If you're football crazy, James Brown (J.B.) needs no introduction. For the rest of you, he's the anchor on NFL Today on CBS. He grew up in Maryland and the District. He always wanted a '66 Nova. He graduated from Harvard. He still wanted that prize Nova. After a brief basketball career, he entered the corporate melee and eventually embraced his first love, football. But under this faade, and for all these years, he's been at the mercy of a vile and pernicious habit: hot rods. J.B. was born in 1951, so none of the Muscle Car Era was lost on him and he never forgot the feeling and the cars that ran chills all over him. Years on, he reached the point of no return.
"Oh, I got it bad," said a gleeful J.B. "Passion? You could say it was more of an obsession with me. I've never been able to get enough of this. I fell in love with cars, got hooked on a pair of '64 Impalas, one of them black with ladder bars. I'll never forget them. When the '69 Z28 came out, I wanted one to the point of distraction, but didn't have the money to buy it."
He laid hands on his own stuff back then, amassing a roster of 14 socially irresponsible machines over the years. This was before "politically correct" had entered the lexicon. "I had an SS Camaro early on. We pulled out the 350 and put a 432-inch L-88 together. I put that in the SS along with an M22 and haven't looked back since."
Along the way, J.B. met Jay Leno. Mr. Late Night invited him to peruse his sizable and eclectic squadron out in the Burbank candy factory. "He's got just about anything you can imagine in that hanger...or is in the process of building," J.B quipped. Our protagonist's schedule is heavy with travel between home and the studios in New Jersey and New York, plus squirts to L.A. What does J.B. do in his down time? "When I'm not broadcasting, I'm out smelling Cam 2 cologne." Other stints include cruising with his home crew, members of the Unity Thunder Car Club out of Camp Springs, Maryland.
His work schedule is such that J.B. must now part out the work to several shops. The guys who built this '66 are in Massillon, Ohio. "I had gotten a car in the shop and I presented it to him," said Jason Pratt of J&E Pro Streets (www.jeprostreets.com). "I mean, it was a project. It needed just about everything. He always wanted a big-tire Pro Street car to drive and to show."
J&E took on the entire restoration, assuming the role of Dr. Frankenstein in that they truly resurrected the dead. "The car was in dire shape. Someone had started on it, installed the rollcage and rear frame rails, but we did the entire construction," said Pratt. "We worked off the Chassisworks rails, installed the front subframe and suspension assemblies, and put big tubs in it--a full Pro Street chassis. We came up with that rear-opening decklid and other stuff."
Brown's ride deviates from the J&E norm in that it doesn't have a big ol' puffer jutting through the hood. No, J.B.'s rendition makes do with a mild 3-inch cowl. The exterior is so tasteful and subdued (understated elegance, perhaps) that it propels the Nova light years from the original and (let's be honest) obnoxious Pro Street prescription. Hell, if you didn't see those big back tires sucked into the wheelwells, you might dismiss it as just another pretty Nova. Yes, there's something to be said for seeing tires that are wider than AA/Fueler slicks on a street machine. And J.B., no more splits in the studio, OK?