If there is one thing we hate to hear about, it’s that someone had the misfortune of being involved in an accident with their car. Accidents happen, and as bad as that sounds, sometimes something good – like this ’72 Nova – rises from the wreckage. Such is the case with Norm and Susan Brown of Islamorada, Florida.
Norm told us, “We were driving our steel 1937 coupe to the Goodguys Rod and Custom show in Bowling Green, Kentucky, when we were involved in an accident. Fortunately, we were not hurt. The same could not be said for the car, as it was totaled.” But the Browns were not willing to let a little adversity get in the way of their enjoyment. This little mishap was not going to deter them. Norm continued, “At this point, we had already driven more than 100,000 miles over the years in our various street rods, and we were not ready to quit driving to car shows.” That meant that whatever classic ride replaced the ’37 needed to be a true road warrior.
That accident occurred way back in 2009, and since the Browns lived in Florida, Norm knew that attending the Daytona Turkey Rod run, held during the Thanksgiving weekend each year, was the perfect place to locate a replacement. He affirmed, “We traveled to Daytona for the Turkey Rod Run and that is where we found this Nova. It was in really nice condition and it had a 396ci big-block under the hood.”
Norm was immediately interested in taking the car home and a deal was struck. Like any hot-rodder, he decided to personalize the Nova as soon as he got the car back to Casa de Brown. “The first thing I did was add a Tremec five speed, and then I drove it for a couple years until I decided I was done shifting gears and felt I needed to completely rebuild the car. I really wanted to make some upgrades to the Nova, so I decided I was going to install an LS engine with an automatic transmission.”
While doing a little research online to find an appropriate engine and transmission, he came across RS Salvage in Niagara Falls, New York. Norm quipped, “They had a 2010 Camaro SS that had been wrecked and only had 6,000 miles on the odometer. When I heard that the owner of the car had installed a Magnuson supercharger, I understood how it ended up being crashed.”
He wanted to buy the Camaro’s engine package, however, there was a small issue with the drivetrain of the Camaro that concerned him – the transmission. The purpose of this planned swap came about because he had grown tired of manually making the up and down shifts of the Nova and was looking to install an automatic transmission, but the Camaro engine had a six-speed transmission behind it. To remedy that situation, he was able to strike a deal with the yard that had them send a 6L80E six-speed automatic transmission with the engine instead of the Camaro’s manual transmission. Norm stated, “I got a really good deal, because the computer, the harness, and the accessory drive was included.”
The first thing I did was add a Tremec five speed, and then I drove it for a couple years until I decided I was done shifting gears and felt I needed to rebuild the car. – Norman Brown
With the new drivetrain finally safe and sound in his home shop, Norm took the big-block and the five-speed transmission out of the car, and then took the Nova to Elite Autoworks so they could remove the front sheetmetal and handle some minor body work that Norm wanted to have done. He explains, “I had them remove the front end of the car, and also smooth the firewall and paint the subframe. Once that was done, I brought the car home so I could make some changes.”
Those changes saw a new suspension by Detroit Speed Engineering get put into service. With the help of the DSE components, the car was properly lowered two inches and would be capable of cornering as well as the Camaro that donated the engine. Since the suspension was receiving some much-needed upgrades, Norm also felt the steering could also use some revamping. To accomplish that, he installed an ARC quick-ratio steering box with power steering. Helping the suspension smooth the road imperfections is a set of KYB shock absorbers.
When the suspension was completely upgraded, Norm focused his attention to getting the drivetrain updated to 21st century standards with that newly acquired LS engine and modern overdrive transmission. Before sliding the new combination in place, he installed a new 10-inch torque converter from Circle D Specialties. The 2,600-rpm stall is perfect for cruising.
The install of the engine was fairly straightforward, and even the big overdrive didn’t experience any fitment issues since the floor had previously been modified to fit the bigger Tremec. Before he started this journey, Norm did some research about installing an LS engine into a classic Chevy, and he found that Hedman made quality pieces to aid in his swap. According to Norm, “Those headers don’t hit the steering box, and the engine mounts bolt right up to the Nova subframe.”
When it came to driving the engine accessories, he could have sourced a kit from the aftermarket, but he decided to use the stock LS3 accessory drive. But, he did include a Kwik Performance A/C relocating bracket for the Sanden compressor. Norm’s Nova does employ a 9-inch rearend with a traditional u-joint to connect to the driveshaft, but the late-model 6L80E transmission requires something a little different in regards to connecting the driveshaft to the transmission. While the 6L80E transmission used in trucks uses a slip yoke to connect the driveshaft to the transmission, cars use a bolt-on U-joint plate to connect the transmission to the driveshaft. To make the connection in the Nova, Norm told us, “I called G-Force Motorsports, and they were able to supply a Dynotech driveshaft with the correct flange for my car.”
To keep the boosted, motivational tool cool, Norm talked to the guys at Ron Davis for a radiator. According to Norm, “They said if I widened the Nova’s radiator opening a couple inches on each side, I could fit a second-gen Camaro radiator into the opening and that would give me a bigger radiator for better cooling.”
It didn’t take long before the new engine was positioned in front of the firewall and the car was headed back to Elite Auto. Norm is more than capable of replacing the front sheetmetal, but he took it back to the guys at Elite so they could reinstall the pieces, which included a new cowl, an induction hood, and to give the entire car a fresh coat of black paint. When the car was completely assembled and painted, he then took it to Jay at Kraftworks in Delray Beach, Florida, to get the engine properly tuned.
Cruising In Comfort
Norm’s plan from the beginning was not to build a car strictly for the show circuit, because he and his wife enjoy driving their cars. For that reason, having an interior that was not only great looking, but comfortable as well, was mandatory. In Norm’s own words, “We have been enjoying our cars for the past 20 years and really enjoy driving our hot rods.” For that reason, the interior might have an original appearance, but if you look closely, you’ll probably notice the stock, reupholstered seats, Kenwood stereo that sounds out through Infinity speakers, the Classic Dash-sourced gauge cluster with Autometer gauges, and the strange looking console.
Norm clarified, “The center console was taken from a 2010 Camaro, and I retained the Camaro’s shifter and emergency brake handle. I also fabricated a panel for the radio so it blends with the console. Finally, I installed USB ports to accommodate some of our electronic devices.”
Although Norm and Susan’s previous ride was a very cool hot rod, the change to a musclecar has been seamless. And with the supercharged LS engine and automatic overdrive transmission replacing the traditional big-block and manual gearbox, he has a classic hot rod with plenty of muscle, and one that can still cruise through town and across this great country. If you ask us, that makes this the perfect replacement road warrior.