If you weren't a car person, it might be difficult to believe that Scott McAfee wanted to push this pretty thing over the edge of a cliff, hear the nauseating crumple, kick some dirt after it, and walk away clean.

You might ask what's not to like about its arrow-straight sheetmetal, snappy, magazine-cover paint, "balanced" engine compartment, superb fit and finish throughout, and wheels that actually complement the theme. Why would he want it to look like an accordion? For the same reasons most car people (and especially Cancers) would: abject frustration or being screwed over by someone you'd trusted--they might as well have chopped off your hands.

"I bought it with the idea of revisiting my long-lost passion for cars. It was basically an old beater sitting in the back of some guy's yard collecting rust. When we finally got all the paint blasted off, I realized the body was a mess. To make matters much worse, the guy I had hired to restore it turned out to be a complete crook who ripped me off for about $5,000. He was even selling parts off the car!"

So now it was a matter of desire versus reality. Scott hadn't the solid car he thought he'd bought, and he was out at least five large. That's when he could think of nothing more satisfying than to blow the whole stinkin' mess away and be done with it. Obviously, his good sense prevailed. He began anew after a friend told him about a hot, 20-year-old car builder named Lang Paciulli (PAH-chewly) right in Scott's hometown of Upland, California.

How good could this kid be? Sometimes it just comes down to innate talent, a prodigy perhaps, like he's done this stuff in another life. But trust is a difficult thing to bestow while the wounds are still weeping. "At first I was skeptical, considering what I had just gone through. When I watched him fabricate the mini-tubs from scratch and then assemble the front and rear ends very skillfully, I knew I had found my guy."

So we've got two stories here, one about the obvious mess and the other about an emerging talent. Maybe some metaphysics, the science of being, and the science of the fundamental cause and processes in things. The good versus evil chop, a conflict nearly as ancient as the stars. Seamless crafters as young as Lang Paciulli are not exactly common currency.

At this point, Lang was recreating the Nova in his home garage. To move things along and take advantage of the latest bolt-in technology for box Novas, Lang collected the primary chassis and suspension components from Total Cost Involved, just a few miles from his workshop. The TCI stuff (or the similar rendition by Heidt's) is the easiest way to center the engine, clean out a lot of bulky crap from between the fenders that would normally interfere with headers, cut 150 pounds of ugly fat off the front end, connect the ends of the car, and make it brake and handle so well you'd think you were dreaming. Though not strictly a bolt-in, for Lang it was cake.

He played the interior on Scott's Nova just right. It straddles a thin line between phantom minimalist and a clean, straight rendition, but the original intention was not lost on Lang's execution. If anything, it is magnified, suggesting that this is the form as it should have been in the first place. At first the Nova appears to be nothing more than a scrubbed up stocker with delicious paint, but the more you study it, the more cogent it becomes. It could be one of the cleanest X-bodies on the planet, the embodiment of understated elegance.

"Lang put his heart and soul into the project," gushed Scott. "He went way beyond the call of duty, designing a custom console, smoothing out the firewall, and constructing a 3-inch exhaust system that is a work of art. His reputation is beginning to spread, and he's since opened his own successful shop called LP Racing," said Scott. "I can't say that I would ever attempt a project like this again, but when I get behind the wheel of my Nova, all the bad stuff just fades away."

INSIDE
Custom Auto Interior in Bloomington, California, did the two-tone dirt/clay vinyl theme. It complements the wowie-zowie orange and becomes an energetic canvas that continues through to the trunk. Ron Magnus filled all the superfluous dashboard holes and made panels that fit beneath it. LP Racing rewired the car, fit the Auto Meter Ultra-Lite gauges, and put a Grant 14-inch steering wheel between them. The front seats are out of a '90s Saturn, the rears are Magnus. There's no A/C, but Scott's aural fix is handled by a Pioneer head, 6-inch front speakers, and 6x9 rear speakers.

POWERTRAIN
LP Racing in Upland, California, does more than chassis work. It poured the pork to the Mouse with some ace parts. The engine, like the rest of the car, includes subtle cues that set it apart from the ordinary. Outlaw Racing Engines in Upland did all the machine work and bored, honed, and decked the block. A stock oil pan covers the ubiquitous Melling high-volume pump. Mahle flat-top pistons sport an 11.0:1 compression ratio and have been coated to fight friction and heat. They swing on Eagle 6-inch H-beam rods and the Bow Tie steel crankshaft was straightened, polished, and nitrided. To realize that old-time feeling, nothing less than a Comp solid-lifter, flat-tappet cam (250 degrees duration at 0.050-inch, 0.525-inch lift) would do; it went into the block with a Comp Cams double-roller timing chain. The Dart Iron Eagle 200cc heads were treated to the usual three-angle valve job, work 2.05/1.60 stainless steel valves, and were decked and port-matched to the Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake manifold. Manley double valvesprings are commanded by Crane Gold 1.6:1 roller rockers and hardened 3/8-inch-diameter pushrods. The 750-cfm Speed Demon carburetor uses mechanical secondaries, and the mixture is fired by a complete MSD system (Pro Billet distributor, 6AL box, and Blaster 3 coil). Stinky stuff is purged by Patriot midlength headers that dump it into 3-inch pipes then through Dynomax mufflers. Not coincidentally, all fasteners are from ARP and the accessory drive is a Black Mountain Precision cog-belt arrangement. The no-nonsense rocker covers are sheetmetal tents. Scott put his money on a 700-R4 overdrive fronted with a 12-inch Toy Shop converter and a B&M shifter. J.E. Reel in nearby Pomona made him a 3-inch-diameter driveshaft that spins the gaff to a 9-inch housing bolstered by a Detroit Locker differential and 4.10:1 gears.

PERFORMANCE
When your ride weighs but 3,200 pounds, you don't need a mountain to move it. The 358-inch engine produces 480 hp at 6,100 rpm and 460 lb-ft of torque at 5,200 rpm. Though the Nova has yet to see a dragstrip, we'd estimate 11.90s at 115--more than enough terror to make you pucker.

ROLLERS & BRAKES
The tasteful wheel and tire combination isn't any larger than it needs to be. Newly released Budnik Ice 17-inch rims are 7 inches in front and 9.5 inches in the rear, and carry 235/40 and 255/60 BFG g-Force meats. Another case for low mass is that it doesn't require giant brakes to burn off energy. Lang chucked the drums in favor of GM 9-inch front discs that perform amiably with the 11-inch rears.

BODY
Brown's Auto Works out Rialto way took charge of the sheetmetal transformation, giving the Nova new quarters and rear floor panels, excising the rust, and installing the cowl hood. Though the body looks temptingly like something with hand-formed parts, it is stock. House of Kolor Tanjellow Pearl is definitely not.

CHASSIS
So how was Lang able to fit a nearly 10-inch wheel under the stock fender like it was born there? A narrowed Ford 9-inch housing and mini-tubs worked wonders here and are integral to the Total Cost Involved Engineering front and rear suspension assemblies underneath. TCI goes to the front with a Mustang II clip featuring 2-inch drop spindles. The Mustang springs work with Competition Engineering dampers but there is no antisway bar. Mustang II comes to the rescue again with rack-and-pinion steering. TCI subframe connectors inhibit torsional stress, and for tire sidewall clearance the springs were moved inboard. Competition Engineering shocks and Slide-A-Link traction bars plant the tires. CHP