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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

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.

But the project didn't always move ahead completely as planned. "After everything was said and done and I hooked up the brake lines, no matter what I did all the lines leaked," he recalls. "I called my buddy Dick Duncan, who worked on the GM assembly lines from the early '60s all the way up until a few years ago, and explained it to him. The next day he comes by with this huge, double-length, double-thickness homemade steel wrench that looks like it's made for tanks or battleships." Turns out the problem wasn't exclusive to George-they'd used this thing in the factory for tightening brake lines for the very same reason for years. Goes to show that it never hurts to have a GM factory employee in the bullpen on a Chevy build. And George's ongoing interest in aerospace ended up making a contribution as well. "The hood springs weren't doing the job keeping the hood up, and I couldn't find a hood bar, so I decided to just make one out of a launch-pad rod for model rockets." And to look at it, you'd never know it didn't come that way. Unless, of course, you're Dick Duncan.

Today, George and the Nova make their rounds back and forth across the unforgiving Los Angeles roadway landscapes for cruise nights at places like Bob's Big Boy near Burbank and the Hill Street Caf. The future for the Nova includes more goodies like a narrowed Currie 9-inch rearend to facilitate tucking the rear wheels into the wheelwells a bit for a slammed stance. And as George went on to explain, it looks like he'll have plenty of time to put on the finishing touches. This afternoon he looks especially relaxed in his garage-and for good reason. As George gleefully proclaims, "Today's my first day of retirement!"

Tech Notes
Who: SoCal local George Sillman
What: '65 Chevrolet Nova sedan

Engine: Yup, it's a crate engine. You'll probably be dropping crates in everything when you get to retirement age, so give the guy a break. The powerplant is a GM HO 454 that makes 425 hp at 5,250 and 500 lb-ft at 3,250 rpm. It's the one with the cast-iron rectangle-port heads with 118cc chambers and an 8.75:1 compression ratio. The engine also comes with a forged steel crank, connecting rods, and 211/230-degree-at-0.050 hydraulic roller with 0.510/0.540 lift. Did you know you could get one for $5,100? George added a 750-cfm Holley from Quick Fuel, a Be Cool crossflow radiator, and a handmade set of 3-inch coated headers from Morse Muffler in Burbank, California.

Transmission: George isn't a drag racer so he's satisfied to use a World Class T5 transmission out of a third-gen Camaro for some overdrive cruising. This also helps counteract the effects of the short tire and wheel combo and the 3.70:1 gears in the 9-inch rearend.

Suspension/Brakes: Early Novas are notoriously wobbly in the front-end department, so owners often go for a bolt-on front end kit, such as George's from Total Cost Involved. It gives you coil springs, tubular upper and lower control arms, and spindles with any drop you want. George also added a set of Wilwood 12-inch front brakes and master cylinder. The 9-inch also has a brake swap from Wilwood. It uses 11-inch rotors and a proportioning valve to keep the rears from dragging or the rear end from passing the front during panicky braking.

By Brag Iger
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