Bryan Millhouse tells it from the heart. No hesitation, no stumble, no searching for words. It's mantra. It's gospel. He's lived every minute of this and it is part of him. His entire hot rodding career has been no different. And this is a good story, too. A family story, a story with a very happy ending.
Bryan began Project Julia, his grandmother's namesake very soon after her passing. Millhouse grew up in Tucson, the son of loving and very patient parents. They indulged him with time and understanding and not particularly with money. They encouraged him to do his best, do his projects in the home garage, even if it meant a year-long scene from a wrecking yard in a room attached to their house ... while their own civilized wheels braved and baked in the dry dust and desert heat. "I most appreciate the support from my parents. Dad loaned me a few bucks here and there and mom's heart was in it all the way."
Millhouse began with Fords when he was 16 and stayed with them until he adopted a '66 Nova that he built in its final stage with a 1,500hp twin-turbo motor-and air conditioning. He still has it. His penchant has always been to go for big cubic inches, big nitrous, big whatever, but always with taste and with and a big dose of decorum. Then he wanted a luxury hot rod, one that was reliable, always ready to get up and go. How much money you got in this thing? That's the usual question when he stops, drops, and opens up his latest creation.
This creature awaited him on eBay. It was an hour and a half north on the west side of Phoenix. It was a roller, but clean and rust-free and all its panels were straight. No motor or tranny, so it was a home run for Bryan and all that he really needed to roll the ball. He'd seen an ad that Chris Fesler (feslerbuilt.com) had in the duPont Registry. Bryan made contact. A few weeks later, Bryan dropped the car off at his shop the same day he'd bought it.
"While I was at Fesler's, I got a call. My 95-year-old grandmom had just gone into the hospital and it didn't look good for her. I drove to Tucson immediately, was with her and my family when she passed. I decided then to build the Nova as a tribute to her," Bryan told us.
"Fesler's shop produces very-high-end cars. We put our heads together and planned the issue. I'd compare this to building a house. Originally, I'd envisioned a restoration and to use one of the carbureted engines I have, but then I figured, OK, it's a tribute car and I wanted to upgrade everything and all of sudden it had a Z06 motor, overdrive tranny, navigation, the works, and I wanted to keep it nice and clean. Fesler helped out. I'd had a lot of hot rods with no air conditioning, no amenities whatsoever, and he turned me away from that. I wanted to get in, turn on the tunes and the A/C, and drive like it was something you could get from a dealership today."
What he likes best about the Nova is that he can just get in and do just that. He gets the mileage of a Z06, but with all that grunt on tap as well, and that the Nova, despite its pin-neat appearance is nothing less than a daily driver. Its most pleasing feature? Without doubt it's the mind-altering attributes of the Air Wave system. Not to him, but the casual onlookers. "It gets swarmed everywhere I take it. I'll pull up to a light, get good props, and then hit the Air Ride controller and it slams down on the bumpers. People go nuts," he chortled. Bryan also acknowledges the people who helped him: "Special thanks goes to my folks for helping me with an early addiction to hot rods; Fesler Built (of course); Heidi Richter, who spent a lot of time with my grandmother, and without her help the car wouldn't have materialized."
Now that he's driven it for a while, he'll probably change out the 4.11s for something a little more civilized-and get even better mileage. Everything else is exactly how he envisioned it. He takes it when he goes out to dinner on Friday nights. "The valet guys see it coming and tell me to park it right in front ... and don't even charge me for the service. I usually putt around in the morning when it's still cool and drive it to the coffee shop. It's not a trailer queen, I drive it everywhere. If it gets scratched, I'll fix it."