Sleepers are where you find them. Or, more often, where they find you. The '68-'72 Nova has become the most popular choice for sleeper status because it is one of the few remaining cars from the early '70s that can still be found for a decent price. Most of these cars are cruisers, but occasionally you will run across one that does much more than it appears-the sleeper. You may recall back in the April issue we featured Troy LaCrone's black 8-second Nova ("Back in Black"). That car was pretty radical. Before Troy put his spin on the bad-in-black Nova, the car used to sit on Tom Oermann's shop floor. That small-block was a bit too high strung for Tom, which begat his current X-Body adventure.
But just because Tom sold his 8-second car to buddy Troy doesn't mean Tom doesn't like to go fast. In fact, his move to the silver car is still quicker than most guys' 1,320-foot aspirations. This latest Nova is no slug when you consider its best pass to date is a 9.87 at 134.50 mph. What makes this Nova fun is that it garners very few second glances, and that's just how Tom likes it.
Pop the hood, and right away the bling-casters are unimpressed. Where's the monster-inch Rat motor with the fabricated valve covers and centrifugal blower? In its stead is a much more low-key small-block. It doesn't even have aluminum heads. The more knowledgeable will point to the Dart heads and acknowledge that when combined with a big cam and a good induction system, there's plenty of power potential in Tom's combination. Of course, there's also that telltale plate with the NOS Cheater solenoids. Tom doesn't try to hide it, but that doesn't mean it's there just for decoration, because he's got it dialed in for a serious, all-or-nothing 250hp shot. Tom's never had the engine on the dyno. According to him, "My car is my dyno." Because we were curious, we dialed up our handy power-speed calculator and with a race-ready 3,480-pound car with driver, a 134-mph trap speed equals something close to 700 flywheel horsepower. Not bad for an all-iron small-block.
All this didn't happen overnight. In fact, Tom's owned this car for more than 10 years. "I bought it from my neighbor back when you could get these cars for $600, complete with the Thrifty Six." Those days of cheap Novas are gone now, especially when you consider the car had only 54,000 original miles. The low mileage made the transition from caf cruiser to street sweeper much less of a struggle. Even the wheeltubs are stock width, despite the fact that Tom has stuffed 10-inch-wide Hoosier QuickTime Pro DOT tires under the back. "It's tight, but they don't rub."
Tom puts plenty of miles on the street with his Nova and has run up against his buddy Troy more than once. The last foray almost put the car into the guardrail, so now he prefers to hit the nitrous only on the track. The problem there is that sharp-eyed readers will notice there's no rollbar in the car. "I've got away with running low 10s a couple of times," Tom says in reference to the Nova's lack of safety equipment. But to keep running the car at the track, it's inevitable that there's interior tubing in this Nova's future.