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."
Power Module And Support
The 427-cubic-inch LS7 engine is rated at 505 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. The factory knows all about insurance "surcharges" applied to overabundant powerplants like this one, so it becomes prudent to underrate the production package. Think more like 540 hp and 500 lb-ft of grunt. This thing comes with a dry sump oiling system, in this case abetted by a Stef's oil accumulator, as well as a compression ratio of 11:1, a stout hydraulic cam (0.591/0.591, 211/230 at 0.050), and forged titanium connecting rods to go with that good steel crank. Hooker Super Comp headers (13/4-inch primaries, 3-inch collector) merge with a MagnaFlow 3-inch stainless steel exhaust system. The LS7 sports a Billet Specialties aluminum coolant pump, pulleys, and breather, and is serviced by a Vintage Air Front Runner serpentine accessory belt drive (Tuff Stuff 130-amp alternator, Vintage Air HVAC compressor, and Detroit Speed power steering are the ancillaries). There's an Optima cell stationed in the trunk to run it all. The 427 is fed by a Walbro pump (Holley fuel regulator, Earl's fittings, stainless lines) sucking from a custom aluminum fuel cell (leading corners were flattened to accommodate the width of the back wheels). Cool air comes in through a fabricated air duct to an Air Raid element. The engine controller is a GMPP stand-alone unit. The transmission cooler is integrated into the Be Cool aluminum core (utilizing the stock radiator support) that is pursued by a single 16-inch SPAL pusher fan surrounded by custom-built aluminum shrouding. Torque is processed by a beefed GMPP 4L65E transmission via a sensible 2,300-stall converter and companion stand-alone controller. A Drive Shaft Shop steel prop hurries the guff to a Currie 9-Plus axle that turns 4.11:1 gears on a limited-slip differential and spins 33-spline axleshafts.
Just by looking at the Nova's knockdown stance, you know there's quite a bit going on here. At the pointing end, a Chassisworks (CW) subframe carries adjustable upper and lower control arms terminating at CW drop spindles. Air Ride ShockWave air springs (as monitored and supplied by an in-car AccuAir air suspension tank and Viair 400C compressor) are used to adjust vehicle height and stance as well as handling characteristics. A CW antisway bar sops up the leftovers. Fesler tightened up the middle of the car with a driveshaft safety loop/chassis stiffener and tied it into frame connectors that precede the 2x3-inch rails that add torsional rigidity and locate a custom subframe. The four-link suspension is amended by Air Ride bags mounted inboard and positioned vertically. In a very real sense, the Nova now has a perimeter frame beneath its unibody construction. Probably couldn't crumple this thing with an Abrams M1/A1 at full tilt.
Rollers & Clamps
Fesler Built's own FS905 3-piece, 19-inch rims are prominent: fronts are 9.5 wide and hold Michelin Pilot Sport P255/35s. The back ones measure 11.5 inches and are wrapped with P345/30ZR PSs. Lurking behind these massive and intricate hoops are 14-inch Wilwood velocity burners with six- and four-pot calipers, respectively. A Hydratech master cylinder works with a dual-reservoir booster.
Fesler based the Nova's electrical foundation on a Ron Francis wiring system and from there the goodness naturally flowed-to the gaggle of Auto Meter gauges in the fabricated instrument cluster, to the Dakota Digital air ride and Vintage Air control panels, the Electric Life power window lifts, the Pioneer AM/FM/CD/DVD head, the Kicker trunk-based amp, navigation system, and so forth. Before any of this was established, however, Fesler lined all of the car's naked surfaces with sound-absorbing/heat-quenching Dynamat. The panels, seats, carpeting, and the very interior scheme itself are low-key but obviously rich and sumptuous. The Recaros, original back seat, door panels, custom-made console, and armrest are upholstered in leather; headliner, package tray, and sunvisors are done in contrasting suede. A Fesler billet wheel anoints the Billet Specialties tilt steering column that's held by a custom column drop bucket. While Bryan holds the leather-wrapped wheel, Julianno's 3-point safety belts hold him. Shiny points in the bottom are Lokar stuff.
Gary Sharp applied the PPG water-based argent shade after the Fesler crew had their considerable way with the metal. Among the major triumphs, they smoothed and filled the body, shaved the drip molding, attached a Goodmark cowl hood, milled the firewall clean, built the mini-tubs, custom fabbed the rear bumper (notched for Meg's exhaust tips) and moved it closer to the body, and laid in tinted glass all 'round. But they left the door handles intact. What you are not likely to notice right off is the Fesler billet aluminum hood and trunk hinges or the stainless steel trunk strut support. Check out those slick Fesler custom taillights, kissed lightly by smooth billet surrounds.