Gordon McGilton hails from an era that is long past but remembered like thunder. The penultimate challenge in those days was prowess at the dragstrip—or from stoplight to stoplight, no matter. The modern adaptations of Pro Touring, Pro Street, Pro Touring Street, and all the rest of it, weren’t even kernels of an idea. No, the abiding dream, feeling, what have you, was perhaps simply a sense of patriotism.
Drive. Just drive out on the open road. Not give close gate to mottled orange cones or skitter over the tarmac of a road course. Was it propriety, grace, or just the idea that coordinating hand, eye, and foot could produce more fun than a barrel of monkeys? No hot rodder worth his lug nuts would wheel anything but a car with a clutch pedal. The slush box was for your mother and her mother, not a teenage vampire whose veins seethed with hot blood.
Suffice that Mr. McGilton is older now and wizened to the ways of the world. He claims to be retired but being the owner of Jet-Hot Coatings keeps him close to the trumpeted news as well as the real rumblings rife in the indispensable grapevine. He builds his cars with economy and longevity matched up with world-class handling and braking. His drivetrain designs often cluster around an engine that’s stock or nearly so, thus eliminating unnecessary gigs on the buildsheet and assuring parts that are readily available.
Gordon found this edition (which he built in 2008) at a car show in South Carolina. Naturally, the “we’re not going to do anything but spiff it up and drive it” soon went up like a wisp of tire smoke. The rebuild expunged the 350 small-block while Gordon dusted off an LS1 and the flexible T56 he had hanging around. His in-house fab shop, Car Guys (two sites: one for mechanical in Summerville and the other for sheetmetal work in Lake City, South Carolina), did all the work on the ’67 Nova, which included a smooth firewall and custom inner fenders to obscure the wires, hoses, and downtubes connecting the firewall and the framehorns.
They modernized the as-bought paintjob, slid in power seats, and turned on the air conditioning. The seats are somewhat notorious. They were snatched from a Lexus and re-covered with stock Nova seat cover material. Gordon and crew often hear from the folks commenting on the car that they were unaware of the (seeming) power-seat option. Ain’t life grand?
Gordon: “Though the car regularly wins awards, we don’t attend events to compete with other car owners. When we are awarded a prize or trophy, we hand it over to the first child we see and tell them they have won a Best Spectator award. This usually makes quite an impression.”
The notion to drive is reflected by the more than 50,000 miles Gordon, family, and fellow racers have racked up during the five years that have ensued since the Nova was completed, and it’s been used continually for cruises, shows, and on the track. “The car has been on the road for some time now and has competed in autocross events from California to New Jersey,” Gordon says. “The car is now regularly piloted by my daughter, Cheryl Herrick, and was driven by my son, Tim (before he built his ’70 Camaro track car), as well as a few friends and other family members, too. It was built to be driven … and it has been. It’s a car after all.”
By muscle car standards, the box Nova is considered a lightweight, which means it doesn’t need a torque mountain underhood. As far as LS1 engines go, this ’98 example (350 hp at 5,800 rpm, 365 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm) is far from the capability of the latest iterations … but it goes just as good. There are no internal changes. Car Guys applied a Vintage Air Front Runner accessory drive and a Speed by Spectre air intake “system”. Hooker full-length exhaust headers feature 13/4-inch primaries and 3-inch collectors and were obviously prepared with Jet-Hot Coating. A completely stock clutch/flywheel package precedes the T56 that was already tied to the LS1 and torque ropes down a custom driveshaft to the TCI Engineering-prepped 9-inch that carries an Eaton Truetrac limited-slip differential, 3.70:1 gearset, and 31-spline axles.
We’ve already touched on the engine compartment alterations by Vinney at Car Guys. Crewmate Randy Balton followed up by widening the space-challenged wheeltubs 2 inches to perfectly frame the fat rear rubber. Gordon: “We saved the original gold but toned it down by painting the top half black and using a rust-colored stripe to separate the two. A minimal fiberglass cowl hood is the only other outward modification.
For this dedicated driver, there was nothing more mechanically important than its suspension and braking, systems that would not be overpowered by the nominal output of the LS1, thus creating a balance of power. Forthwith, the chassis was stiffened with subframe connectors. At front, a complete TCI Engineering system was placed with 2-inch drop spindles, Ford rack steering assembly, and a TCI Engineering antisway bar. RideTech ShockWaves offer ultimate wheel control. At the business end, Car Guys repeated the TCI Engineering/ShockWave sandwich.
For a long-haul driver, the comfort and convenience twins score big, but instead of the expected hammock and chaise lounge that you might expect inside the Nova cabin, we find something even better: a well-laid-out interior with nothing more than the requisite equipment and well-placed controls that fall readily to hand and well within the driver’s peripheral vision. No fluff, no frippery, no confusion—only stuff that works. Though those plump seats might look stock, they’re electrically adjustable and straight out of a Lexus SC 300. JB Auto Upholstery in Garner, North Carolina, did them up in skunk stripe livery (along with the door panels, side panels, and headliner) to resemble the stockers. Car Guys wired the box with a Speartech Fuel Injection harness, noodled the Vintage Air controls, and fashioned a custom instrument panel for the Classic Instruments gauge cluster. The shifter got its start on the OEM assembly line. The steering wheel was built by Billet Specialties.
Never known for an abundance of wheel clearance, the Nova has more than it needs now in lieu of the streamlined TCI Engineering frontend conversion and stretched rear wheelhouses. The roller combo includes Billet Specialties Challenger rims in sizes 18x8 and 18x9.5. Front hoops carry BFGoodrich 245/40 and the rears, 275/35. The Wilwood brakes are tailored to the package. Car Guys posted 13-inch discs in front and 12-inch plates in the rear. Friction is applied via four-piston calipers.