You've seen them before at the dragstrip: a car that looks awesome but is disappointingly slow, or a car that's a rocket ship and is as ugly as sin. In general, cars that look good usually aren't fast, and the fast cars usually aren't the prettiest. Unless you managed a hedge fund or have big sponsorship dollars flowing your way, it's difficult to build a really fast car that is breathtakingly beautiful. The one exception to this rule is time. Guys who have owned their cars forever usually have fast and good-looking cars. Years of building, tinkering, and polishing pay off, and we offer this '63 Nova as proof. It looks so good it should be living a pampered life collecting trophies at shows it was lovingly trailered to. Not so fast, pal. This is actually a street/strip monster that is fully capable of ripping off an 8.9-second quarter-mile pass. Bet you didn't see that coming.
"I paid $1,000 for it. That was a lot of money in 1990," owner Joe Kosiba tells us. As you can imagine, a $1,000 Nova, even in the '90s, wasn't much to look at. But Joe was living in Tucson, Arizona, at the time, so it was clean and rust-free. "I think I drove it around the block once, then I immediately pulled the engine." Inline-sixes have that effect on some people. The shoebox's stock sewing machine six and Powerglide were out of the car within a couple of days of Joe's taking ownership. He dropped in a 327/TH350/9-inch drivetrain and swapped the front drums for discs.
Joe was content to drive the car around in this configuration for a few years, and it kept getting faster as he got more into racing. He moved back to Illinois and became a regular at the test and tune nights at Joliet and Byron. But things really ramped up after Joe scattered the 327 one night. In its place, he dropped in a used 406 with aluminum heads and was suddenly making low-11-second passes. He installed a used nitrous kit and was now collecting 10-second timeslips. Hungry for more, the 406 gave way to a better-built 408 and Joe was into the 10s naturally aspirated and spraying into the 9s.
Along the way, Joe had hastily installed the requisite safety equipment to keep the Nova from getting kicked off the track, and he admits it was a mess. "I got fed up one weekend and just took the whole car apart," he says. "I didn't like the paint job, the original wiring had problems, the 'cage was mild steel and had been MIG-welded in, and the interior was trashed. I stripped the entire car down to a bare shell in my garage. That seemed to be the logical thing to do."
He spent the next two years rebuilding the Nova, doing everything himself except the paint job. He installed a TCI front clip, freshened up the 408, welded in an 8.50-second certified 'cage, and completely restored the interior. He finished the car just in time for the '06 NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois, and has been chipping away at lower e.t.'s since then. His new engine, a smaller but more radical 352, got him into the high 8s last year.
"You don't have the money to pay someone to do the work for you, so you learn how to do it yourself," he says. We think he's being modest. Joe's a Chevrolet dealership mechanic who's probably got mad skills and could work circles around most of us. You don't build this car by yourself otherwise.