Some wise man once said the more things change, the more they stay the same. In Doug Eisberg's case, it couldn't be more true. Way back in the Mar. '84 issue of Car Craft, we did a story called "Basically Bad" about Doug's low-budget, big-block '69 Nova. His previous ride had been a '69 396-powered Chevelle that failed a tree versus Chevelle contest. Doug bought the Chevelle back from the insurance company and went looking for a '69 Nova. He found the perfect guise in the form of an avocado-green X-body waiting in the drive-through lane at the local Jack in the Box. After an exchange of $900, the six-cylinder cruiser began its metal-morphosis.
The Chevelle's 11:1-compression 402 slipped easily into the engine compartment along with a Turbo 400, while out back the wheezy 10-bolt gave way to a '68 Camaro 12-bolt equipped with 3.55 gears. Our story detailed how the car was intended as a sleeper with all external appearances aimed at maintaining its pedestrian guise. The only giveaway was the Rat motor's inescapable audible signature and its oversized rear tires. Once the combination was squared away, Doug took it to old Carlsbad Raceway where the Nova ran a 12.93/111.04-mph pass that indicated the Nova had the potential to run mid-12s with a little traction tuning.
Over the years and the transformation from black-and-white film to digital color, we've kept up with Doug and his Escondido, California, friends. Like barn finds that are a mirror of the past, the Nova has changed very little. The most substantial upgrade came when Doug bolted up a complete Gear Vendors overdrive to the Turbo 400 that only took a little mild sheetmetal persuading to fit under the Nova's stock floorpan. The rest has remained, including the $60 swap meet torque converter. But Doug knew the original 402 was more than a little tired and he was ready for more power. The plan took a serious turn when the native jungle drums turned up a steal-of-a-deal 454 boat motor. Doug sold off the original rotating assembly and the heads, which produced enough extra cash to build a more muscular 496. Using CC's oval-port comparison ("Big-Block Cylinder Head Test" Mar. '08) as his guide, Doug elected to go with a set of Dart 275cc oval-port heads, since he was looking for torque rather than all-out horsepower. Originally, Doug's Rat had sported a rather rare Edelbrock Dominator C400 oval-port, dual-plane intake manifold and a 1,050-cfm Holley Domi-nator carburetor, but that eventually gave way to a more conservative Edelbrock Performer RPM intake and an 830- cfm mechanical-secondary Holley. For a cam, Doug went with a Schneider custom solid roller that is capable of more than 0.600-inch lift to help move more air in and out of the cylinders. Doug's cam is a little bigger than the cam we used in the oval-port head test, which probably pushes his 496 a little higher up in the rpm curve and easily adds another 10 or 20 hp.
Not that Doug's 496 achievement didn't come without a little grief. When we commented that the 2-inch Hooker headers looked tight, Doug answered, "It took more than two weekends of work and a lot of clearancing to make them fit." This was through no fault of the headers. The Dart heads raise the exhaust ports 0.300 inch, and this caused the headers to crash into almost everything-including the block. In retrospect, Doug says the installation would have been far less abusive on the headers and his patience with either the Brodix or the Edelbrock heads because of their stock exhaust port locations.
Despite all these engine changes, the current Nova's engine compartment is uncannily similar to our photos of the Nova from 1984. This is where Doug really enjoys the art of subterfuge. He has gone out of his way to make the engine compartment look like a factory-stock 396. Note that those Dart heads are now painted orange to disguise their alloy origins. Few heads beyond stock OE castings use those four additional Rat motor intake manifold bolts along the top of the intake pattern. Dart heads don't. Yet the Performer RPM manifold retains this bolthole, so Doug cut down a standard 3/8-inch bolt and glued it in place to complete the illusion. A standard 750 Holley now takes the place of the 830-cfm carb in the photos. To complete the ruse, the stock distributor's PerTronix electronic ignition conversion looks OE, as does the black-painted MSD Blaster coil and Taylor wires.