Really? Cool! That was all we could say when John Packard told us that his first set of wheels was a Harley Sportster, purchased with his parents' help at the tender age of 16. John didn't deny the sporty's coolness, but he did point out that his main motivation was cheap transportation. His heart was then-as now-set on something with two more wheels. And Super Sport emblems...with a four-speed. You get the idea. And John got the car. Twice. He had to do without the four-speed on the second go 'round, but that's OK, 'cause he ended up with a drop-dead, fat-block-running Deuce that combines classic hot-rod cues with a generous dose of up-to-date drivability.

Young John was introduced to the gear-head life by his dad, Ernie, who owned a sprint car driven by Billy Wilkerson at the late great Ascot Park. "I'd go over with them when they worked on it," John told us, "and they'd let me turn a wrench or two." Dad was sympathetic to his progeny's hi-po aspirations, enabling John to pick up those two extra wheels he so badly wanted in the form of a '67 Chevelle SS. "The guy owed $2,200," he recalls. "We gave him $200 and Dad got the rest financed." John, of course, made the payments.

He got more than he was looking for. "I wanted a four-speed," John stated. "It just happened to have a big-block in it." That would be the 375-horse, 396 big-block RPO L78. Do we even have to say he didn't have a problem with this? John proceeded to make the most of owning a hot musclecar. "You could afford gas then," he reminisced. "It was 24 cents for ethyl. I took a lot of pride in it. My friends didn't have cars like that, so I always drove." John tells us his dating life was also enhanced. Good times, to be sure.

When John got drafted into the Army, though, the 'Velle ended up in storage and was eventually sold. After leaving the service and finishing college, his thoughts turned again toward Chevy muscle. Some of the same high-school friends who'd cruised with him had bought cars, including a '62 Biscayne and a '57 Chevy, which provided further incentive. John started looking for something to build. "I wanted a '66 or '67 Chevelle SS," he told us, "But Ray and Shawn Torres changed my mind." The Torres' '67 Nova went from driver to barely street-legal. John's approach would be different, but he was thinking Nova.

"I wanted a driver, a high-performance but dependable car," John explained. "But I wanted to keep that nostalgic look." Unable to build in his garage, thanks to neighborhood regulations, he looked for a more finished starting point. The lead came from a contact at the Long Beach Swap Meet, and the meeting happened the next week at Pomona. "I thought, god, it's beautiful," John recalls. "It had the wheels, stance, and nostalgic look I wanted." A look at the Rat under the hood sealed the deal.