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1971 Chevrolet Nova - Project SuperNova, Part II

Swapping In A Small-Block Chevy Engine

Photography by Matthew King

Swapping a small-block Chevy into a ’71 Nova shouldn’t take three weeks. But then again, it shouldn’t take 12 bucks at the coin-op car wash to clean the engine bay, or half a day to get the motor mounts to line up, or 15 trips to the auto parts store, and the headers you need shouldn’t be on back order for two weeks. But that’s just the way it goes. We’re used to it.

A few things about this swap did go very easily. We actually found a manual steering box for the Nova on our first trip to the junkyard, although it took two more stops to find a V-8 carcass that still had the crossmember mounts on it. Ordering up new steering linkage to convert from power to manual steering (eliminating the need to mess with a pump and bracket setup for a small-block) took mere minutes from Performance Suspension Components.

Upgrading the fuel system from 5/16- to 3/8-inch hard line to feed the 540-horse 383 that was yanking on its chain in the garage was a breeze, thanks to Inline Tube and Classic Industries, which had the parts we needed in stock. But just when we were getting ready to drop in a factory HEI distributor, we “remembered” that they don’t fit in these cars (same with first-gen Camaros and Firebirds) without bashing the firewall with a big hammer. And the car was turning out too nicely to do that. We really didn’t want to wire in an ignition box, so we opted for an MSD Ready to Run distributor with a Blaster 2 remote coil. This setup fits directly in place of the original points-type components, and if they weren’t painted red, you’d probably never know the difference (note: file that away for 101 Sleeper Tips and Tricks).

Another day was spent tidying up the engine bay, rewiring the engine harness to move the alternator wiring from the driver side to the passenger side, installing a new voltage regulator, and reassembling the steering linkage. Then came the moment of truth: dropping in the small-block. What should have taken three minutes took more than three cussing, knuckle-busting hours as we battled the crude Chinese-made rubber engine mounts that just wouldn’t line up. We finally pried them into place, but God help us if the motor ever needs to come out again.

So what happens when you drop a monster V-8 in place of a wheezing six-cylinder without changing anything else in the 30-year-old drivetrain? Let’s find out.

SOURCES
Mickey Thompson Performance Tires
4670 Allen Rd.
Stow
OH  44224
8-00/-222-9092
mickeythompsontires.com
Inline Tube
33783 Groesbeck
Fraser
MI  48026
810-294-4093
Classic Industries
8-66/-656-1706
www.classicindustries.com
Autotronic Controls/MSD
1490 Henry Brennan Dr.
El Paso
TX  79936
915-857-5200
Performance Suspension Components
Phoenix
AZ
www.performancesuspension.com
Earl’s Performance Plumbing
Hooker Headers Specialty Auto Parts USA/Proform
Roseville
MI  48066
Barry Grant Fuel Systems
Dahlonega
GA
7-06/-864-8544
barrygrant.com
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