When Paul Van Nus was just 16, he and his dad, Joe, collaborated on a clean and functional ’67 Nova that was leaning more toward the street-and-strip setting. Paul is employed at a local fender shop but he and Joe also operate a private paint and body works shop called Dutch Boys Hot Rods in Vicksburg, Michigan. (They were buffing out Mark Stielow’s Red Witch for SEMA as this was being written.) Now 19, Paul reminded us that the Nova was orange in its first iteration and that we covered it (Firing for Effect) in the Jan. ’08 issue. A pleasing sight to be certain but it had a dirty little secret. It was a show car that never turned a wheel in anger or in jest.
In the winter of 2009, I decided to change the car up instead of buying a new one. I did the five-speed install and changed the interior and the exterior color. I did all the work with my dad except the interior. But it was a fun project to work on with my dad again. Now I want to enjoy track days and autocrosses. I did the 2010 Motor State Challenge at Gingerman, Paul declares. Both men were adamant about beginning with an unblemished tub, thus saving thousands (hours as well as loot) in rebuilding the body. The Nova was a native of Fresno, California, via an Arkansas muscle car dealer, so Paul began to steer the project into a niche in his mind’s eye. Do the unexpected and do it with flair and with substance. Use the props provided and encourage them to speak in strong, unadulterated tones.
Team Van Nus incorporated a subtle raft of details in a stock-looking body. They shaved the side molding, smoothed the firewall, molded and smoothed the doorjambs, and tucked in the smoothed-out bumpers. At first, they were adamant about keeping the car intact, no cutting, no splicing, no elective surgery allowed, but when they rolled the Nova into the real light, the 7-inch-wide rear wheels didn’t work like they had envisioned. With nary a sigh, Joe fired the reciprocating saw and mini-tubbed the metal out to the frame perimeter to accept 10-inch rims with 285-series tires, plus plenty of room to wiggle.
Though the rest of the car is finished in a tasteful blend of Pro Touring and mild custom, the engine compartment stands alone, somehow divorced from the rest of the car. We went to black for the engine bay because it goes better with the new blue exterior and an all-aluminum look for the iron-block engine, Paul says.
Joe Van Nus had no compunction about replacing the Nova’s archaic underpinnings with a Chris Alston’s Chassisworks front suspension and spindles. Detroit Speed came across with the adjustability of coilover shocks. He upgraded the rear of the car with a Dutchman Motorsports 9-inch axle on a Total Cost Involved Engineering four-link system and combined it with the adjustability of coilover shock absorbers. Although the Nova has air conditioning, a full-on sound system, and power-assisted brakes, Paul recently excised the manual steering box for an Alston power-assisted rack. Through it all, Van Nus held curb weight to just 2,900 pounds. In turn, they wouldn’t need a killer motor to make the car do what they wanted.
Originally, we were going for a street-and-strip look, but things just got out of hand. It seems like everything we’ve done to this car, we’ve done at least twice, Joe says. The wheel tubs are a good example of that. When Paul first purchased the Baer brakes, he realized that it would crush his LS engine budget. Over the winter he’ll recoup and pick an LS7. At the track, the LS-powered cars that are equipped as mine routinely pull away from me out of the turns. I’m tired of that and now I’m going to do something about it.