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1972 Chevy Nova - Show And Go

Bruce Henson's 72 Nova Epitomizes Functionality In A Clean Package

Photography by Randy Lorentzen,

Aren't Pro Street cars supposed to be slow? All show no go? If they are, nobody told Bruce Henson. Even with his requisite traction-challenged Sportsman Pro tires, the relatively mild big-block-powered '72 Nova has seen 97 mph in the eighth-mile. We'd like to see what it would do with a set of slicks tucked inside those huge wheeltubs.

Bruce knew exactly what he wanted to build when he answered a classified ad in a local paper and bought a rough but straight '72 Nova back in late 1999. The Nova already had the cowl hood, but the 350/350 combo was stock down to the exhaust manifolds. Most importantly, the body was straight. Always wanting a Pro Street Chevy, Bruce shied away from first-generation Camaros and shoebox Novas as he felt they were already over-represented. Being an employee of So-Cal Speed Shop gave him fertile ground from which to launch his version of the ultimate Pro Streeter. Much of the bodywork was performed by So-Cal Speed Shop and the flawless PPG paint was applied there as well.

Powering Bruce's red bomber is a 0.030-over 396-inch Rat with TRW 10.5:1 forged slugs, a factory-forged steel crank and rods, and a lumpy Lunati hydraulic cam. Topping off the stout short-block is a set of GM iron oval-port heads with some bowl work and a good valve job, Lunati roller rockers, and a Weiand tunnel-ram with two 600 Holleys perched on top. An NOS Cheater plate unit has been added to the mix, but Bruce has yet to use it. JMS Racing Engines of Monrovia, California, is responsible for all of the machine work. The end result is a low-maintenance, tractable, pump-gas-swilling engine that has enough oats to get the attention of even the most jaded.

We loved the look of the old-school Pro Street car so much we chose it to represent the genre on the cover of our 50th Anniversary issue a few months ago, and we've returned with a closer look.

Bruce Henson's Nova represents exactly what we wish was true of all Pro Street cars. Clean, subtle, functional. How functional? Pump-gas functional, street-legal functional, fast functional. If that isn't enough, Bruce has won two Best of Shows at a couple of Southern California events. The best of both worlds is obviously attainable following Bruce's formula. It only requires the vision.

Car Craft Q&ACar Craft: Haven't you heard that Pro Street is dead? What inspired you to build a Pro Street car long after their popularity has supposedly faded?

Bruce Henson: I've always liked the look of skinny tires in the front and really big ones in the back. I like 'em low and loud. I wanted a car built to all of the NHRA's specs so I could race it, but at the same time it had to be mild enough and legal to drive on the street. I basically wanted the best of both worlds.

CC: Judging by your eighth-mile times, we would say performance was also one of your goals. Did you set out to build a fast car?BH: I didn't set out to build a race car. I wanted good performance and good looks. It had to run good when raced, but it also had to be driveable. It actually has more power than I had anticipated, as I didn't sink much money into the engine.

CC: We see that you have a nitrous unit on your Nova. Do you plan on testing it in the near future?BH: I'm not quite finished with the installation, but it will be functional, and when it is I will try it out at the track.

CC: What's next?BH: I will probably get some custom headers made that tuck up closer to the underside of the floor so I can lower the car some more.

The DetailsCar: '72 Chevy Nova

Engine: 396ci big-block

Heads: GM cast-iron oval-port, 2.19/1.88 intake/exhaust valves

Induction: Weiand tunnel-ram intake, two 600-cfm Holley carbs

Power adder: NOS Cheater plate system

Camshaft: Lunati hydraulic flat-tappet, 295/305 degrees duration (advertised), 0.575/0.600-inch lift

Transmission: GM Turbo-400, B&M shift-improvement kit, B&M 3,000-stall converter

Rearend: S&W 9-inch housing, Currie third member with 4.11:1 gears, Strange 31-spline axles

Front suspension: Fat Man Fabrications tubular control arms, Monroe gas shocks

Rear suspension: Four-link, S&W coil springs, Koni shocks, S&W panhard bar

Brakes: Stock GM 11-inch discs front and Wilwood discs rear

Wheels and tires: American Racing Torq-Thrust II 15x4s; Ultra 165R-15, fronts; Mickey Thompson 31x18.5-15 Sportsman Pros, rear

Body mods: Harwood fiberglass cowl hood and decklid, Precision Welding (Rialto, CA) fabbed rear wing

Paint: PPG So-Cal Red, by Tim Beard, So-Cal Speed Shop, Pomona, CACost to build: Approximately $20,000

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