Justin Brown’s ’66 Chevy II Nova
By Nick Licata – Photography by Wes Allison
Justin Brown has been into cars since he can remember. The wrenching aspect started with his first car given to him by his mom. It needed some work, so Justin dove in, got dirty, busted some knuckles, and figured things out. Sure, there were mistakes, but that introduction led the Cypress, California, Army vet to a career as an auto mechanic, and over 20 years later he’s still at it.
So, how did the Nova come about? “One night I was watching Street Outlaws and saw JJ Da Boss turn a barn find Chevy II into a badass drag car and that was it. That’s going to be my next build.” Justin says. “I’ve always been a fan of ’60s Chevys, and I had a ’67 C10 before building the Nova.”
Justin got the word out that he was in the market for a ’66-67 Chevy II, preferably with a solid body and nice paint. A close friend of Justin’s found a good out-of-state prospect for sale by a broker. “I was having dinner on Veteran’s Day and my buddy sent me a text with a link to the car,” Justin says. “I looked at it online for days before finally getting in touch with the broker to learn more about the car. He FaceTimed me and did a walkaround of the car and it hooked me in; it was exactly what I was looking for.”
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The paint- and bodywork were in good shape—the car was advertised as “running and driving,” and according to Justin it did both of those things, just not very well. Upon receiving the car Justin drove it for about 15 miles and the car rattled, shook, and was grossly underpowered. “I put the car on jackstands and found the body bushings were rotted and installed incorrectly. After fixing that issue, the next day I was driving the car to work and when I got on it, I was greeted with a lack of acceleration and an abundance of smoke—not from the tires, but from the engine,” Justin laughs.
Justin pulled the engine and sent the block to Horsepower Heaven in Phelan, California, for machining and overall cleanup. While that was going on he figured it was a good time to send the Weiand 671 blower to Don Hampton Blowers in nearby Downey for general maintenance. Justin then freshened up the engine bay and dialed in a set of Heidts inner fender panels, making a nice home for the small-block. With help from his buddy Mike Forster, the duo reassembled the engine and propped it back in the Nova.
The engine’s rotating assembly features a factory Chevy crankshaft with four-bolt mains, Eagle I-beam rods, and SRP forged 9.5:1 pistons. A Rubens Blower Cam is accompanied by a competent valvetrain and will soon have a set of Brodix IK 200 heads, but for now it retains the factory heads. The Weiand 2×4 Hilborn-style air scoop perched atop twin Edelbrock Performer 750-cfm carburetors force feed the Hampton Blowers’ polished manifold and send spent fuel through a set of Total Cost Involved long-tube headers and 3-inch stainless steal-cut exhaust system by Steve at Cypress Mufflers in Cypress, California. A pair of Black Widow 3-inch Race Venom mufflers greet the neighbors with a good dose of the small-block’s rowdy demeanor.
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Not long after getting the upgraded engine back in the car and making good power, Justin’s aggressive driving habits proved too much for the factory 10-bolt and promptly morphed it into scrap metal. Justin was aware of the rearend’s anemic status and inability to withstand the engine’s 512 hp and 453 lb/ft power, so a plan was already in place for a total rearend and suspension upgrade.
That upgrade features a robust drivetrain, including a TCI Automotive TH350 and TCI Breakaway 2,600 stall converter, which sends power to a Currie 9-inch rearend via a Drivelines Incorporated aluminum driveshaft. That ensemble hangs from a TCI four-link suspension system armed with Ridetech HQ Series coilover shocks and 250-pound springs. Up front a Mustang II–style front clip is equipped with TCI control arms and rack-and-pinion steering system also employing Ridetech HQ coilover shocks.
Wilwood discs and four-piston calipers ride on all four corners while peering behind a set of 15-inch black JEGS SSR mag black wheels front and rear. The bold-looking rollers are wrapped in Mickey Thompson rubber (25×4.5R15 front, 235/60R15 rear)— a great combination for street and strip performance.
