The car makes an impression. First, there's the cavernously deep idle. Next, there's the custom-mixed red paint that appears almost as liquid as blood. And then there's that ZZ502 big-block tucked neatly between the fenderwells. There are no shock towers but also no strut arms-just clean sheetmetal and lots of engine. Finally, there's the fact that it's all part of a station wagon. "This is different," you think. "This is very, different."
It began nine years ago when John Mondt was looking for something unique to take his daughters to school in. He wanted a small four-door, and he had been partial to wagons since he was a kid. He found what he was looking for in the classified ads. It was a '65 Nova wagon with no engine or transmission, but it had a rust-free two-tone body, so he hauled it home.
"Some guy in Fullerton [California] had it just sitting in his garage," John says. "He bought it to build but never got around to it. He yanked the motor and tranny out of it and never did anything more. I ended up buying it for $900. It was rust free and everything was there, so it was definitely worth the money."
John is a technician for Allen Cadillac in Laguna Niguel, California. The dealership also sells GMC trucks, and John does electrical, air-conditioner, and interior work. His job at the dealership led to the 502.
Four years before he bought the Nova, the dealership had ordered a transmission from the factory. Through a fluke, the big-block was delivered instead. Rather than shipping it back, John bought it for a hefty discount. Then it sat in his garage while he searched for a car to put it in. When he bought the Nova, the die was cast.
"I thought it would be cool to put it in the wagon," he says. "But I didn't want it to look like I just stuffed it into the car. When most companies do engine conversions and get rid of the shock towers, they add strut arms. I didn't want the look of the strut arms, so I cut the shock towers out and left the factory inner panels, which makes it look almost stock but keeps the strength. It looks more original, like the big-block belongs in there."
The 502 probably would have demolished the stock drivetrain, but another quirky turn of fate provided John with a solution. A friend of his had an old Lincoln Versailles sitting out in a field. After it was mostly destroyed by a fire, the friend parted out what was salvageable and got rid of the rest. He gave John the 9-inch rearend, which bolted right in without any changes. All John had to do was rebuild it with new bearings and put it in. He turned again to the classified ads for the gears, and he found a 3.25 posi unit.
John likes to do as much of the work on his cars as possible. He enjoys building engines and performing the chassis jobs, but he admits that bodywork doesn't thrill him, and he also outsources upholstery tasks. He has done his own paintwork in the past, but he didn't have time to do the Nova. Unfortunately, the car went through four body shops and three years before John was satisfied with the sheetmetal and the custom-mix red. That's a lesson in perseverance.