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.
Van Nus sealed up the holes for the ashtray and cigarette lighter, all the while making new inserts for the Vintage Air HVAC controls and vents. Auto Meter Ultra-Lite gauges gather in a matte finish Covan’s panel, looking as if it grew there. Joe supplanted the frazzled electrical system with an American Autowire Highway 22 loom. If you peruse the upholstery shops in Ligonier, Indiana, you won’t find Bohde’s Custom Auto Interiors anywhere on the list. We’ll, that’s natural because Bohde does some very sensational things out of a private shop and mostly for people he likes. Here we have minimalist thinking and understated elegance. He did the Recaros in vinyl and German Square Weave. It’s almost too pretty to sit in and is a fine foil for the cool but urgent exterior. The harnesses are five-point. A custom billet aluminum shifter is at the ready. That snakeskin-wrapped steering wheel is from Billet Specialties, not something you’d find in your daily beater. Now, where did he hide the Pioneer/iPod combo?.
When the LS egg got cracked, Team Van Nus had Mike Hanson (Portage, Michigan) produce a 355-inch icon. Steve Tagget in Kalamazoo, Michigan, did the machining processes and Hanson began with a ’71 cylinder block and filled it with the Ohio Crankshaft rotating assembly (forged crank, H-beam rods, and SRP pistons with a 12.0:1 compression ratio so 110 octane is taken for granted). Total seal ring packs and SRP pins complete the picture. A COMP hydraulic roller (0.507/0.510 lift; 240/246 degrees of duration at 0.050 inch), springs, pushrods, guideplates, and Harland Sharp 1.5:1 roller rockers complete the valvetrain. Hanson tied it all together with Cloyes Tru-Roller timing gear and bolted on a kicked-out Moroso oil pan. He formed the top end of the engine with Edelbrock Performer cylinder heads (2.00-/1.60-inch valves) and companion Air-Gap intake manifold. The 750-cfm Demon Avenger is topped with a DSE air cleaner. Healthy spark emanates from the MSD 6AL box and total timing for this naturally aspirated pirate is 34 degrees. Exhaust matters are handled by Chris Alston headers and a custom-bent 21/2-inch system. Paul estimates 450 hp. For the Pro Touring mission, he extracted the Turbo 350 and implanted a TKO-600 five-speed and a Ram flywheel and clutch assembly. He linked transmission to the rear axle (3.89:1 gears, Detroit Truetrac differential) with a bulletproof Denny’s Nitrous Ready prop shaft.
Joe and Paul run Dutch Boys Hot Rods (hobby shop) in Vicksburg, Michigan, so they saved a duffle bag of loot by doing this phase themselves and for once paint jail wasn’t an issue. Paul applied BASF Jet Stream Blue R-M Diamont and hosed the immaculate, uncluttered engine compartment with contrasting black. Does that engine pop right off the page or what? The V team paid special attention to body line gaps, created a custom fuel filler flap, and tucked the bumpers in a little.
The Big V amended the Nova’s oxcart seriousness with an Alston’s Chassisworks front clip that includes subframe and firewall stringers, tubular control arms, spindles specific to the application, DSE coilover dampers (550 lb/in springs), and an Alston antisway bar. Joe suspended the narrowed Dutchman 9-inch axle with DSE coilovers (240 lb/in springs) dependent on a TCI Engineering four-link conversion. A six-point rollcage permits minimal chassis distortion.
Up front, Paul posted 17x7 Fikse Profil 5 wheels and Kumho Ecsta SPT 225/45ZR tires. At the rear, he blew things up a little with 10-inch Profils and 295/35ZR18 rubber. Consistent rough-duty braking capability is assured by 14-/13-inch big Baer 6S stoppers and braided hose throughout.