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.
On the other hand, all that glitters is not gold, and John's journey was just beginning. Issues arose, most notably an overheating motor and wiring probs that declared themselves in a cloud of smoke. As a silver lining, the wiring issue got John hooked up with Martin Charles, who runs MC Automotive for a select group of friends in need of a skilled wrench. The duo remedied the wiring gremlins and did a "Look Ma, no wires" job on the engine compartment while they were at it.
Most of all, John wanted to put his stamp on this Nova, to make it his. He did that with a well-thought-out regimen of repairs and upgrades, accomplishing his dual goals of indulging nostalgia and driving anywhere. "I just enjoy it so much," he finally declared. "The speed, the rumble, the way it handles...but not the [lack of] traction." Alas, sometimes the modern and the old-school don't mesh all that well. We say it's nothing a set of drag radials won't cure. But when it comes down to it, John Packard sweated the details, and it shows-which is really cool.
John Packard never envisioned building a car with a stock-looking interior, but this SS' pristine digs changed his mind. The front seats have been reupholstered, but John discovered that the rear bench is original when he pulled it to set down a layer of Dynomat. A column-mounted Auto Meter tach is a later addition that matches the three-gauge pod residing just north of the very cool Nova SS center console. The Alpine stereo and six-disc CD changer are nice options; the Painless wiring harness, on the other hand, was a necessity.
This Deuce's front end is thoroughly modernized: a Heidt's front clip with a swaybar, manual rack-and-pinion, 2-inch drop spindles, and QA1 coilovers. Sub-frame connectors are a must on a box Nova. Out back, John improved the sus-pension setup by installing a set of Cal-Tracs bars, as well as moved-in custom multi-leaf springs by Will's Brakes, Santa Ana, California, to accompany the distaff QA1s.
John Packard and Martin Charles cut the headers apart and repositioned the primaries to gain badly needed front wheel clearance. You'd never know if we hadn't told you.
The Nova arrived in the Packard garage with smooth flanks and a great coat of Marina Blue paint. It also arrived sans air cleaner, thanks to a lack of hood clearance. John's first order of business was to order up a 2-inch cowl lid from Goodmark; Upland, California's F&A Auto & Paint sprayed on a perfect color match. Anything chrome was polished by Superior Metal Polishing in Fullerton, California.
Wheels, Tires, Brakes
Bigs and littles, anyone? Wheels are Torq-Thrusts, 15x5 front and 15x7 rear; rubber is by BFG, with a skinny size 185/65 leading and 245/60s attempting to put the power to the pavement. Not as traditional but much more practical, John ditched the stock binders in favor of four-pot Wilwoods grabbing drilled and slotted rotors at each corner.
"When they popped the hood, it just floored me," John says of the first time he beheld the enhanced GM 502/502 seething under his Nova's hood. Perfor-mance Aero Engines in La Verne, California, align-honed and blueprinted the crate job and reground the cam to 244 degrees at 0.050 and 0.618/0.616-inch lift. A custom 970-cfm Holley mixer built by Performance & Associates in San Dimas, California, tops an Edelbrock Victor Jr. manifold. Ignition is an MSD 6AL, waste disposal is handled by customized Hooker headers teamed with DynoMax pipes and mufflers. John added a Mattson's radiator and electric fan to keep things cool, while March pulleys spin the accessories. He also commissioned a Monster 700-R4s from Toy Box Trans-missions in Pomona, California. And with the overdrive tranny in place, John took the opportunity to bump the narrowed 9-inch rear up to 3.70:1 gears.