It's not just money that builds a great hot rod. More than the dough, it's the dedication and ambition that delivers an arrangement of workmanship, stunning looks, tremendous performance, and real innovation. Just ask Mike Birdsell about his '62 Nova's transformation. Just two years ago, Mike found the well-worn X-body resting in an Arizona wrecking yard. A previous owner had given up on converting the Nova's stock rear suspension into a four-link setup and had left the gutted car to bake in the Southwestern sun. But unlike the last owner, Mike envisioned what it could be. So he negotiated the buy.
With a deal struck, a car-trailer on standby, and some help from a good friend to tow it home, the '62 looked to have a promising new lease on life. Mike's performance plot included a healthy small-block, mirror-straight paint, and plenty of serious engineering. More importantly, Mike insisted on building the car himself in his garage. After taking inventory of all the spare parts that came with the bargain, Mike spent the next two days vacuuming six inches of desert sand from the sun-expired carcass. Once the shell was scrubbed clean and positioned for its new look, Mike fabricated a pair of 2 x 3-inch box sections and welded them between the front and rear subframes for added structural rigidity. Next, he narrowed a 9-inch rearend he'd discovered in a local wrecking yard and added an Auburn Posi and a pair of Currie axles with 12-inch drums. With a kit from the guys at Competition Engineering, a ladder-bar rear suspension and a Panhard bar system were mated to the Eibach rear springs. With the rearend set to roll, he then turned his attention toward the front suspension. Rather than installing a bolt-on off-the-shelf system, Mike, who by day is Eibach Springs' Motorsports Program Manager in Corona, California, wanted to add his own personal touch. So with a special blend of '64 Chevelle lower A-arms, third-gen Z28 front spindle assemblies with disc brakes, and an Eibach coilover conversion kit for a '92-93 Mustang, he had the perfect remedy for a 21st-century road-hugger in an early Nova.
To steer the X-body, Mike incorporated an idler arm (from Leavett Race Cars), which he modified and mounted to the stock GM linkage. To establish the optimal steering geometry, he mocked up his new front suspension and steering system with clamps and Vise-Grips to experiment with various mounting locations (tested in his garage). He wouldn't settle for less than the best-engineered and geometric arrange-ment. Happy with the new configuration, he reinforced and welded everything in place. It's important to note that steering modification of this level is not for the faint of heart, requiring in-depth knowledge and years of experience. Simply put, if you aren't well versed in caster, camber, strut clearance, metal fabrication, and bump-steer, leave this task for an experienced shop.
With the underpinnings out of the way, he turned his attention to the Nova's outer skin. Just like everything else, Mike handled all the bodywork. After he had the molding holes welded and the flanks straight, he applied two gallons of PPG Concept urethane in '04 Viper Red. To add glamour to the shine, Mike bolted on a set of Weld Rodlite wheels wrapped with Goodyear rubber. Inside the Nova, he mounted a pair of Scat Procar seats and an instrument panel fitted with Stewart Warner gauges from Covan's Classics.
To power his red-hot Nova, he selected a well-seasoned 400ci small-block and added a set of Keith Black slugs, a COMP Cams Xtreme Energy bumpstick, an Edelbrock intake, Dart Pro 1 heads, and a ZEX Perimeter Plate System set at 100 hp. For unsurpassed reliability--and to transfer the power to the ground--Mike opted for a B&M Turbo 350 with a 3,000-rpm Holeshot converter. Impossible as it may seem, Mike's Nova project took place completely inside his garage from beginning to end. And now with the car complete, he, his wife Holly, and their two daughters Kacie and Alexis enjoy driving to and from shows and cruising the SoCal highways. Sometimes the best fun you can have on the road starts at home.