While some enthusiasts can take the rusty, crusty shell of a car and build an incredible masterpiece of power and speed, Rob Wade from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, was fortunate enough to start slightly ahead of the curve on what he has termed, “the last car I’ll ever build.”
The car was a one-family-owned, honest-to-goodness 1965 Chevy II SS that he pulled out of a barn in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in January 2014. It started out powered by a six-cylinder engine with a Powerglide. The story goes that the original owner became ill, and sold the car to his brother. The brother planned to restore the car when his son turned 16 years-old, but when that day finally came, financial issues prohibited completion of the car.
From Humble Beginnings
When Rob initially found the car, it was complete, save for the front bumper. Sure, it had plenty of scrapes and dents, but it had only been repainted once in 49 years. Rob’s build plans varied significantly from what the original owners had in mind, as his plan involved infusing upwards of 650 horsepower via an LS engine, and cutting the car’s weight down to around 3,100 pounds. Even though the body was relatively solid and possessed little rust, some metal removal was necessary in the interest of harnessing the additional horsepower.
Case in point, the entire front suspension assembly was removed from the firewall in preparation for the Total Cost Involved front suspension package. Out back, a complete four-bar rear suspension was fabricated by Brad Gibbs at GFS Fabrications, who also tied the rest of the Nova’s body together via a custom rollcage. A Moser Fab-9 rear housing was filled with a Strange differential that is now tied to that four-link rear suspension. To make room for the new chassis, rollbar, and huge tires that would soon reside under the car, Rob fabricated new floors and wheel tubs.
A toolmaker by trade, Rob did much of the work himself, but even with his abilities, the rebuild wasn’t without trials. The primary goal of this car is on the street, so he built custom wheel tubs out of 18-gauge metal because he didn’t want paper-thin 20- or 22-gauge sheetmetal that is typically used by others.
“I can see why they use 20- or 22-gauge material for these,” Rob said. “It’s so you can bend them like a pretzel to get them in the car! It’s a little more difficult when you’re using 18-gauge material! Boy, did I underestimate the time required for that part of the job!”
Let The Modifications Begin
The topside of the body needed a bunch of small dent removal techniques applied, which were handled by Chris Darmon of Xcentrick Autosports in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Chris hammered most everything straight, save for a few dents that Rob wanted to be left alone to allow the desired character he wanted to show through.
Some of the best compliments I have received on the car have been people asking when I was going to finish the body and paint! – Rob Wade
Once ready, two coats of black, and then three coats of PPG Crocus Yellow were applied to the body, which was then lightly sanded in various areas to give the car a weathered look. Once the proper amount of artificial aging had been applied, a dulled-down coat of clear was applied to keep it all in a semi-state of decay. Rob attests, “Some of the best compliments I have received on the car have been people asking when I was going to finish the body and paint!”
With the help of a good friend, Rob Molnar, procedures like the custom-fabbed fuel tank, engine installation, and the accompanying plumbing marched forward with relative ease.
Power Play Option Number One
Rob described the 2006 5.3-liter truck engine that he used as stock, except that it had a Stage-II camshaft with .605/.598-inch lift on a 113-degree lobe separation angle, and used upgraded pushrods and valve springs. Finally, there is a BorgWarner 475 T6 turbo with a heavily modified air-to-water intercooler, truck intake, and 83-pound fuel injectors. This package is squarely in the realm of delivering 650 RWHP, true to plan.
Rob replaced the original Powerglide with an all-billet and rollerized 200R4 transmission built by Chris at CK Performance, who also spec’d out the custom lock-up torque converter, specifically for Rob’s combination. Being a capable fabricator, it was a given that Rob would build his own exhaust. Those fume expulsion tubes start with a set of Hooker LS-swap manifolds that are connected to 304 stainless tubing and plumbed from both sides of the engine to the single BorgWarner turbo.
