The old saying about things not being what they seem to be is never more prevalent than it is in automobile restoration. You take possession of the churl, begin picking at it, and soon there is more shrapnel on the floor than you could have gotten from a couple thousand-pound bombs. You didn’t do this before you laid the money down and very soon your plans take change for the fantastic. What was going to be a cool short, a daily driver that didn’t need too much to make it presentable, instantly becomes a major project, one that will seriously rearrange your bank account as well as your psyche. Twenty-three-year-old Corey Dotzler has just completed one such upheaval, eyes bright, hair still smoking, toes tapping out a wild tattoo.
Alright Corey, what’s the deal? “When I first bought the car, my plan was to build a nice, simple driver that I could take to the dragstrip every once in awhile,” he relates. “The car had a good-running small-block that made decent power, a rebuilt Turbo 400 with a stall converter, and a 12-bolt with Posi-Traction 3.55:1 gears.
“Even though the car had some rust issues I figured it would be a good car to start with. My entire plan changed two days later when I was rear-ended at a traffic signal. The car wasn’t heavily damaged but enough to have to put it on a frame machine to get the rear rails squared up. Since the car had to be partially disassembled for frame straightening, I decided to disassemble the rest of it to begin the bodywork and paint process.” Then came the big backhand.
“This is where I realized just how rusty the car was. Knowing that needed repair was much more than I could handle, I decided to hand the car over to my friends at Hot Rod Ranch in Lompoc, California.” Then the avalanche began.
“Once it was at Hot Rod Ranch, what started as a rust hoo-ha soon turned into a complete restoration. Out came the small-block and in went a big-block as well as many other upgrades. Every panel on the car, except for the roof and doors, was replaced. Lots of time was spent on panel fitment and in getting the body as straight as possible. The bodywork and paint was a huge undertaking but I am very happy with the results.
“My experience with Hot Rod Ranch was great. I worked closely with them, going over ideas during the build, and even got to do some of the hands-on work while it was there. I am now driving and enjoying the car as much as possible.” Payback? “I recently entered the car in its first show where it received awards for Best Muscle Car and Best Paint,” he says with justification in his voice. “I also hope to take it to the dragstrip soon to see what it will run.”
And therein lays another nest of snakes. We’ll give you two-to-one that the Rat will become a lot stronger and that Corey’s piggy bank will be disemboweled once again. But he’s a young gun. He’s got Blue Language, and isn’t afraid to use it.
The refinished body was a real chore, including major rust repair, new quarters, fenders, decklid, and hood. The Nova’s dead-on side shot reveals finely tuned body gaps, shaved marker lights and emblems, and an absolute ton of block sanding. Hot Rod Ranch applied the House of Kolor Tru Blue. A fine strip began as Galaxy Gray and morphed from there. Is this piece straight and cogent or what?
There are some good reasons for the 454 GMPP crate engine: parts are readily available, it has a forged rotating assembly, and the price for new is right on the money. The Rat is also desirable for its modest 8.75:1 compression ratio. Corey pulled the assembly down and had the block align bored, squared, and internally balanced. The great thing here is that the static ratio and the forgings supplying it are just about ideal for a forced air induction system. When he needs more “knock” space, he can always attach some aluminum cylinder heads, with larger valves if need be. As per crate engine etiquette, he added a Demon 850-cfm carburetor, jazzed it with an MSD ignition, and Pro Billet distributor, and ran a 3-inch-diameter exhaust system through Hedman ceramic-coated shorty headers and Flowmaster pipes. He spiffed the engine with a March serpentine drive and smooth, cool Billet Specialties rocker covers. Seething grunt and horsepower are managed by a Turbo 400 matched with a 10-inch converter with a 3,200-rpm stall speed. He put new U-joints in the original driveshaft. The original 12-bolt was refurbished with a limited-slip differential and 3.55:1 gears.
While a plan backed by completely discretionary funds might have acted on a much more expensive chassis setup, Corey did it on the low-down because that’s all he really needed. Look how simple his setup is. At front, there’s nothing more than Moroso Drag springs cohabiting with adjustable Koni shocks, stock spindles, stock steering, and no antisway bar at all. In the aft quarters he used the stock multi-leaf springs set with Performance Online inboard shock mounts and 1-inch lowering blocks. Corey did not include any sort of traction or antisway device.
Even in the leanest build, there must be a semblance of comfort and continuity, good reasons to get in the car in the first place. Air conditioning is not part of the scheme but there are plenty of righteous parts that beckon. As a first step, the original wiring went into the round file, replaced with an American Autowire harness. It would be needed for the Covans Classic instrument panel and its array of Auto Meter carbon-fiber gauges and the Panasonic audio (speakers in the kick panels) and Memphis 10-inch subs. The primary seats are Procar; the bench is stock. G and D Custom Upholstery in Lompoc covered them in leather. The Lompoc stitchers also built a custom dashpad and formed the full-length center console. A B&M Pro Ratchet shifter pokes its head from the depths. The steering wheel is a Grant GT.
With an aura of drag race activity beaming from Blue Language, its 15-inch wheels solidify that notion. Unsprung weight is reduced by Billet Specialties Street Lite hoops, 15x4 with 26x6.00 M/T Sportsman S/R radials and 15x7 holding 275/60 drag radials. Burning off energy is left to 12-inch Power Stop discs commanded by stock calipers. Stock drums take up the rear. CHP