A big block ’70 Nova with attitude

Posted in Cars
Trevor Smith’s big block ’70 Nova proves that there’s no such thing as finished

There are a few different ways you can get the car of your dreams, with the options often dictated by your wallet and talent. Some may buy a wreck of a car because that’s all they can afford, then build it up as time and money allow, while others are in the more fortunate position of being able to buy their dream car fully built so they can just enjoy the drive. Trevor Smith’s dream car came about in yet another way — a kind of combination of these. 

Trevor’s love affair with this Nova started way back in 1998 when he got a call from a mate to come and help bleed the brakes on his new purchase. Trevor’s mate, Dean, had just bought the Nova from a guy in Hastings, who had imported it from the States back in 1990. Originally a small block and factory four-speed car, these had already been given the biff and replaced with a big block and turbo 400, which was the attraction for Dean.

As is often the case, the simple task of bleeding the brakes turned into a whole lot more, and, over a beer, plans were laid to get the Chev going fast and to race it at Champion Dragway — and Trevor was more than happy to help out. After eight months of late nights in the garage, and, of course, copious quantities of alcohol, the car was finally ready for its debut at Meremere, where it carded a less-than-impressive 15-second time slip. 

For the next eight years, Trevor and Dean worked on (actually, ‘lived and breathed’ would probably be a better description) the Nova. Their hard work paid off: the performance slowly improved, eventually dropping from lacklustre 15s to consistent low 12s — Dean even dipped into the 11s on a couple of occasions!

Then, one day in the summer of 2007, while the mates were out fishing on Trevor’s boat, Dean dropped the bombshell that he was going to sell the Nova and wanted to know if Trevor was interested. Was he what! This was not a hard deal to sell, as Trevor had always loved the stance of the car and the sound of the horny big block; this was a car with attitude. Rides with Dean at wide-open throttle had always had Trevor grinning from ear to ear, so, now that the Chev was for sale, Trevor just had to own it. The deal was done right there on the water; all Trevor had to do was tell the wife — or rather, ask if it was okay. Thankfully, she said yes, and Trevor’s dream Nova came home. 

With the Nova now destined to be a family car, the roll cage and race seats needed to be removed, and, as the original seats were long gone, a pair of Chevelle buckets was purchased from Chucks Restorations Supplies so that Trevor, Joanne, and their two boys could take in the Beach Hop. After they just about needed a second mortgage to pay for the gas for the weekend, it was decided that the 4.1:1 gears that had worked so well at the strip needed to go, and be replaced with a more wallet-friendly set. This was to be the first of many changes in the car’s transition from drag-strip warrior to family cruiser.

The next thing pulled out was the engine — but not for the major work of installing an 8-71, which Trevor really wanted (and still does), just for a quick repaint and dress-up, although a new intake, carb, and air cleaner did find their way in, along with a new alternator and water pump with a Gilmour drive-belt system to at least give the lovely blower sound. The interior got a little tidy-up, too, with new carpets finishing it off.

With the Nova now ‘finished’, Trevor, Joanne, and the boys got into cruising and runs all over the place. Over the next couple of years, the family went to Beach Hops, Reclaim The City runs, Waitangi Day and Independence Day cruises, and anything else that took their fancy — just getting out and enjoying the Nova and meeting like-minded, car-crazy people, making a lot of good friends along the way. 

However, we all know that cars are never finished, and, over the winter of 2009, Trevor pulled the Nova off the road again for a bit of ‘maintenance’. The diff and gearbox were removed, and the underside of the car was stripped and cleaned before being recoated with new underseal. The leaf springs were sent away to be reset, and the bushes replaced. To further improve the ride, a new set of coilover shocks found their way into the rear, as did a new rear sway bar. The 12-bolt diff also got the once-over, and was treated with a new Eaton Posi unit with the cruising 3.31:1 gear set. 

Trevor also went a bit overboard and installed a heap of Sony audio gear, which turned out to be a major job in itself, with Trevor doing all of the installation work but needing help from the experts to get it wired and working correctly. All the headaches were worth it, though, as it really pumps out the sound — although Trevor is the first to admit it’s hard for anything to sound better than the lumpy big block up front!

