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1970 Chevrolet Nova Yenko - Reborn Racer

Neck-deep in drag-racing Fords in the '60s, Mike Lieber now turns 10s in a big-block Nova

Photography by , Mike Lieber Collection

Mike Lieber prefers to talk about how to go fast today. He's got a white beard and could be accused of achieving veteran status. But that doesn't mean he's slowing down. If pressed, he'll admit that he raced those big-block Fords back in the early '60s, but he'd really rather talk about this big-block Nova. Running 10.70s at 126 mph, the Nova relies on the classic combination of Rat motor grunt and a modest shot of nitrous.

Just about everyone who's ever built a street car has a story to tell. But how does a hard-core Ford racer who was in the thick of the NHRA Stock and Super Stock wars throughout most of the '60s find himself behind the wheel of a Bow Tie machine? If the order of the Blue Oval was a bit more consecrated, this might be grounds for excommunication. "Everybody's got a Mustang today. I wanted something different."

The Nova was one of those honest little-old-lady cars. His buddy found a 19,000-mile bench-seat Nova sporting a basic inline-six that had spent its life in pampered tranquility. With original yellow paint and an interior that still wafted that '70s smell, Mike had to have it. But instead of cash, Mike swung a deal and parlayed 15 firearms including a couple of good Remingtons, shotguns, and handguns to a new home.

Mike immediately stripped the six and Powerglide for a big-block and TH350 trans. With a 12-bolt, the package was good for 12s, but that was just the starting point. Next came a bigger cam and a single-plane intake, and that pushed the 3,150-pound Nova into the high 11s. This was about eight years ago and Mike asked good friend Art Carr at California Performance Transmissions to build him an automatic overdrive transmission. Art plugged in a built TH200-4R with its conservative 2.74:1 First gear and 0.68:1 overdrive. With dozens of passes on the trans, it has performed flawless 11.50s from day one.

Mike was having fun and running as quick with his street car as he used to run with his old Super Stocker. NHRA frowns on class cars running nitrous, but there's no rule against it on the street. "Originally I was gonna run a centrifugal supercharger that cost around $4,000, but I could use nitrous for $400. It didn't take long to figure out what to do." In classic fashion, the nitrous system is a pieced-together puzzle consisting of a Zex perimeter-injection-style plate with NOS solenoids along with a couple of DynoTune pieces thrown in, including the electric servo that opens the nitrous bottle. There's a 180hp tune currently plugged in, and Mike has it wired with an MSD window switch that engages the nitrous at 3,500 rpm and then shuts it off at 6,200 rpm just before the rev limiter kicks in at 6,300.

With his newfound power, the Nova has now run a 10.70 at 126 mph and buddy Art Carr is thinking of adding in a 9-inch converter to improve the hit off the line. That's gonna mean more effort on the traction side since it spins a bit off the line now. That's plenty stout for an overdrive automatic that many enthusiasts scoff at for being weak. For now, Mike just likes to plant his right foot and enjoy how easy it is to be reborn.

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