During its restoration, the car went together very well but not without challenges. Keeping all the original aluminum panels was paramount for me. I was learning more about the importance of weight reduction and what the Thomas team had done to make a car ultra light while still maintaining its stock appearance. The pop-rivet tool became the tool of choice for reinstalling the aluminum engine shroud, rear cab to trunk panel, rear side panels, side windows, and the dashboard.
Next on the list was the engine. When I purchased the car, it had a small block with Hilborn injection but the original big block mounting tabs were still on the frame, right where Bill had put them, and as evidenced in Hot Rod. As we know, big blocks are 2” longer. These tabs were exactly 2” from the front of this soon-to-be-replaced 327 engine. Unfortunately, the original BBC front motor mount had been lost over the years, so it was up to me to recreate the front big block mount. I went back to the photos in the article. There it was, a close up! After several (that’s all I’ll admit to) attempts, I nailed it. Thanks for that picture, Jim!
Of course there were no BBC headers with the car, so I called Bill III to ask him for his input. “Make them just like the ’66 Nickey/Harrell car. They were being built right next to each other,” is what he had to say. Indeed, part of the Novel Nova can be seen in the background in several magazine photos of the ’66 Harrell car. It was time to copy the artist again. Nevertheless, knowing that designing headers was one of Bill Thomas’s many talents, I was more than a little intimidated. I made sure to mig weld them so they would have the correct period look. They came out a little on the rough side by today’s standards, but a lot on the real side by ‘60’s standards, or better yet, Bill’s standards!
The Thomas shop was located just a short distance from the famous Hilborn Injection Company. Since Bill was the first guy on his block to have the just released “Porcupine” motors, the Hilborn people had gone down to Bill’s shop for a visit. That’s where they made the template for the very first BBC injection units that became so popular back then and remain so to this day. That meant I couldn’t just put any FI system on it; it had to be a Hilborn unit, it had to be mechanical, and it had to be an early unit. Fast forward 2 months. Thanks, Ebay Motors! No one was going to outbid me on this one!
Another part of the hunt was finding the correct date coded block, heads, oil pan and period Vertex mag. I knew just the right car guys to get exactly what I needed. Then it was off to the engine shop, with Bill III giving me the guidelines that would meet the Thomas criteria. I won’t give away any of Bill’s secrets, but we started with a bunch of compression, boring it and then adding just the right cam. I figured the car would probably never see a drag strip again, so we were conservative with the jetting and ignition timing. I didn’t want to take a chance of hurting the motor. We held the revs on the dyno tests to an even 6,000 RPMs. We poured in some 103-octane fuel and gave it a pull. An easy 603 hp later, we had an engine! BT would have put the needle well past 7,000, but I’m no Bill!
The engine was in the car, the interior was finished, and the Olds rear end and Muncie 4-speed were back where they belonged. The body was put back to its original factory Autumn Gold. Now, just a few details remained. A helpful piece of paper that came with the car was a list of most of its previous 10 owners. I tried contacting all of them and finally succeeded in reaching Butch from Ohio, the 7th owner. After lots of interesting dialogue about the unique Nova, Butch said, “Oh yeah, I still have the original American mags and front tires that were on the car when I bought it. They were real magnesium and I took them off the car because I didn’t want them damaged.” Guess what I immediately said to him, starting with “Do you want to sell them”? Thanks to Butch’s co-operation and UPS, they were at my door the next week. Meant II be?
Ebay Motors supplied another item this car deserved. It was an NOS set of period correct M&H Racemaster 9.50 X 15 slicks. You read right; they had never been mounted on rims and had never seen the light of day, not to mention asphalt. That’s it, the icing on the cake, so to speak.