Those big-ass Hoosiers, droop-snoot stance, and the way the wheels are sucked neatly up under the fenders make Phil Cooper's '66 Nova a nasty-looking proposition, so you gotta hand it to him for driving it every chance he gets, wheelie bars and all. Not racing. Driving. Yes, this is a real racer that's been driven thousands of highway miles, sometimes towing a 2,200-pound trailer! How's he do that?

Phil's a hot rodder, no doubt, having run Stock and Super Stock cars when Bill Jenkins was setting these realms on fire in the late '60s and early '70s. That was pretty early on, when the Old Man ran Jenkins Competition out of a Sunoco gas station on Route 30 in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. He, engine-builder Joe Tryson, Pete Preston, and a couple of slavishly driven others built and dispersed their magic amulets to dozens of racers. Phil was one of them, but he sure wasn't a local. He wasn't even from the NHRA Northeast Division. He was from the middle of Illinois, about 800 miles west of the Berwyn breeding ground. He made the pilgrimage, though.

"I'd driven all day, and when I got there we all went to the bar to get something to eat and have a beer. It was late when we got back to the shop so Tryson and the others went home. Jenkins was in a chatty mood, but I could barely keep my eyes open. Who wouldn't have liked to hear what he had on his fertile mind?" Apparently not Phil the Young Man. "I excused myself and found a room."

Soon it got to the point where our protagonist had to travel too far to run the eliminator on an average weekend, even if all you wanted to do was have some fun and break even. It was enough to make him quit racing for 30 years. But fast street cars he couldn't quit. He'd bought a 301 four-speed '66 Nova hardtop in California in 1999. It was cherry and uncut. He wanted something quicker. Phil hankered to do a big-tub Pro Streeter but couldn't bring himself to saw up the red Nova. He whizzed around the Internet for six months looking for a suitable guinea pig. He found it in St. Louis in the spring of 2004. It was the basis for the car you see here-but it didn't look anything like the car you see here.

It had a fake, very ugly convertible top on it, but it was tubbed and had big tires, a 9-inch Ford axle, rack-and-pinion steering, Mustang-type front suspension, and a Turbo 350 transmission. The motor was a 383 stroker capped with a B&M blower. It was faster than anything he'd driven. The absolute first thing he did was drop it off at Central Illinois Auto Body and had them peel off the tar-paper roof.

"It ran well but it was probably a low-11- or a high-10-second car at best...Then early in 2005, I had this bright idea to enter the car in the HR Pump Gas Drags...It was an invitation-only meet...I thought the chance of me being accepted was rather slim...I was notified that the car was one of 50 accepted. That was great, but here I sat with an 11-second car and an invite to a race that would be won by a car with a 9.40 average."

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.

Speed Reading
'66 Nova
Phil Cooper
Urbana, IL

Type: '05 Brodix 8B 1000 small-block
Block: cast aluminum, 4.150-inch bore, 457ci
Oiling: Billet Fabrication aluminum pan, Titan Speed Engineering pump
Crankshaft: Callies forged steel, 4.25-inch stroke
Connecting Rods: Carrillo 6.125-inch forged steel
Pistons: CP, 10.0:1 compression ratio, CP pins, 0.043 top ring, tapered second ring, 3mm oil scraper
Cylinder Heads: Brodix 18X spread-port; Brodix 2.180-inch intake valves, 1.625-inch exhaust valves; Cometic gaskets modified by Tony Barker
Camshaft: COMP Cams solid roller (specs proprietary)
Valvetrain: COMP 26099 valvesprings, Jesel offset 1.7:1 rocker arms, Tony Barker pushrods
Induction: Edelbrock intake manifold, Holley 1150-cfm, Barry Grant fuel filter, K&N air filter; NOS plate system modified by Charlie's Performance
Ignition: MSD 7AL3, 34 degrees total timing
Exhaust: Hooker Super Comp, 2-inch primary pipes
Cooling: Griffin aluminum radiator, two-speed electric fan
Engine built by: Tony Barker Racing Engines (Mendenhall, MS)
Output: 726 hp at 6,800 rpm, 730 lb-ft at 5,800 rpm (on nuts)
Performance: 8.63 at 158 mph
Gratitude: "Crazy Charlie" Smith
Transmission: Turbo 400 by Steve Hoch (Tolono, IL), stock ratios; Precision 3,800-stall speed converter, TCI transmission cooler, B&M ratchet shifter
Rear Axle: Moser 9-inch Ford narrowed to 44 inches overall, Detroit Locker differential, 35-spline axles, 4.10:1 ring-and-pinion
Driveshaft: Victory chrome-moly, Mark Williams billet front yoke, Precision U-joints
Front Suspension: Art Morrison Mustang-type spindles and front suspension members, Afco adjustable coilover shock absorbers
Rear Suspension: solid axle, six-link suspension, Afco coilover shock absorbers
Other: rollcage certified to 8.50 by Silver's Machine Shop (Champaign, IL)
Steering: Chassis Engineering rack-and-pinion
Brakes: Wilwood discs
Wheels: Weld Pro Star 15x4 front, Weld Convo Pro 15x14 rear
Tires: M/T 26x7.50 front, Hoosier 17.5x33 rear
Body: stripped to bare metal, prepped, and painted by Central Illinois Auto Body (Champaign, IL)
Paint: Honda Vintage Plum Pearl
Interiorcustom seats, burgundy and cream tweed upholstery by Superior Interior (Ft. Worth, TX), Auto Meter instruments, Lecarra steering wheel, no air conditioning or audio system Weight: 3,200 pounds

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