I know Russell Kelly. I rode in his stealth Nova one afternoon. Scared the livin' crap out of me. Like a thunderclap on a cloudless day, cuz. Russell Kelly laughed.
I was doing a story on his friend Mike Landi's 1,200hp blown Rat '55 right there in Burbank, Russell's neighborhood. Landi knew I was interested in turning up some subtle, bloody fast street cars. He mentioned this to Russell and that maybe he should drop by with his '64.
When I suggested this car during a monthly planning session, the idea was harpooned with "Kelly's car was in Car Craft already." End of subject. Four years later, the car's still here, but it's not the same car as the one I was in. It's all cherry now: new paint, presentable, a bright and innocent werewolf bitch of a car.
The impression that this box made on me is in my bones to this day. Russell showed me that it would do a low 9, right there on Victory Boulevard."It might get a little weird," he said. "The way it's weighted doesn't account for you being in the passenger seat. Going into High gear, it's gonna start crabbin' left. I'll counter it, though. Just hang on."
Yeah, it crabbed like somebody bet a bundle. Russell sawed the wheel a little and straightened us out as we flashed by one of Burbank's finest traveling just a little bit slower in the opposite direction. Russell didn't lift. I ducked my head.
Russell has a yen for early Novas. Had three of 'em before this one. But he didn't have a partner. "I purchased this car 10 years ago. It was pristine. It hurt to do what little I did to it. I wanted a not-in-your-face street driver, so I kept rim offset to a minimum. A 10-inch tire is a must, but I couldn't get a 30-inch-tall one in there with just a mini-tub job, so I made new tubs as small as possible for clearance and notched the rear section of the frame as well.
"These unibody cars are inherently weak and need frame connectors and a properly installed 'cage to keep the body panels from buckling. Those many hours spent with my then-6-year-old son paid off. We ran the car for many years. Then we decided to make it presentable." The other half of "we" is the now-16-year-old Ryan, the Nova's new shoe.
"Engine building is something I do as a hobby only," says Russell. "It works out great now with my son doing the driving. As far as the car is concerned, we both have our own jobs and responsibilities. He's managed a 9.45 at 140 using the foot brake and only High gear, and he can't get enough of it!"
Russell hangs with the Road Peasants, mostly for the "nonclub" atmosphere but often for the help and chiding of others. One of the Road Peasants even put that slick paint job on his car. As remarkable as the exterior might be, we know the real reason this car shines isn't because of the paint. It's because it weighs like a peanut and because Russell's put together a very strong engine here. It's big. It might be considered radical. The 440-inch tall-deck small-block works a monster camshaft, a slam-bam compression ratio, and big-valve heads to make it honk.
I remember a gold-colored so-so-looking Nova. I got interested when Russell told me the engine in it was a 417 (when it only ran low 9s). Something like that. Next thing I knew, I was trying to act nonchalant as hell. But it wasn't working. Russell was trying to scalp me. The closest thing I can compare it with is a motorcycle and the way the wind pulls at your face. Only it isn't your face, it's your consciousness.
A big part of Russell's performance combination is weight, or the lack of it. At 3,100 pounds, this relatively small mass is easily serviced by a large-displacement small-block engine. Russell founded his on a Dart Iron Eagle tall-deck block after the machine work had been processed by Bob Lambeck (Van Nuys, California) and Burbank Speed. A 4.185-inch bore and a 4.00-inch stroke yield 440 cubic inches.
A Cola forging starts the rotating assembly, goes to Bill Miller aluminum rods, and then Ross custom-built pistons fitted with a Total Seal ring pack. Russell carefully chose GM semi-finished 18-degree cylinder heads (PN 24502580). The aluminum castings accept 2.20- and 1.650-inch valves, have 60cc combustion chambers, and whistle through 215cc intake ports. With the specially designed Ross pistons, Russell built a whopping 16.0:1 compression ratio. The heads have "various porting profiles" as applied by Ron's Porting Service and Russell himself.
The motor went together with Clevite bearings, Fel-Pro gaskets, a Moroso vacuum pump, an Edelbrock water pump, and a Titan oil pump inside a Jeff Johnson oil pan. One of Danny Jesel's timing belts connects crank and cam. A custom-ground Crane roller (more than 0.800 inch lift) moves Manley pushrods against T&D shaft-mounted rocker arms, thence to Manley springs and Del West titanium valves.
Induction fumes with a Hogan sheetmetal intake manifold and a Holley carburetor of undetermined size. An MSD 7AL box provides fire for timing set at 34 degrees total. Then Russell trucked it out east to Ontario, where Jack Davis built his signature stepped headers (2- to 21/4-inch primaries). On the way to the outside, the 3-inch system howls through Borla mufflers.
Russell's kinda vague about the two-speed tranny, though. Says it's a GM unit with stock gear ratios and that he makes the single gear change with a B&M Pro Stick shifter, sending a massive amount of torque to the 8-inch Continental converter that's been buffed out with a slingshot 5,600 stall speed. Grunt zooms down an Inland Empire 31/2-inch-diameter aluminum driveshaft to a 9-inch housing bolstered by a Mark Williams aluminum section fitted with a Detroit Locker differential, Currie 35-spline axles, and 4.86:1 gears.
WHEELS & BRAKES
Weld forgings all around, 3.5-inch skinnies and modest 8-inch Drag Lites, carrying Goodyear 25x4.5 and M/T ET Drag 30x12.50 rubber. Though the feather-light 15-inch-diameter wheels don't offer much in the way of big brake clearance, there are some serious Wilwood discs posted at every corner.
Typical working man's interior says little and therefore speaks a great deal, and certainly leaves no clue as to the hideous thing living under the hood. Under the heading "upholstery material" Russell put "not much." So we got tan and we got more tan. The instruments are Auto Meter. The dashboard is stock. The wiring is original. The seats are JAZ race decked out by the owner.
As you might imagine, Russell's Nova makes quite a ruckus. People look around and say, "Where's all that ruckus comin' from?" His car's right there but they can't see it--not really. On the engine stand, the mighty 440 cranked out 897 hp at 7,500 rpm and 675 lb-ft of torque at 6,400 rpm with no outside help, no juice, no blower. In the car, ol' Russ has slammed an 8.93 at 151 mph!
Beginning with pure, straight metal is right away going to save a whole bunch of time and scoots. Russell's 60,000-original-mile heirloom got sprayed one night by the members of the Road Peasants, "Matriarch" Bob Shrode presiding. Bob applied the PPG two-stage original factory gold in the Road Peasants Garage in Burbank, California.
Here Russell mainly addressed the unibody's structural weaknesses, laying in an eight-point rollcage and spanning the space between the front and rear "chassis" with frame connectors of his own concoction. He also narrowed the axlehousing 1 inch and put up some mini-tubs "as small as possible, for tire clearance," and then notched the rear framerails 1/2 inch for more of the same.
Before he amended the Nova's simple suspension, Russell awarded it with a Flaming River rack steering system tied to the original spindles. It blots out bumpsteer and "slows down" the steering ratio. Lakewood shocks and stock-rate coil springs in front and Koni coilovers in the rear work with Russell's four-link traction design. CHP