In this ongoing series, we will be spotlighting some of our favorite cars from LS Fest West. While there was a myriad of the coolest, cleanest cars you could ever see in one place, a few stood out above the rest– at least to us. Stay tune to LSXmag.com for more of our favorites in the coming weeks.
There’s a common myth amongst gear heads that the Chevrolet Nova didn’t sell well in South America, because it roughly translates into “it doesn’t go” in Spanish. Not exactly what you want when choosing a moniker for a new car back in the 1960s.
While fable has long since been debunked as a motor head myth—the Nova was sold in Spanish-speaking nations as the Chevrolet 400—the story has been around almost as long as the Nova itself. However, if there was ever any lingering doubt about the Nova’s lateral capabilities due to the voracity of this urban legend, Joe Seeno’s LS-swapped 1964 Chevy II Nova wagon will gladly put them to rest forever.
We’ll admit it, we’re huge fans of wagons. Why? Why’s a sunset good? It just is.
We would kill for a second-generation CTS-V wagon, but when we saw Joe’s Nova wagon, we knew we had to have a closer look. Though we know wagons aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, we think just about anyone can appreciate just how uniquely cool this ride really is.
A Family Affair
Joe and his family joined us for our LSX Magazine cruise to Hoover Dam at this year’s Holley LS Fest West. What caught our eye even more than the car was Joe’s adorable little daughter buckled into her Recaro racing seat/car seat. Passing his love of cars onto the next generation is something we can really get behind, and when we asked Joe about it, he told us that collecting and fixing up old Novas is a family affair.
“My wife picked out the exterior color and helped me develop a vision of what the car could look like,” Joe said. “She’s pretty involved with the car but really likes taking it to car shows.”
Joe originally discovered the Nova in 2014 while perusing one of his favorite Nova sites. The car was in good shape and located in nearby Los Angles, so he decided to go have a look at it. The engine and transmission were missing but the body on the car was in great shape—especially considering the car had been sitting since the ‘80s. Aside from the lack of drivetrain, the car was almost fully complete and sported a patina’d blue exterior with a matching blue interior.
We love the Alpine Green on Joe’s wagon, but with a patina like this, we’d be half tempted to just clear it.
This is Joe's Nova the day he went to take a look at it. While you can see that it's in pretty good shape, all things considered, it still required a lot of work to whip it back into shape.
After talking his wife into bringing home yet another Nova, this would be the twelfth they’ve owned, Joe brought the car home and immediately tore into. And while the thought of completely restoring the car had crossed his mind, Joe preferred to go the resto-mod route. A little LS motivation never hurt anyone after all, right? Other than Mustang owner’s feelings, anyways.
The Build Begins
Joe started things off by stripping the car down to a shell, after which he started the tedious process of whipping the Nova’s body back into shape. Once everything was sanded and smooth, he moved to painting the engine bay and jambs. He selected a green pulled from Jaguar’s catalogue called Alpine Green to give the car a unique, but subtle, hue.
Next, he hung the doors, hood, and tail gate and finished off the car’s veneer. All of the paint and body work was finished right there in Joe’s own garage, and believe us, it is nearly flawless.
Not only has the power train been modernized, so has the suspension. The car handles much better now than it ever did even new in 1964.
The stance on Joe's Chevy is pretty much perfect and is a fantastic modern take on an old-school classic.
Next up was the suspension. Joe ditched the original front suspension and installed tubular and adjustable pieces in their place. He then added Viking double-adjustable shocks at all four corners. To add a little slow to the Nova’s “va”, he added a set of two-piston calipers and rotors lifted from a 2002 Camaro. To improve steering inputs, the system was replaced with a rack and pinion which also aids in driver feedback while piloting the car.
Out back, the Nova is still sporting its stock 10 bolt with 3.36 gears in it. The differential is still sprung by a set of multi-leaf springs that have been de-arched to give the car a more aggressive stance and improve on the sub-stellar handling that the ‘60s originally imbued the car with.
The addition of a rear sway bar and a larger front bar help keep the body flat while pushing it through the twisties and ensure the Nova is predictable at almost any speed.
Putting the “Va” in Nova
And though Joe was all about bringing the car into the 21st century, his original plans included a Gen 1 small-block instead of an LS. But, as luck would have it, Joe’s wife would intervene in order to take this build to the next level.
“The LS was actually my wife’s idea,” Joe explained. “I was just going to throw a small-block in it, but she thought the LS would be better. We already had one that was LS swapped and she liked that one so we ended up going that direction.”
Joe sold the original small-block he had in mind and turned to Craigslist to track down something more appropriate. He located a used LS1 and 4L60E transmission out of a fourth-gen F-body and wasted no time snapping them up. He dissected the factory wiring harness wire-by-wire and paired it down to the bare minimum in order to keep the engine bay as clean as possible. The stock P01 computer is still the brains of the entire operation.
LS swap motor mounts were used to get the engine sitting in its new home and Stainless Works LS-swap headers are used to evacuate spent exhaust while perfectly clearing the Nova’s body and chassis. The exhaust is a 2 1/2-inch mandrel-bent system that utilizes dual Flowmaster Super 44s to give the Nova its classic burble and the system dumps just before the fuel tank at the rear.
The engine bay is so clean you could eat off it. The LS1 looks perfectly at home nestled between the fenders of the early-'60s sheet metal.
To supply the Gen III engine with fuel, Joe turned to Tanks Inc. for one of their trick setups specifically designed for the Nova. This provides the LS1 with 58 psi of fuel pressure, using a Corvette filter/regulator, and requires little to no modification to keep the modern mill flush with petroleum.
Visiting The Interior
While blue interiors may be unique, they are far from desirable, so Joe ditched the color in favor of a stock-replacement kit in a vastly more appropriate tan color. Joe actual recovered the seats himself in his kitchen and installed the headliner as well. The color is a much better fit with the Alpine-Green exterior and is a lot less kitschy than the era-appropriate blue.
For the rolling stock, Joe selected a set of Riddler 18X8-inch wheels at all four corners shod in 215/40R18 rubber. One of the most trick features of the car is that the window aren’t actually tinted in the traditional sense. The tinting is actually built right into the glass, ensuring it will never scratch or bubble for the entirety of the car’s life. It’s hard to explain, but they give the Nova a much more sophisticated feel when compared to it’s film-applied counterpart.
All in all, Joe made quick work of the project turning it into the beauty that you see before you now in just under a year. Since getting the car back together, he has put little more than 3,000 miles on the pristine Chevy II, but plans to tack on a lot more as the family enjoys taking it to car shows. However, Joe has also just starting work on a 1963 Chevy II Super Sport he recently picked up which will might divert from time otherwise spent behind the wheel.
Basically the only modern touch you'll find in the cockpit of this Nova is an updated radio and a set of pedals. Everything else looks just as it did in '64.
No matter how many Novas Joe gets his hands on, it’s never enough and isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon. As long as they keep turning out like this, we hope he never stops. Whether you believe the legends about the origin of the Nova’s name or not, this is definitely one for the history books.