, there are others that are so subtle you would have to have an intense passion to notice them and be an expert on that model to recognize any of the personal touches made to the car. Then, you run across a car like Josh Brooks’ 1963 Chevy II Nova, which grabs your attention without demanding it, and keeps your attention with its long list of clean, simple modifications.
Brooks’ journey with this car started out with an extended search for a donor car, as his original plans called for a bare shell to start with. “I stumbled upon an ad for a very nice condition donor car that was clearly outside of the norm,” Brooks said. “I pursued the car and negotiated with the owner for several months. The longer and more detailed the review went, the clearer it became this was the body to be used in the build.”
After striking a deal for the car, Brooks traveled from northern California to Oklahoma City to take delivery and get the project started. “There was no disappointment when I arrived; the body was as straight and sound as advertised,” recalled Brooks. “The finished car has had zero body work or paint by me, except for the hood. I removed the fiberglass hood that was on the car, and replaced it with a steel hood. I had it repainted to match the original paint, thanks to Hot Rods East in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.”
With such a killer start to his project, Brooks was ahead of the game, as far as his plans were concerned. “If you can find a portion of the work already done, why not go for it?” laughed Brooks. “It can save major amounts of time and money in the long run.”
“If you break down the project to hundreds of individual mini-projects and just keep plugging away it all starts coming together,” said Brooks. He took the approach of not obsessing over the finish line and instead chose to enjoy the build process.
With the subtlety of the finished product it can be easy to overlook the amount of time and effort that went into the gorgeous Nova. The body had an extensive amount of work done to it before Brooks got it, to make it perfect, structurally, along with some subtle alterations from stock, such as having the side trim and gas door filled and smoothed over, and the two-inch steel cowl hood. When the car was reassembled, stainless steel fasteners were used throughout, and all of the interior was either replaced, rebuilt, or refinished.
Moving under the hood, Brooks decided to utilize a 350 small-block as the prime mover. Starting with a 1972 4-bolt block, Brooks had it punched out .030-inch, and used Keith Black forged pistons with the stock crank and rods. A Melling high-pressure oil pump was used to upgrade the oiling system, while World Products Sportsman II iron heads were used to top off the short-block. A Comp Cams XE294 camshaft gives the engine a healthy idle and some serious grunt.
A FAST EZ-EFI adds a touch of modern to the combination, and to complement that, Brooks added the requisite fuel system, comprising a fuel cell, electric fuel pump and braided soft lines, with a custom 5/16-inch stainless return line.
Long-tube coated headers, wrapped in titanium cloth wrap feed the spent exhaust gasses into a full 3-inch Flowmaster exhaust with a custom H-pipe and hangers. A March Performance accessory-drive system along with a Vintage Air A/C system hang off the front of the engine, and a BeCool radiator and Moroso expansion tank keep the engine cool in all weather.
Power goes through a Turbo 350 transmission outfitted with a shift kit, B&M Quarterstick, 3500-rpm stall converter, heavy-duty transmission cooler and stainless steel lines throughout. From there, power travels back to a 12-bolt rear end with a 400-series carrier and bearings, with 3.73:1 gears and upgraded axles.
Brooks also upgraded and modified the electrical system to make everything cleaner, in addition to adding functionality. After adding an all-new main bus for hot and ground, and converting to a single-wire alternator, he modified the starter harness and made a new distribution feeder under the dash for all the accessories. Additionally, he wired in a Classic Instruments cluster, and replaced all the wiring and senders for those gauges.
The suspension received the same level of care and attention as the rest of the car, with a Church Boys Racing full front suspension consisting of upper and lower control arms, sway bar and end-links, and an upper strut tower bar and Chris Alston Varishock coil-over conversion. An Ididit tilt column with Borgeson joints mates to a power rack and pinion system plumbed with custom lines. Out back, A Chris Alston’s Chassisworks ladder bar system with QA1 coil-overs and track bar in the rear keep everything planted to the pavement.
The braking system was converted to four-wheel discs using 11-inch CPP drilled and slotted rotors up front, an 10.5-inch rotors in the rear, with a mechanical emergency brake. Powder coated CPP “zero offset” calipers at all four corners complete the apply-side brake hardware, while an upgraded Wilwood master cylinder and proportioning valve handle the supply side.
Meticulous in both planning and execution, the whole process took two years, start to finish, with the first year dedicated to planning and acquisition, and the second year dedicated to execution of those plans. “Everything but the body was part of the project,” related Brooks of the endeavor. While the process was an enjoyable one, it wasn’t without its challenges.
“The decision to keep the original front tub and use the Church Boys Racing front suspension system or to go with a new aftermarket nose frame was a tough one for me,” revealed Brooks. What ended up making the decision for him was the immaculate condition of the body. “I didn’t want to disturb the original structure and risk damage or possible panel alignment issues with a replacement frame section,” Brooks continued. “It also made the build much more challenging. Getting all the required and desired devices within the confines of an original front chassis tub can be quite the task. Anybody who has ever owned and worked on early Novas understands.”
Now that the car is done, Brooks drives the car several times a month, and enters it into shows every chance he gets. “Typically I don’t enter it for judging, though,” Brooks said. However with all the use the car gets, Brooks admits that he’s not totally content with the car as it sits. “I may tub it, change up the wheels and possibly do an LS conversion someday,” revealed Brooks. “Who knows, maybe change up the project and do something new to keep it fun and fresh.”
However, Brooks is adamant his Nova will be the platform, regardless of any changes, as he loves the car. “You don’t see a lot of first-gen Novas around. There are a lot of Camaros, Chevelles, and the like, but not many Novas. She’s a keeper! I love that some minor details stand out, and some may not be noticed at first glance but jump out at you in time,” he says, a smile on his face.
Knowing that the same features that capture Brooks heart on a regular basis, are the same ones that drew us to the car out of literally thousands of others at the show, is proof that the devil is in the details, and the little things matter a lot more than you might think. “The overall low stance of the car; the fine details like the lack of trim mixed with factory standards, the color and the cleanliness all add up to give the car a very unique look, which will always remain timeless.”