It used to be green. It was lime green with a pea-soup shade inside and an aftermarket green vinyl roof to top it all off. Rob Mix bought the unfortunately hued '71 Nova from a friend who had been shopping it around the Minnesota area after rescuing it from the Colorado winter. But it sure was green.
Rob had been into cars since he bought a rustbucket '65 Impala as a midwestern teen and got into the Bondo thing. Then he got into the racing thing and over the years built a long list of speedy muscle that ended with a 1,200hp Chevelle and a fistful of 9-second timeslips.
A couple of years ago during a bench racing session, Rob and his friend Tyler De Armond were talking about renewable resources and some information they had heard about E85 fuel and its ability to withstand compression without falling apart. That's when the idea to build a project around the corn-based pump gas developed and the green car found its purpose.
"I figured I'd get used to the paint," Rob remembers. "I painted the engine and the wheels green and lived with it for a while. Then one day I stepped back, looked, and decided that this wasn't going to work." Rob took the car apart and sent it to a friend in West St. Paul for a little paint and body. It returned with a much more palatable shade of Commercial Bright Medium Blue.
While the car was away, Rob schemed with his friends to build a rowdy 383 that ran on pure corn ethanol and began to study the subject. His first victim was a Holley 750 HP carb that was drilled and filed and rebuilt for endless dyno sessions while they dialed in the small-block. When that carb became unusable, Rob discovered the many different carb parts offered by Proform and began to work with them to develop a prototype. As it developed, it occurred to Rob that there might be some people who would pay for a carb like this, and E85carbs.com was born. "It's not like people can't figure this out; it's just that they might find it convenient to buy a carburetor that is already done," says Rob.
During that time, a death in the family inspired him to finish the interior in the garage and get the car out on the road. "The car was built to be as close to stock as possible so I could retain its value," he says. With a new overdrive transmission installed, he drove around to car shows to gauge people's interest.
"It had a small-block with a single carb, and no one wanted to see a regular Nova," Rob recalls. So he went looking for a blower. "The blower was to make the car dramatic, so every little kid (and big kid) would want to look at the car."
It worked. The big blower and bright-blue paint roped in a Car Craft staffer at the Summer Nationals in St. Paul, Minnesota, for this photo shoot, and Rob's also driven it on some semifamous road tours around the country using fuelfinder.com as his guide. Even though the car doesn't look green anymore, you can still see that it is.
Who: Robert MixWhat: An E85-powered '71 Chevy NovaWhere: St. Paul, Minnesota, home of the Car Craft Summer Nationals. Please attend in 2008.
Engine: Rob bought the short-block from Ron Flood at Cedar Machine in St. Paul with Eagle rods and a set of Speed-Pro flat-top pistons that would give him 10.5:1 compression with the Dart Pro 1 215cc heads. He decided to use this compression ratio so he could run the car on regular fuel if the E85 experiment didn't work out. The cam is a Comp Magnum grind that isn't necessarily designed for boost with 244 degrees of duration at 0.050 and 0.501 lift. Rob picked it for a naturally aspirated engine with a thumpy idle and a lot of lift and duration to match the 3.73:1 rear gears and converter he'd already chosen.
Induction: Originally he had a Victor Jr. intake manifold with a Proform 750 carb. It was successfully running on E85, but no one noticed. "It didn't have the eye candy," Rob says. He knew he could cover the extra squeeze with the high-octane rating of the E85, so he called Bill Dyer of Dyer'sBlowers. Bill and Rob worked for about six months to decide how far they could push the car in terms of the limits of the fuel and cylinder pressure. Rob ended up with a bunch of different pulleys, and on the dyno they found a sweet spot underdriving the blower 19 percent and building 9.5 pounds of boost. The combination has dynamic cylinder pressure equivalent to 16.0:1 with the blower at 9 pounds and a 10.5:1 static compression ratio. Rob says that the baseplate on the blower gets so cold that the moisture from condensation will end up on the windshield as you drive, even on a warm summer day.
Carbs: He started with a Holley 750 HP and increased the main well size and the idle circuits. The corrosive nature of the E85 ate a lot of parts that were weakened and exposed from the experimental drilling. Rob replaced the HP with a Proform carb for more tuning and eventually came up with his own version of the 750 Proform carb he currently uses.
Ignition: After the blower was installed, Rob added a 6AL box and MSD distributor with a vibration-resistant coil. "With that kind of horsepower, you find the rev limiter real fast."
Exhaust: The 383 and the blower liked a set of generic 171/48-inch headers with 2.5-inch exhaust tubing, and a set of 3-inch Flowmaster mufflers on the dyno. So he copied that on the car.
Drivetrain: The green car had a TH350 built by La Vang at local shop V-Auto with a 3,500 Hughes converter. After the decision was made to take the car on the road, Rob installed a 700-R4 and upped the gas mileage from 8 to 10 mpg, even with the addition of the blower. The rear gear was originally a 2.41:1; Rob upgraded to a Richmond 3.73:1 and a set of Strange axles.
Wheels: In keeping with the almost-stock theme, Rob left the Chevy Rally wheels and added 215/60R15 and 235/60R15 BFGoodrich rubber.
Interior: The interior went from green to black in Rob's garage with the help of Year One bits and pieces.
On The Dyno: The engine made 703 flywheel horsepower at 6,500 with 600 lb-ft of torque from 4,500 to 6,500 rpm. All on pump E85 and boost.