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The interior introduces a no-frills arrangement of factory-style black loop carpet and door panels matched to black Procar by Scat Rally leather seats. The race inspiration comes from a set of Omega Kustom Instrument Co. gauge cluster in a Classic Dash insert with a duo of AutoMeter Pro Comp dials mounted in the custom sheetmetal center console just above the Hurst Rachet shifter. A Speedway Motors steering wheel is mounted to an ididit tilt column and RetroSound head unit looks age-appropriate located in the factory dash.
Although the ’66 came with a few underlying driveability issues, the solid body and satisfactory paint allowed Justin to spend money on the engine and suspension aspects that needed attention. That also left some extra scratch for fresh set of bumpers, side mirrors, and door handles along with LED taillights and Oracle 7-inch sealed beam LEDs and halos up front.
Justin’s Nova was an eight-month gestation with wrenching taking place in his home garage after work and on weekends, while getting a hand from his buddies Mike Forster and John Caldwell. “I can’t thank those guys enough for all their help in getting the Nova on the road so quickly,” Justin states.
“This winter the plan is to pull the engine and bolt on a set of Brodix heads, get an upgraded Hampton blower, lower the compression for more boost, and a new cam,” Justin excitedly says. “The car is fun to drive now, but I’m looking forward to making this Chevy II an absolute badass.”
Spoken like a true Southern California hot rodder.
Owner: Justin Brown, Cypress, California
Vehicle: ’66 Chevy II Nova
Type: Chevy small-block
Displacement: 355 ci
Compression Ratio: 9.5:1
Bored: 0.030 over
Cylinder Heads: Factory
Rotating Assembly: Factory crankshaft, Eagle I-beam rods, SRP forged pistons
Camshaft: Rubens blower cam
Valvetrain: Crane roller rockers, Isky springs, stainless steel Manley valves
Induction: Weiand 2×4 Hilborn-style air scoop, Edelbrock Performer 750-cfm carburetor (2), Hampton Blowers racing manifold
Power Adder: Weiand 671 supercharger
Ignition: MSD 6AL
Assembly: Owner and Mike Forster
Exhaust: Total Cost Involved long-tube headers, 3-inch stainless exhaust by Steve at Cypress Mufflers (Cypress, CA), Black Widow Race Venom mufflers
Ancillaries: Dual Spal electric fans, Champion three-row aluminum radiator, Heidts Inner Fender Panel Kit, Ringbrothers hood hinges
Output: 512 hp and 453 lb-ft
Torque Converter: TCI 2,600 stall
Driveshaft: Drivelines Incorporated 3-inch aluminum
Rear Axle: Currie 9-inch rearend, Eaton Truetrac limited-slip differential, GM 3.50 gearset
Chassis: Mustang II-style front clip
Front Suspension: Total Cost Involved control arms, Ridetech HQ coilover shocks, Ridetech 400-pound springs, 1-inch sway bar, rack-and-pinion steering kit
Rear Suspension: Total Cost Involved four-link, ½-inch sway bar, Panhard bar, Ridetech HQ Coilover shocks, 250-pound springs.
Brakes: Wilwood 11-inch rotors, four-piston calipers front and rear, Wilwood master cylinder and proportion valve
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: JEGS Black Mag SSR (15×4 front, 15×8 rear)
Tires: Mickey Thompson ET 25×4.5-15 front, Mickey Thompson ET Street S/S 235/60R15 rear
Upholstery: Black loop carpet, factory black vinyl door panels
Seats: Procar by Scat Rally leather buckets front
Steering: Ididit steering column, Speedway Motors steering wheel
Shifter: Hurst Rachet
Dash: Stock, Classic Dash insert
Instrumentation: Omega Kustom Instrument gauge cluster, AutoMeter center console gauges
HVAC: Windwings open
Entertainment System: RetroSound head unit and four-speaker kit, hidden
Bodywork and Paint: N/A
Front Bumper: OER
Rear Bumper: OER
Headlights: Oracle 7-inch sealed beam with LED and halos
Taillights: Speedway Motors with LED
Side Mirror: OER