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.
John's automotive life has been a succession of nicely crafted cars. "I worked at gas stations and stuff through high school, and my grandfather was a mechanic," he explains. "He always had musclecars around, so I got to see a lot of them. My first car was a '69 Chevelle 396 SS four-speed, 4.10 posi, all original. My grandmother bought the car, and then I paid her back. I think I paid $1,000 for it. I got into a lot of trouble with that car, but I had a lot of good times, too."
After the Chevelle, John owned several other classic muscle machines, including a '69 SS Camaro, a '65 Pro Street El Camino, a '70 SS 396 El Camino, a '67 El Camino, and a '70 Stepside pickup. He also admits to having owned a couple of oddball cars, like a Datsun 510 coupe and wagon back when everyone was lowering them. Now the family fleet includes an '02 GMC pickup and his wife, Bridget's, '69 convertible Camaro and Yukon XL. His daughters have grown up and have their own wheels. The oldest, 19-year-old Caitlin, drives a '95 Chevy Blazer, and 16-year-old Kelsey has joined the sport compact crowd with a Scion tC.
As for the Nova, it remains John's pride and joy. He takes it out when he can, sometimes hooking up with other Nova wagon owners in the Orange County, California, area. Even so, he doesn't abuse the car. Because the dealership where he works is next to commuter railroad tracks, he doesn't use the wagon as a commuter, but he's out with it on the weekends or going to nearby cruise spots at night. It's a clean, powerful, and fun streeter that turns heads on the boulevard.
It's amazing what you can pick up in the classified ads.
What: '65 Chevrolet Nova station wagon
Who: John Mondt
Hometown: Laguna Hills, California
Short-Block: The 502 is a crate motor that came complete from pan to carburetor. The parts are all GM-branded products, though some of them are private-label aftermarket parts. The big-block features four-bolt main caps and a forged-steel crank. The 71/416-inch connecting rods were shot-peened for strength, and the 9.6:1 pistons are fitted with chrome-moly rings.
Valvetrain: The hydraulic roller cam has an advertised lift of 0.527 inch with 224-degrees duration on the intake side and 0.544 inch at 234 degrees on the exhaust cycle. The stock steel valves work with a set of Edelbrock aluminum heads featuring 110cc open chambers vented by stainless steel 2.25-inch intake valves and 1.80-inch exhaust valves. Street & Performance brackets and pulleys work the accessories.
Induction: A Holley 850 double-pumper with vacuum secondaries rides on a CNC-port-matched dual-plane aluminum intake manifold.
Exhaust: The aluminum-coated Sanderson shorty headers run to 211/42-inch pipes and a pair of Flowmaster Delta Flow three-chamber mufflers.
Cooling: A pair of Spal electric fans pulls air through the Be Cool aluminum radiator. The coolant is fed through an Edelbrock aluminum water pump.
Drivetrain: The engine is mated to a Turbo 400 tranny that's fitted with a Specialty Auto cooler and a Hughes finned deep-aluminum pan. A 2,200-2,400-stall B&M Holeshot torque converter works with a shift kit to pass the power through a stock driveshaft to a Ford 9-inch rearend that was swapped in from an old Lincoln Versailles. John swapped the housing's stock gears out in favor of a 3.25 posi fitted to 31-spline axles.
Chassis: The frontend features an Arizona Nova Mustang II independent setup, though it's been lowered by cutting 111/42 coils off the springs. The rear spring is the stock monoleaf, but the rear has been lowered 2 inches with blocks. Subframe connectors help eliminate flex, and Monroe gas shocks control the springs at each corner. The stock steering system was swapped out in favor of a Mustang II power rack-and-pinion. The front power disc brakes came from a Camaro, and the rears are the stock discs that came with the Lincoln Versailles rearend. Because the engine doesn't create much vacuum, John added a Chevy truck Hydroboost brake booster, which works hydraulically off the power-steering pump.
Wheels/Tires: The wheels are 15x6 American Racing Torq-Thrust IIs at all four corners. The fronts are wrapped in 185x65-15 Cooper Touring tires, and the rears carry 215x60-15 Coopers.
Body: The Nova is shorn of most trim, including the moldings, the roof rack, and the emblems, and John removed the front shock towers and filled the engine compartment's inner panels when he installed the 502 so the engine compartment looks as though it's from the factory. The paint is a custom red mix.
Interior: There's a tweed theme inside. The headliner and the front and rear bench seats are upholstered in tan tweed, and the door panels are tan tweed and vinyl. The stock dash is coated in the body-color red paint, but the upper portion is upholstered in vinyl. The dash holds a full complement of white-face Classic Instruments gauges, including a speedometer and tachometer, monitors for oil pressure, fuel, and water temperature, and a voltmeter. The stereo features an Alpine head unit with a CD player and four speakers. The billet-aluminum steering wheel came out of a truck that John bought, and it's mounted to a GMC van column. John opted for the GMC column shift so he could keep the floor clear and accommodate three people in the front seat. A Vintage Air Super Cooler air conditioner and heater combination controls the climate.