After another summer of cruising, it was the turn of the front end to get a tune-up. The winter of 2010 saw the front suspension and subframe removed and sandblasted. A few minor repairs were needed before reassembly, with new bushes everywhere from the suspension to the body mounts. New shocks and brakes were also installed. With the work completed just in time for Powercruise at Taupo, the family took the Nova down for an awesome weekend of cruising, racing, and having a thoroughly good time. 

But the good times were about to end. During the 2011 Independence Day run, small puffs of smoke started coming out of the exhaust, these smoke signals warning that something was on its way out. It had been 12 years since Dean had rebuilt the engine, which had since done a lot of miles and hard quarter-mile passes, so Trevor pulled the motor and trans for a freshen-up. Once it was all stripped down, it seemed that worn valve guides were the likely culprit, but Trevor took the opportunity to give everything a proper going-over. 

As Alan Shadwick had done such a good job of the previous build, Trevor enlisted his help again. With the Nova already loaded with good gear, the rebuild included a new Isky Mega-Cam and lifters and some new hypereutectic pistons to suit slightly increased displacement. Other than that, it was just a basic refresh of an already staunch engine, with the trans and converter also given a birthday. It was all back up and running a year later in time for the 2012 Independence Day run.

Since then, it has just been miles of smiles, with Trevor and family putting plenty of them on the new combo in the Nova. Trevor hasn’t stopped tinkering, though. A new MSD ignition has recently found its way in there, along with a new alloy radiator that has the cooling capacity for a bit more horsepower. Rumour is that, while the car is essentially finished — as it has been a few times over the years — Trevor’s ultimate goal is to have the Nova blown and tubbed. That is something that engine builder Al Shadwick certainly knows a thing two about, and we can’t help but wonder if that dream of the 8-71 is in the Nova’s near future! 

1970 Chev Nova SS

  • Engine: 461ci big block Chev, cross-drilled steel crank, Isky 280 Mega-Cam, Isky lifters, hypereutectic pistons, closed chamber heads, stainless valves, Quick Fuel 780cfm vacuum secondary carb, Hurricane dual-plane manifold, Pro Comp air cleaner, K&N filter, Holley ‘Blue’ fuel pump, Holley fuel regulator, MSD Street Fire ignition, MSD Pro-Billet distributor, MSD Blaster 2 coil, Moroso leads, Hooker headers, 2½-inch twin exhaust, Flowmaster mufflers, three-core aluminium radiator 
  • Driveline: Turbo 400 transmission, 2500rpm stall converter, shift kit, 12-bolt diff, Eaton LSD, 3.31:1 ratio 
  • Suspension: Stock rebuilt front, coilover rear shocks, custom sway bar, custom tramp rods
  • Brakes: Stock disc/drum
  • Wheels/Tyres: 15x3.5-inch and 15x8-inch Centreline rims, 185/60R15 and 275/60R15 BF Goodrich TA radial tyres
  • Exterior: Four-inch fibreglass cowl scoop bonnet, custom deep-blue paint
  • Interior: Chevelle front seats, original SS steering wheel, B&M Quicksilver shifter, Auto Meter Monster tacho, Auto Meter gauges
  • Audio: Sony DVD/CD player, two Sony subs, two Sony 6x9-inch speakers, four Sony six-inch components, two Sony DVD screens, two Sony amps
  • Performance: 12.6 seconds at 104mph

This article was published in NZV8 Issue No. 109. You can purchase a print or digital copy of the edition below:

Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw loves most forms of motorsport, having had a crack at rally driving, drag racing, and four-wheel driving over the years. Over the years he has owned a diverse mix of vehicles from Range Rovers to T-buckets. While awestruck by the power vehicles in the import scene can make, he still prefers an old V8, and he currently drives a ’56 Bel Air that is an old New Zealand–new survivor, which sometimes tows a 1969 Concord caravan that is currently being restored. Also in the shed is a BB Chev-powered 1926 T roadster pickup, which is a long-term project hiding in the back of the shed. In my professional life I have spent 20 years in IT, 10 years as a self-employed builder, and my day job now is in operations / fleet management looking after 400-plus trucks around New Zealand. I've been a contributor to NZV8 since 2010.