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Atypical 70 Chevy Nova X-Body

A New Take on an Old Chevy Nova

Photography by , Terry McGean

Why is it that second-generation Novas--a mainstay of the street-machinemovement--seem to only be built as straight-line-inspired machines? Inthe midst of the Pro Touring movement, we've seen all kinds of cars thatwere never intended to turn corners revamped to at least appear as ifthey could handle a road course with aplomb. Yet the Novas remain withtheir big 'n' littles and stink-bug stances despite the fact thatunderneath they're nearly identical to the first-generation F-cars thatseem to lead the whole Pro Touring thing. Even an "advanced" Nova buildusually means big tubs, a narrowed axle, and a Pro Stock-style stance.

Perhaps all of this had everything to do with our interest in TonySmith's '70 Nova. We came across it at the Street Machine Nationals inLima, Ohio, last summer, and the sight of a '68-'72 Nova smashed intothe weeds, and with two-tone paint no less, sucked us right in. Turnsout Tony, his brother Chris, and their dad Mike, are all part ofSmitty's Customs in Tiffin, Ohio, where contemporary custom cars andtrucks are created regularly. As for his motivation for building a Nova,Tony related, "I didn't want a Nova at all. I really never liked them,but this one was so clean I couldn't pass it up."

Tony went on to explain that once he found the 27,000-mile garage-keptNova, he knew it was too clean to ignore, so after purchasing it, he setabout trying to "make it look not so much like a Nova," to use hiswords. That philosophy provided the inspiration for the two-tone paint,the big-inch wheels, and the slammed stance. Inside, Tony used front andrear seats from an Olds Aurora, along with a custom dash and console tocreate a far more modern feel than the bare-bones factory pieces foundin nearly every X-body of that period.

To get the car down as far as Tony wanted to go, chopped springs andlowering blocks wouldn't suffice, so air springs were chosen to providethe extreme drop. Out back, this meant a conversion from leaf springs toa four-link arrangement. We should probably explain that back a fewyears, Tony and his brother were pretty heavily involved in the sporttruck movement, which is where they got their experience with customwork and air-spring suspensions. Working with trick trucks alsomotivated Tony to go extra big on the rims; mere 17s would not do, sothe Nova rides on 18s and 19s, providing dramatic effect.

Although Tony and his brother were truck guys, dad is an old-schoolhard-core hot rodder, having raced a '56 Chevy two-doorwagon-turned-sedan delivery back in the day. It was the real deal, witha hot small-block, four-speed, tilt front end, and flat-black paint.Memories of that low 12-second ride stayed with the sons and probablyhave a lot to do with their tendencies toward performance drivetrains.This shows up in the Nova's 383, running JE 11:1 pistons and portedbig-valve heads along with a healthy Comp stick.

Although some would argue that an air-bagged ride isn't really ProTouring, Tony strongly disagrees, especially after running the Novaaround a road course during Air Ride Technologies' Track Day recently.The experience convinced him that capable cornering can be attainedwhile retaining the bags, and he's out to prove it. Perhaps anotherstereotype is about to be laid to rest.

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