From there, Rob ran 5-inch tubing off of the turbo, which reduces down to four inches and runs rearward, splitting into dual 3-inch tubes over the rear end, exiting in the stock Chevy II locations. The car uses two Vibrant 3-inch ultra-quiet resonators to keep the tone reasonable, and once completed, he had the folks at QC Coatings in Shelby Township, Michigan, coat everything in a high-temp hue.
Trouble Is Afoot
Winston Churchill once said, “To build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years. To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day.” Sadly, that was to become all too real for Rob and his potent Pro Streeter. DMV plates and insurance was secured the day before going to the dyno and validating all of their hard work, and the two Robs were ecstatic about taking the car out on its maiden voyage when tragedy struck — the seeds of which were sown days before.
Remember that stage-II camshaft that Rob had installed? The fellow doing the install mentioned that he felt the cam bearings were in need of replacement. So, wanting to do things right, Rob had them done at the time of the cam swap. After the camshaft was nestled deep within the engine, and the engine buried deep within the tubes, hoses, wires, and frame rails of the car, they were finally ready to power up the Holley Dominator PCM to hear the engine come to life! It did, but then suddenly made a squeak and stopped.
With friends all over the globe, including fellow members of the Yellow Bullet online community, one gent from London helped Rob figure out the problem as they were trying to get the engine running. After conferring on the technical side, Rob fired the engine again. This time, it powered up and the Holley computer began collecting information for optimal performance.
During construction, the car had made several small trips on and off the trailer to get interior and other work done, and it seemed to run great the entire time. Now, the day the car was to hit the streets, the two Robs were ready to reap the harvest of horsepower that they had toiled over for months. When Molnar came over to go for the “official” first ride, they got about a 1/2-mile from Rob’s house, and all of a sudden there was a clunk, and that was it. The engine shut off.
Enthusiasts the world over can relate to Rob’s description of the situation, “When I pulled to the side of the road, put it in park, and tried to start it, I knew right away it was broken,” Rob explained. “As it turns out, the center cam bearing was incorrectly positioned, and the screech I heard was the bearing welding itself to the camshaft. The next time the block saw heat, it grabbed the bearing and stopped the camshaft dead, breaking a brand new GM timing chain. Once the valve train stopped and the bottom end kept rotating, well, you can guess the rest. At 30 mph and 2,500 rpm, I couldn’t really have done much more damage to the engine.”
Power Play Option 2.0
It took a few weeks for Rob to gather the perseverance to go on, but he did, and sourced a new engine for his Chevy II. This time, an all aluminum version shaved 80 pounds of weight. Rob did a few things differently with this engine, installing a good set of Wiseco forged pistons and connecting rods for durability, as well as a brand-new set of better-breathing 799 casting cylinder heads to seal it all up. It also got ARP fasteners, LS9 head gaskets, a Cloyes timing chain, F-body oil pan with baffles, a new balancer, and a Hughes Performance SFI flex plate.
The engine was fired on the dyno to prove that it was up to more than a 1/2-mile excursion. It passed the test and now resides between the frame rails of Rob’s Nova, giving him miles of smiles along the way. As Rob describes the combination, “The drive train combo works as well as I hoped it would. That 200R4 transmission with lock-up converter, 29-inch tall tires, and a 3.50 gear set gets me 70 mph at 1,900 rpm. On paper, the car will comfortably make 700 horsepower, and at 3,300 pounds, it should run in the 9.70s range in the 1/4-mile at 140-ish mph. Regardless, it’s a street car first and foremost.
That doesn’t mean it won’t spend time in the spotlight. Rob recently stood with his Chevy II in Cobo Hall at the Detroit Autorama, where is competed in the Pro Street class due to its modifications. Rob found himself in competition with cars that see more trailer time than street cruising, and said he told a judge “It was ironic that I would burn two sets of drag radials off this car this summer alone, but wouldn’t win an award in a Pro Street class. The judge just shuffled his feet as he looked at the ground, then replied with, ‘unfortunately you are correct.’” It didn’t matter though, as Rob got to meet many great folks who appreciated his car for what it is, and what it took to get it there!