She claimed it runs 10.38 at 127 mph on a 235 radial, yet only makes 300 naturally aspirated horsepower. We thought it crazy but witnessed it ourselves when Mary Bourdy clicked off a few 10-second shots in the 10.60 index class at the season opener of the Pacific Street Car Association (PSCA) at the The Strip in Vegas.
How does she do it? The car is a simple mix of science and electronics that softens the 200hp shot of nitrous in order to squirt the car to a 1.40 60-foot in the click of a ratchet. Mouths agape, we joined the laughter as she simply faded down the track a couple of car lengths ahead of an angry 10-second door-slammer with huge slicks and a 'cage.
It wasn't always this way. Mary was looking for a daily driver to replace her '90-something rental car when her chain of friends produced Rick Lantz, an employee at Toyota Racing Development (TRD) in Southern California, who was selling his '63 Nova. The car was painted, 'caged, and plumbed for nitrous but sadly ran a string of 13-second runs with Mary behind the wheel. ?The car was all over the place on those first runs," she said with a twitch of shell shock.That's when Jim Henn, also from TRD, stepped in to sort out the frontend. "The stock geometry on this car was a mess, so the car wasn't going straight," Jim said. "I figured it would be easier to just replace the whole thing."
With some driving techniques and the new frontend in place, Mary and the Nova ran a 12.90. Doing that with 3.50:1 gears and a mild 2,500-stall is a testament to the physics of the lightweight body style. Mary made some runs with Jim riding shotgun to learn how to drive the car. The ropes came quickly. "He rode along for three passes then I told him to get out," Mary said. "After that, I got up the nerve to run the nitrous oxide and pedaled it to an 11.20. Later, I got to take a ride in Jim's Nova on a 10-second pass at a clandestine midnight racing event. Suddenly 11s didn't seem fast to me anymore." That ruined her. The next move was a progressive 225-shot with a Nitrous Oxide Systems timer that feeds a percentage of the juice in a window of time.
Does 225 seem like a lot of nitrous for a cast-piston, cast-crank small-block? It does to us. Jim has made the standard mistakes on other cars, pushing out the head gasket with too much timing and flushing pistons with dropping fuel pressure and half-throttle engagement. Those memories have protected the Nova with a conservative tune-up.
Still, the plan is to someday beef the short-block with forged parts without ruining the day-to-day-driver feel--then pull the trigger.
At the track, we witnessed the ease with which the Nova ran the number. The mellow burble doesn't give away the track potential, yet it's not the traditional sleeper either. It's almost better. Instead of stock steel wheels and a flat hood, this car portrays the image of a mildly modified average street machine. A quick walk around, and you see 15-inch Weld Drag Stars, the standard Harwood hoodscoop, and pursue-me red paint. There's nothing to arouse suspicion that it's anything but a lawn-chair-loving weekend warrior in a low-13-second small-block ride. Bellybutton. Even the 'cage isn't the dead giveaway it used to be. You can thank Pro Street for that.
On race day, Mary was nowhere to be seen, as the rest of the 10.60 field poured race gas into their sheetmetal fuel cells and flipped switches on their race consoles that were welded to the dashboard. Mary was eating grits at the Flying J truck stop. Eventually, the diminutive Nova turned the corner and cruised toward the main gate without fanfare. She opened the bottles and was ready to race. It's a street car after all.