Michael Fitzgerald Injects New Life Into This ’70 Nova SS
By Chuck Vranas – Photography by the Author
The only thing better than owning one of the most badass muscle cars in the ’70s is being able to buy it back decades later and give it new life with the latest go-fast goods. For Michael Fitzgerald of Rochester, Massachusetts, the dream became reality, evidenced by the absolutely stunning second coming of his original ’70 Nova SS laid out across our pages.
Purchased as a junior while at Braintree High School in 1973, the car embodied everything a young teen could have hoped for, with it being a nasty big-block powered, factory four-speed model that was ripe for performance upgrades. So much so that it ran open headers on a regular basis around town, spun 4.56 gears, and made the scene both on the street, at an abandoned airstrip, and at New England Dragway. It was also his first car used while dating his yet-to-be wife Mary—the one who introduced him to street racing, hopping-up a driveline, going to the drive-in, and even hanging out at the local burger spots. Unfortunately, the car was sold in 1976, however Michael made the pledge to his mom and Mary that he would later find it and buy it back.
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What’s the chance of finding your very first car after decades have passed? Most would say slim to none, especially in the pre-Internet days where solid information was extremely hard to come by. It’s a journey that lasted 15 years, following plenty of dead-end leads through multiple states, car shows, and cruise nights. Fortunately, there were a number of defining features on the car to help in identifying it, including a trio of very unique Stewart-Warner Blue Line gauges installed into the dash underneath the factory A/C vents.
It was fate that would lead to the local discovery of the car while sharing a beer and pizza with clients during a visit to an automotive shop. In a moment when everyone was discussing their first cars, Michael described the details of his and the search to find it. One member of the group said, “I know where that car is, and I can take you to it.” Without wasting any time, he was shown its final resting place in a nearby backyard up to its rear axles in mud. Finally seeing the car in person, all of the memories surrounding it came flooding back, however the current owner had no interest in selling it as she had plenty of memories built into its history as well. It took lots of perseverance and another decade until the opportunity came to buy it back.
With the car finally back in the home garage, it was time to take a deep look into what it would take to bring it back to life some 40-plus years later. Having rebuilt the Nova immeasurable times in his mind since selling it, Michael got started by delivering it to good friend Dennis McPherson, owner of DMC Racing in Halifax, Massachusetts, to handle the suspension and driveline upgrades. Out back, a set of Detroit Speed mini-tubs were added to accommodate the increase in tire sizes. From there a Detroit Speed–-built 12-bolt rearend packs 3.73 gears from GearFX along with an Eaton Truetrac spinning 33-spline axles. It’s suspended by a Detroit Speed QUADRALink featuring single-adjustable DSE coilover shocks and Panhard bar.
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Up front a DSE Hydroformed subframe was matched to their tubular upper and lower control arms supported by matching forged spindles, DSE coilover shocks, and splined antiroll bar. When it’s time to drop anchor, a dual power master from SSBC moves fluid through stainless lines to Baer 13-inch rotors with four-piston calipers up front and Baer 12-inch rotors with four-piston calipers out back. To plant the power to the pavement with nostalgic style, a set of Intro Aurora Route 66 Series wheels wear Michelin Pilot Sport P245/40ZR18 and P275/40ZR18 tires, respectively.
With the Nova having packed big-block power in the past, it was an easy decision to fill the framerails with another monster, however this time there was a special knockout punch waiting to be delivered: a limited production, Anniversary Edition ZL1 427ci big-block crate engine. Created from the original tooling and honoring the rich history of the legendary ZL1, it was a perfect opportunity to fuse a powerhouse into the build. Number 93 of 427 produced, it carries the ultimate in performance starting with an all-aluminum block cast from 356-T6M alloy featuring splayed, four-bolt mains and screw-in galley plugs. Forged steel crank and rods are matched to forged aluminum pistons getting a healthy bump from a hydraulic roller cam with aluminum roller rockers.
