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?
Motor & Drivetrain
Seems like anyone who hasn't converted to the LS series for motivation goes right for the big-block bark, in this case a 509-incher (4.50 bore by 4.00-inch stroke) built by John Visner. Visner performed the usual pre-assembly machine work then laid the stellar foundation with a Crower crankshaft, Oliver billet connecting rods, and 10.5:1 JE forgings. For a whiff of nostalgia, Visner buttoned up the lower end with a "vintage" LS6 oil supply system and 6-quart steel sump. Comp Cams supplied the "680" custom-ground solid roller, valve springs and small parts. Crane Gold 1.7:1 roller rockers complete the package. To take full advantage of the primary breathing apparatus, Visner installed ported and polished Brodix cylinder heads and topped them with a Brodix single-plane manifold and a Quick Fuel Technology Pro Series 1050 Dominator. A serious power-adder figured heavily in the build, in this case an NOS Pro Shot Fogger with a double crossbar plate. Combustion occurs via an MSD Digital 6 Plus ignition system, including 8mm wires. Carbon monoxide is extracted by 2 1/4-inch primaries and passes through a 3-inch system, with X-pipe, to Flowmaster 40 silencers. Visner used ARP fasteners throughout. Even though the project was completed last June, J.B. has not yet had the engine proved. Concerning the drivetrain, and the transmission in particular, we always wonder why people shun the efficacy of modern overdrive units for the 1:1 three-speed automatic. Jim Campbell built the Turbo 400, added a trans-brake, a 10-inch B&M Nitrous converter, and a reverse-pattern valve body. Grunt whirls down the 3 1/2-inch steel driveshaft fitted with 1350 U-joints as prepared by Custom Clutch. To absorb the wrath, J.B. specified a Chassisworks axle with limited-slip, 31-spline axles, and 4.56:1 gears.
Blessed be the modern aftermarket, a vast arena filled with "bolt-in" equipment that once had to be built by talented hands. J&E Pro Streets (Massillon, Ohio) collaborated with J.B. on the production of the chassis and the rollcage. First, they modified the firewall for engine clearance. Then they slid a complete Chassisworks frame beneath the Deuce and fitted it with Chassisworks subframe and rack steering, big-block spindles, and tubular control arms. Wheel movement is checked (and stance is adjusted) by hefty QA1 coilover shock absorbers. Going aft, we find a Fab 9 housing located by a four-link setup and a second squad of QA1 adjustable coilovers.
Moving to the office, outfitter Mike Ambrose Custom Interiors in North Hills, California, went conservative with German Graphite velour carpeting and matching Graphite and Pepper Ultra Suede seats. Lots of the inside was fitted with fabbed bits of wood and aluminum construction. The boys went to the chassis with Painless wiring, installed Auto Meter instruments, and discreetly encased a Kenwood audio system. A Billet Specialties Vintec 15.5 steering wheel points the way.
Wheels & Brakes
In keeping with the vintage Pro Street image, Brown had no other option. It would be the biggest meat he could hang in the wheelwells: American Track Star rims, 15x3.5 and 15x15, wrapped with 26x7.50-15 Mickey Thompson Sportsman rubber in front and Godzilla-large Hoosier 33x22.50-15 Quick Time Pros on the drive wheels. Since 15-inch hoops leave little room for formidable brakes, he was bound to Wilwood 12-inch discs at both ends of the car. Some people just can't get enough of this new Pro Street wheel/tire combination, including us.
To get those big Hoosiers situated, the wheelwells were stretched and tubbed. To solidify the Nova's of-a-piece silhouette, the door handles, locks, drip rails and windshield wiper vents were summarily eradicated. Tom Bodalski (Bodacious Paint Works) rubbed out the sheetmetal and applied the foot-deep platinum gray patina as well as the ghost flames.