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1965 Chevrolet Nova Sedan - The Box Rocket

George Sillman's low-key 1965 Nova packs a big-block punch.

By Brag Iger, Photography by Brag Iger

In its purest sense, the goal in hot rodding has always been pretty simple: Build what you want the way you want it. For some people, that means a meticulous restoration back to factory specifications. For others, that might mean a dozen LCD monitors in a 40-year-old car and 26-inch rims stuffed into a wheelwell designed for 15s. But an unwavering segment of people still remember that the truest sense of the idea means getting big power into a small car. George Sillman is one of those people.

Though trends have come and gone and the idiosyncrasies of the world have had the potential to derail his passion, George is a lifer. After finishing college, George worked on aircraft for the Air Force, and after his time in the service, he went on to the Dynaelectron Corporation as a military aircraft technician. He later moved on to other ventures, but his interests in mechanical design and hauling ass never fell by the wayside. After building a roster of hot rods that included a '56 Ford pickup, a '23 Ford T-bucket, and a '32 Ford roadster, George worked on a project with his son building a '72 Nova. In the process of that endeavor, he found himself becoming increasingly interested in the earlier '62-'67-era Novas. So in the spring of 2004, while searching for a venture that was something other than a typical Chevelle or tri-five car, George happened upon a serviceable '65 Chevy II in Santa Clarita, California, only a few miles from his North Hollywood home. The Nova already had a reasonably stout, 400-inch small-block sitting in the engine bay, but for George this simply would not suffice. George's vision for the ideal Chevy II clearly had 454 badges on the fenders.

The Chevy II came about in a decidedly transitional time for the American automotive industry. After quickly coming to the realization that the anomalous Corvair was not a viable option against more traditional compact offerings like the Ford Falcon and the Plymouth Valiant, GM set its sights on a more conventional design, and by 1962 the Chevrolet Nova was born.

Designed from the ground up, the Nova's unibody construction afforded it a completely detachable front clip, allowing for easier repair and replacement of sheetmetal and other hardware forward of the firewall. During the initial years of the Chevy II, GM offered it with either a 153ci inline-four or the relatively sportier 194-cubed inline-six. By 1964, as the musclecar era was taking shape, Chevy laid out V-8 options in the Nova, the top dog being a 283, which offered a respectable amount of grunt considering the car's small footprint. But for some people, that just doesn't cut it.

"I wanted to do something that was a bit different," says George. So like any true gearhead, he set off to take this '65 Nova into territory that GM had never envisioned for it. The first order of business was to figure out how to shoehorn a beastly Rat motor into an engine bay that was better suited to house a powerplant designed for getting grandma to Stater Bros. Having relied on these guys for various suspension and chassis parts for his '32 Ford, George knew his first call needed to be placed to his old buddy Sal Solorzano at Total Cost Involved Engineer- ing to acquire a Chevy II front clip. George knew that with TCI's Mustang II suspension kit, a whole new world would open up for the Nova. First, the handling was improved dramatically by eliminating the stock setup with springs above the upper control arms and by merging the framerails closer together. And with this framerail design, George created room to ditch the small-block in favor of a bigger and beefier 454 crate motor. He also gave the car a much-needed dose of stopping power with a pair of 12-inch drilled and slotted Wildwood discs with four-piston calipers to supplement all that added muscle.

To get the Nova up to snuff on the aesthetic side of things, George bolted on a set of reproduction AC Cobra wheels and then shifted his attention to the interior, where he spent some long hours upside down with a belt sander, fine-tuning a custom-made housing for the aftermarket Auto Meter gauges and applying a fresh, clean look with some Paddock upholstery and a Hurst T-handle mated to a BorgWarner T5 trans. Also, after installing the Morse custom headers, he decided to add a little flair to the exterior with some 3-inch pipes that exit before the rear wheels, giving the Nova a subtle hint of Trans Am-series visual style.

By Brag Iger
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