What is it with car guys that the moment an acquaintance says, "Hey, you're into old cars, right? I know where there's a . . ." we get all excited and forget the very tenets of dispassionate car buying? Every time that happens, the car-guy warning light begins to blink in the corner of your eye, every nerve ending tingles, and rusty old sheetmetal becomes the holy grail. Call it Barn-Find Syndrome. Books have been written about the ultimate barn finds. We've all heard the fantastic stories in which some oaf stumbles upon the Mopar equivalent of King Tut's tomb with a dust-encrusted Hemi 'Cuda that hasn't moved since 1971.
Midwest farmer and dedicated car crafter Doug Evans' story is not nearly that dramatic, but it tracks a parallel path. He found himself one day in the small Minnesota town of Mount Lake looking for sprayer parts for his farming business. Once the business deal had been struck, he chided his friend about a little '66 Chevy II that was hidden away. The car was still in the original owner's name, and with a little prodding, it was soon on its way back to Terril, Iowa.
Doug Evans, the Nova owner, is no relation to Primedia's Senior V.P., Group Publisher Doug
When you see cars like this in the magazine and you hear the story of so few original miles, it's easy to believe that all Doug did was slap a paint job on this little Chevy II, stuff in a motor, and the car was ready to run. Nothing could be further from the truth. That same little old lady had banged the left-side quarter-panel on the garage door so many times it needed replacing. Worse yet, when Mark Lair at Lair's Custom Auto Body & Restoration stripped the Nova down to its bare shell, blasting revealed the Minnesota winter had taken its revenge on even this low-mileage sweetheart. The floorpan had multiple rust holes, which demanded an entire pan from nose to tail as a complete rotisserie rehabilitation.
Since Chevy IIs are notorious for instability at higher speeds, Doug opted for the TCI front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering that would eradicate the bumpsteer boogie for which the Chevy II is equally infamous. It's no secret these '60s economy cars suffered from a minimal rear wheelwell area. Since they look absolutely nasty with fatter rear tires, Mark performed a beautiful and almost-stock-appearing minitub job to squeeze in large-for-a-Chevy II-sized 275/60R15 BFG drag radials.
The Chevy II was so original, Doug was able to save the original grille with just a little
With a real-world stance that wouldn't peel the oil pan off the motor when faced with real-world potholes, the Nova was now set for paint. Again, it would seem this would be a no-brainer. Doug originally wanted to retain the same factory cream color the car came with, but Mark suggested a Chevy II sedan would just blend into the crowd unless they came up with something better. It took three different custom mixes laid on the Chevy II's hood to finally come up with a color that both agreed would work.
Next came the decision on the interior. Here, Doug was adamant that the original threads go back in the car, right down to the rubber mat (because nobody makes a reproduction one) instead of carpet. This also included the radio block-off plate that was factory original. The original owner must not have been interested in heathen rock 'n' roll, so the radio was deleted from the factory. To complete the smoothed-off dash, Mark built a matching heater block-off plate.
The motor and trans were actually some of the simplest parts of the car, with the 383 aimed at making good power with over 440 hp and combined with a dependable TH350 automatic and 2,800-rpm converter. The Currie Ford 9-inch is more than capable of handling the torque with its 3.73 gears. That was the easy part.
The undercarriage shows the small scratches that are the result of a year's worth of fun behind the wheel of this time-machine Chevy II. After all, that's exactly why Doug built it. What takes a little longer to accept is that it wasn't an easy journey. But the results were well worth the pain that always accompanies the effort to excel.
Who: Doug Evans
What: '66 Chevy II sedan
Hometown: The thriving megalopolis that is Terril, Iowa.
The work: 3,200 acres of corn and soybeans.
Engine: Doug had friend Larry Demeer from nearby Carroll, Iowa, built the 0.030-over 350 with 9.5:1 forged pistons and a mild hydraulic cam together with a Moroso 7-quart pan to complete the short-block. For heads, Doug chose a set of Brodix aluminum castings ported to match the Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake. Ignition energy is supplied by an MSD Pro Billet distributor and 6AL box. Despite the smallish 650-cfm Mighty Demon Barry Grant carburetor, the little 355 still made 443 hp at 5,400 rpm with an equally impressive 450 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm on the engine dyno.
Exhaust: Hooker fenderwell headers help with ground clearance, but Mark still had to relocate the No. 7 pipe to clear the brake booster. Exhaust Systems in Spirit Lake, Iowa, built the custom 211/42-inch exhaust system mere days before the car's debut at the '05 Car Craft Summer Nationals in St. Paul.
Transmission: A B&M MegaShifter sitting in the stock interior controls the Denny Thompson-built TH350 along with a 2,800-rpm Midwest Converter, a Denny's aluminum driveshaft, and a Perma-Cool trans cooler mounted just ahead of the radiator.
Differential: Currie built the 9-inch rearend for the Nova that included a 3.73 gearset and a Detroit Truetrac limited-slip unit. Currie narrowed the housing a total of 6 inches to offer up more room for the bigger tires.
Suspension: Lair's Custom Auto Body & Restoration took on the job of building the front and rear suspension for the Nova. Up front, TCI supplied a complete front subframe assembly, but it required some effort to fit this little Chevy II. The kit included a complete rack-and-pinion conversion, which required additional effort with parts from Flaming River to hook up with the stock steering column. Stiffening the little Chevy II took form with a set of Competition Engineering subframe connectors that Mark swapped side to side to generate just the right amount of width. He then tied the TCI front to the rear along with new Competition Engineering framerails in the rear. With much wider rubber on tap, Mark retained the stock look by widening the stock fenderwells. A set of Jegster slapper bars complete the rear suspension.
"The car had less than 23,000 original miles on it and still had the little old lady pill
Interior: The interior photos reveal original Saddle Tan door panels, seat covers, and steering wheel in this little Chevy II. Only the headliner had to be replaced, and that's only because welding sparks caused a couple of holes. The only concession to performance is a slightly modified rear seat frame narrowed to clear the wider wheeltubs. Mark also mounted the tach to the nub left over from the stock shifter arm on the steering column, negating the use of a simple hose clamp.
Paint: That's a Mark Lair custom-mixed PPG basecoat/clearcoat paint scheme that complements the otherwise stock exterior body shell. The only other addition is a steel cowl hood from Goodmark.
Wheels: There's something timeless about the American Torq-Thrust five-spoke wheels with 15x411/42s up front and 15x811/42-inchers on the rear. Tires are 135/60R15 skinnies steering the way and 275/60R15 BFG Drag Radials contributing to the traction profile.
Cool stuff: Mark built all the stainless steel brake lines with AN fittings from Speedway that mirror the routing of the 11/42-inch aluminum fuel lines along the framerail. The stainless steel fuel cell in the trunk comes from Summit. Roger Doyle worked his machining magic by custom whittling a set of one-off aluminum caps for all four wheels and also created a special water-pump snout cover to clear the electric fan mounted on the Griffin aluminum radiator.