This ’71 Nova Was Phil Sanner’s Dream Car Before He Knew It

There are plenty of people on the road driving their daily commuter cars to work that would much rather be behind the wheel of something cool like a classic hot rod. A lot of those drivers might even have a classic in their garage at home, but those who do not and would like to own one, need to find that just-right ride to suit their personality.

For instance, a friend was in the market for a new-to-him classic ride and after a long search, fell in love with a ’71 Nova that he found at a classic car dealer. But before we get ahead of ourselves, this story begins when Phil Sanner of Lakeland, Florida decided it was time to enjoy the fun, trials, and tribulations that classic car ownership delivers.

“I started looking for a classic car about nine months ago but I really not sure what I was looking for,” Phil quips. “Growing up, several of my uncles had what are now classic cars. I remember them taking me for rides, listening to the exhaust rumble, and occasionally squealing the tires. When I was in my late 20s early 30s, I decided I wanted a hot rod that I could drive around in and even take to car shows. Now, I am 45 years old and I realize I am not getting any younger, so I decided it was time to start looking for a classic car.”

Nova

Specifics about the engine are unknown, but it is a strong performer.

Phil admits that he really wasn’t sure what model he was looking for, but he started looking online to see what classic cars were for sale. “At first, I was opened minded about the make and model, but quickly realized I started filtering my searches to strictly Chevys,” he states. “After months of looking online, I decided to start going to different classic car dealers and looking over their inventory. I spent the next several months traveling to classic car dealers to look at what was in the showroom.”

After months of searching, Phil soon learned just how expensive some of these classic cars were. He also realized that he was only going to get what he was willing to pay for. He was looking to keep his spend between 30 and 35k. “It all started when I found what I thought was a really nice Nova at a classic car dealer,” he says. “I quickly got on the phone and scheduled an appointment to see it. Unfortunately, after viewing this vehicle in person, I felt it was not a good fit for me as I was at least looking for something rust-free. However, at that point, I realized how much I liked the body style and decided I was bound and determined to find a ’68 to ’72 Nova.”

Nova

With a specific model in mind, Phil started looking for the right car. What he did learn was, unlike some of the other Chevy models which seemed to be in abundance, there were not many Novas to choose from. Phil says this made the process a little more invigorating and challenging at the same time.

“Every Nova I found was already sold,” laughs Phil. “This happened on four different occasions over about a four-week span. I felt a little disappointed, but it made me want one even more. At this point, I told myself, If I can find a rust-free Nova that has a nice paint job on it, I will get it because I am mechanically inclined and can do cosmetic things myself.

“Then it happened, I finally found a ’71 Nova that was within my budget,” he states. “It was rust-free and had a nice paint job on it. At first, I really thought I wanted a car that was 100-percent perfect, but quickly realized that if I found that car, it really wouldn’t be mine. It would be a done car that someone else built. This car needs a few things and will now become a car that someone may have started to rebuild, but one that I will be able to take pride in finishing to make it as perfect as possible for me, and I’ll be able to say, look what I did. This is definitely not a number’s matching car, which is perfect for me, as I would like to back it out of the garage on weekends and tool around town and start attending some car shows with it.”

Nova

Phil has a great base from which to build but plans to add a few upgrades. For instance, some of the under-hood wiring could have been less “spaghetti-like,” and for some reason, the dash is cut for an aftermarket radio and has been left unused. However, someone mounted a DIN-style unit under the dash. There are a few other small things he wants to take care of, but he’ll address them one at a time.

But before we get into what is going to be done, let’s discuss what he’s working with. At first glance, it’s easy to see that the exterior is not an area he plans to make any changes. The car looks great. For that reason, his first order of business is the under-hood area. Phil was told the engine is a 350 and since the dipstick is on the driver’s side, it’s a pre-’79 version. The heads are Vortec pieces as evidenced by the center bolt valve covers. Behind that is a Turbo 350, and it seems to have a shift kit. The rearend is a 12-bolt, and we haven’t taken the cover off to determine what gears are in it, by spinning the tire and watching wheel and driveshaft rotations, he believes it is 3.91 gearing.

The interior is basic black, and someone has swapped out the original bench seat and added a pair of aftermarket butt funnels. I had the opportunity to take a ride in the car, and I can call them that because a large person such as myself sort of sinks in and gets wedged in place between the very high bolsters. They are not uncomfortable, just tough to get out of when you arrive at your destination. As mentioned, the dash has been cut and there are a few aftermarket gauges mounted under the dash to monitor vitals.

Now that Phil has the car and he is local to me, I thought it would be cool to try and help a fellow enthusiast take care of some of the small things he needs to change. We’re not planning a complete rebuild, just a few DIY-type upgrades that can be done in either Phil’s or my home garage. This is a new car to Phil, so a complete teardown and reassembly is not only not required, it would not be a great way for him to enjoy his new acquisition. Therefore, we’ll be tackling jobs that can be accomplished in the evenings after work or on a weekend. Stay tuned for those upgrades/updates to start showing up on ChevyHardcore.com.

Nova

The suspension could use a little work, as the nose sits way too high, and the bushings have seen better days. Still, Phil has a great platform to start building a car that performs and looks like a million bucks.

“As time and money allows, I plan on changing the front seats back to the original bucket seats, replacing the Turbo 350 with an overdrive transmission, and changing out the suspension with modern components for a better ride,” Phill states. “My goal for this car is to make improvements to it and make it a 100-percent-reliable vehicle that can be taken out of the garage and not have to worry about it leaving me stranded on the side of the road. I purchased this vehicle as a long-term family investment, meaning it is something I can spend time working on, driving, and one day — not too soon — pass down to one of my children.

Overall, Phil’s new Nova is a decent car that he and his family can enjoy. As I said, there are a few details to work out and you can find out just what we are doing with the car by following along with each upgrade, so check back often.

About the author

Randy Bolig

Randy Bolig has been working on cars and has been involved in the hobby ever since he bought his first car when he was only 14 years old. His passion for performance got him noticed by many locals, and he began helping them modify their vehicles.
Read My Articles

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