Up top you’ll find a set of aluminum oval-port heads with 110cc chambers topped by a matching high-flow aluminum oval-port intake pushing fuel through a Holley 770-cfm carb. Other cool bits include special aluminum production number valve covers, Vintage Air Front Runner drive system, and classic chrome air cleaner. A GM HEI ignition lights the fire with exhaust roaring through a set of Lemons stainless headers to a custom 2½-inch stainless exhaust by DMC with Flowmaster Delta Flow 50-Series mufflers. To move the goods, a TREMEC TKO 600 five-speed manual trans warmed over by Silver Sport Transmissions links to a custom driveshaft from Strange Engineering to move an estimated 430-plus horsepower to the rear wheels.
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With the car abused within an inch of its life and barely surviving the New England elements, Michael brought the car to Lowrey’s Auto Restoration in Tilton, New Hampshire, where Jim Lowrey and his talented team took on the sheetmetal restoration in preparation for paint. With the body stripped to bare metal it was determined new quarter-panels, rockers, and trunk floor would need to be sourced. Fresh Auto Metal Direct sheetmetal was used and the body metal-finished with all gaps set to perfection, with the crowning touch being a classic-looking VFN fiberglass Yenko-style hood.
The car was then delivered to Blair Smith in Middleborough, Massachusetts, to prep and lay down the vibe with a flawless coating of PPG Fathom Blue, which was the original color from the factory. The original trim parts were reused thanks to re-plating the bumpers and chrome items along with all stainless being restored by Brightworks Restoration in Fall River, Massachusetts, with the grille, rear trim panel, headlights, and taillights sourced through Classic Industries.
Wanting to bring a fresh look to the interior started with the factory dash filled with the original gauges restored by Instrument Specialties of North Kingstown, Rhode Island, which also added the Shiftworks tachometer while the Stewart-Warner Blue Line dials housed under the stock A/C vents remain. The original Comfort Grip three-spoke steering wheel carves a course through the restored factory column while shifts click though a Hurst Blackjack stick. Cool breezes are compliments of a Vintage Air SureFit system. Glynn Auto Upholstery out of Seekonk, Massachusetts, recovered the original bench and surrounding surfaces with OEM-style reproduction black vinyl from Classic Industries along with adding a new headliner and black loop carpeting.
The completed car has not only been brought it back to the streets with a vengeance, but it has also given Michael and Mary the opportunity to relive their high school days cruising through the streets of Braintree, Massachusetts, with an all-aluminum ZL1 big-block, and to us that’s as cool as it gets!
Owner: Michael Fitzgerald, Rochester, Massachusetts
Vehicle ’70 Chevy Nova SS
Type: Chevrolet Performance Aluminum ZL1 big-block
Displacement: 427 ci
Cylinder Heads: Aluminum oval-port, 110cc chambers, 2.19-inch intake/1.880-inch exhaust valves
Rotating Assembly: Forged 4340 steel crank and rods, forged aluminum pistons
Valvetrain: 1.7:1 aluminum roller rockers
Camshaft: Hydraulic Roller
Induction: Aluminum Chevrolet Performance intake, Holley 850-cfm carb
Ignition: GM HEI
Exhaust: Lemons 2-inch headers, 2½ inch stainless exhaust, Flowmaster Delta Flow 50-Series stainless mufflers
Output: 430 hp plus
Transmission: TREMEC TKO 600
Rear Axle: Detroit Speed 12-bolt, Eaton Truetrac, GearFX 3.73 gears, 33-spline axles
Steering: DSE-tuned power rack-and-pinion
Front Suspension: DSE Hydroformed subframe, tubular upper and lower control arms, forged spindles, DSE/Koni single-adjustable coilover shocks, splined antiroll bar
Rear Suspension: Detroit Speed QUADRALink, single-adjustable DSE/Koni coilover shocks, Panhard bar
Brakes: Front Baer SS4 13-inch drilled/slotted rotors, four-piston calipers; rear Baer SS4 12-inch drilled/slotted rotors, four-piston calipers
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Intro Aurora Route 66 Series; 18×8 front, 18×10 rear
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport P245/40ZR18, front; Michelin Pilot Sport P275/40ZR18, rear
Seats: Factory bench
Upholstery: Black vinyl
Gauges: Restored Original, Shiftworks tach, Stewart-Warner Blue Line trio
Steering: Factory column and steering wheel
Carpet: Factory black loop
Shifter: Hurst Blackjack
Paint: PPG Fathom Blue
Hood: VFN Fiberglass Yenko-Style