With the race barely three months away, Phil and pal "Crazy Charlie" Smith had some serious humping ahead. Phil scored a complete 457-inch Brodix aluminum small-block off eBay. Surprise, surprise, it wasn't quite what the dyno sheets claimed. Brodix listened and put them on Tony Barker Racing Engines, who turned it into the piece it was supposed to have been, loading it with serious guts (Carrillo rods, CP pistons, Callies crank). Upgrades ensued. Steve Hoch conveyed a toughened up Turbo 400 equipped with a transbrake. It would quite happily soak up 1,200 nitrous-oxide horsepower. Phil went with a Moser 9-inch complete with axle braces and built a six-link suspension to carry it. Now the boys were ready to burn rubber at the PGD.
But they didn't. On the first night the aluminum driveshaft disintegrated. On the second night a piece of crud lodged in the gas solenoid and the crank trigger hit the suspension. Come race-night Friday, they had no idea what the car would do or if it would even make the 30-mile cruise from COMP Cams to the track. On the first pass it stood up like dog on the wheelie bars and Phil had to backpedal it three times to keep the nose on terra firma. The Nova pulled a 9.98 in what had become an 8-second race.
Phil drove it to the Somerset, Kentucky, show and to Detroit for the Woodward Cruise. He and Charlie banged the Nova at dragstrips and car shows when the mood struck, which it often did. He was finally able prove the Nova's mettle last September during HR Drag Week, running five strips in five days and covering 1,500 miles pulling a 2,200-pound trailed loaded with tools, tires, spares, and the kitchen sink. Phil finished second overall, and the cheeky Nova peeled off an 8.63. It ran 158 mph and averaged 8.70-second elapsed times. The old days were nothing like this. For argument's sake, Jenkins' 427 A/Modified Production '67 Camaro ran a 10.68/131.19 in the fall of 1968.
"I don't like being second," he told us. "We're going to see what we can do to correct that this year!" Did he stash his Nova for the winter like a good boy? What do you think? We talked to him in February and he'd just gotten back from a trip to Vegas (he trailered the car that far) and Southern California. He hit three shows in one day, did the Bob's Big Boy in Van Nuys, banged a few gears, and hot-footed it back to Vegas to join wife Sandra before she realized he was missing in the fog.
For anyone who hasn't experienced the preternatural pull of an 8-second engine on the street, this may all sound like a dream. Phil's car is scary fast on the street, even without the nitrous. It proves that a taxi-cab compression ratio, big cubes, relatively low mass, and a big swallow of juice are all it takes-that and the stones to shoe it.