Back in the ’60s, and even on up into the ’70s, it was the NHRA drag guys who took advantage of the affordability, and more importantly the weight benefits, of racing an unlikely candidate down the quarter-mile in the Stock Eliminator class—a station wagon.
Drag racing a smaller coupe or sedan proved challenging to transfer a bunch of power and get off the line without spinning the tires, especially when that tire is a measly 7-inch M&H slick. But the early drag racers were a crafty bunch and realized the extra weight of all that sheetmetal, and more importantly, the window glass in a “grocery getter” over the rearend offered a huge advantage in their ability to launch harder off the line with minimal tire spin. It put them at the top of their weight class and oftentimes it launched them into the winner’s circle.
That’s all fine for drag racing, but the additional weight in a Pro Touring ride doesn’t offer nearly the same benefit. Fortunately, it’s in our nature to root for the underdog, and if it means having a vintage wagon compete on the same road course or autocross as the more nimble coupes, then we want to see it, and we want to see it do well.
It’s that very thought process that got Chuck Church Jr. to invest in this corner-carving ’64 Chevy II wagon. His company, Church Boys Racing Components, of Bristolville, Ohio, specializes in performance suspension components for classic Novas, so he knew this wagon would make a great calling card for his up-and-coming business. On top of that, the wagon provides big room for his wife and four kids to do the daily school drop-off-and-pick-up dance.
“I have four kids, and I think it’s way cooler to cruise around town in a classic Nova wagon than the same old SUV thing that everyone else drives,” Chuck quips. “It also makes a great daily driver, and it gets plenty of use as a shop car.”
Vintage, no-rust cars of any kind are an unlikely site in the state of Ohio, so it’s good to have friends in various parts of the country when you get your feelers out for a classic piece of muscle—especially a wagon.
“I have some friends who also happens to be one of our dealers out in Northern California, who told me about this particular Nova wagon. After seeing pictures of the car, I just had to have it,” Chuck says. “I was heading out to Pleasanton to attend the NorCal Nova Mini Nationals show anyway, and figured I’d just go out there and enjoy the show and tow the car home at the end of the weekend. Then I thought it would be a good idea to send out one of our front suspension systems and have them bolt it on so I could drive the car while I was out there. Well, after further discussion with the guys at the shop, the decision was made to go ahead and paint the suspension components so it would at least look good in the car. Everything just took off from there. Brian Beatie, Joe and Denise Rea, Duane Freeman, Jose Mitchell, and Patric Rea did a great job in the installation, and I want to thank them for getting it done so quickly.”
Driving the car home wasn’t part of the initial plan, but once the upgrades were done, the car drove so great that Chuck took the opportunity to enjoy the car for about 2,000 miles all the way back to the Church Boys headquarters.
Reliability and performance are two prominent focal points of Chuck’s sporty wagon, so a 5.3 LS1 replaced the 350 small-block between the new CBR subframe. With the exception of the CBR LS headers and K&N filter element, it’s a bone-stock mill that breathes a new life into the vintage breadbox. The modest combination is good for a 13.74 at 99 mph in the quarter-mile. It’s not earth shattering by any means, but it’s a fun ride that’s years away from the car’s previous incarnation. And with the addition of the 4L60E transmission, Chuck has no problem taking the family out for long, trouble-free drives while pulling down about 24 mpg on the highway.
If a wagon isn’t considered “sleeper” enough by default, Chuck stuck with the “as is” paintjob as a means to keep what lies under the hood and chassis a stealthy element of surprise. He uses a confident tone as he refers to the finish as “mildly patina’d.”
“I like it when people pull up next to me, especially the tuner guys, and have to take a second look, or roll down their window just to make sure that rumble they are hearing is coming from this little Nova wagon,” Chuck remarks. “So having the weathered paint just keeps the façade going.”
Although the exterior is lacking a show car finish, Chuck wanted a clean working environment, so in went an interior redo with a Classic Nova Performance interior kit. He even kept the bench seat and classic steering wheel to continue on with the vintage theme. And with the original wiring showing its age and working on a part-time basis, an American Autowire classic update wiring kit ensures proper functionality on the electrical side. The only dead giveaway that this little classic could be hiding some performance shenanigans is the Classic Instruments gauge package.
The benefit of owning a performance suspension company is having the necessary components at the ready should an important project come up, even when said project is an inside job. Chuck started the upgrades with a new CBR rack-and-pinion conversion kit for improved steering and a 11/8-inch sway bar was introduced to control body roll. Complete CBR upper and lower control arms bolt onto the ’64-67 Nova spindles and offer a more aggressive stance and stability, while double-adjustable coilover shocks manage the ride. Out back, 185-pound multileaf springs help keep the rear planted in the corners and off the line.
Borrowing from the Camaro world, The Right Stuff Detailing bolted up a set of ’98 to ’02 F-body disc brake kits for quicker stopping and immeasurable driver confidence.
Dunlop Direzza rubber on all four corners (215X45R17 front, 235X4517 rear) wrap around Wheel Vintiques rollers (17x7 with 4.5-inch backspace up front and 17x7 with 5-inch backspace out back) and contribute to the classic wagon looking like the year it was built. CHP