Adrian Mancilla wasn't always into cars. The money he earned from his childhood paper route was destined for a dirt bike, but thanks to the wisdom of his older brothers, he bought a car. It was an all-original, one-owner '67 Nova SS, a big purchase for a 13-year-old. His brothers told him if he started working on it now, he would have the fastest car in high school. He had big ideas that involved a lot of cutting and welding but couldn't justify chopping up a numbers -matching SS. Smart kid. He sold that Nova but never got it out of his system.
A decade later, a roadside '67 Nova caught his eye. On the off chance the owner was looking to unload, he left a note on the windshield. The original black plates starting with ADR, like his name, called to him. To Adrian's amazement, the owner called and the car was his by the end of the day. He drove and loved that car for three years before a new prospect arose-the chance to buy his first home. He had to sell the car to cover closing costs. This was devastating and he quickly regretted his decision. A couple of years later, after the initial financial blow from the home purchase wore off, Adrian called the Nova's new owner. He knew the chances were slim that he would give it up but had to ask. The buyer told him he thought they could work something out. Without any more conversation, Adrian took the three-hour drive out with the selling price plus $1,000 in cash, hoping it would be enough. The buyer had acquired a new pool table for the garage that displaced the Nova onto the driveway; it had been sitting all this time. The current owner looked Adrian straight in the eyes and asked him, "Do you really want this car back?" Adrian answered a pleading, "Yes". He asked Adrian for the exact amount he paid for the car to get it back. Adrian was shocked. The truth was Adrian would have paid double if that's what it took, but thanks to the guy's generosity and compassion, it didn't play out that way.
Like a second lease on life, Adrian swore to himself that he would commit to this car and make it everything he had been dreaming of since he was 13. He bought a wrecked '93 Camaro to pull the drivetrain from. This was in the mid '90s when the LS movement hadn't started, and they were in cars too new for the junkyard. The LT1 and six-speed from the donor car would be good enough. His neighbor had transplanted an LT1 into an older Jaguar and gave Adrian the confidence to do the swap himself.
Adrian wanted to build a very functional car for one purpose only-driving! He didn't want to make it too pretty or too nice. He didn't want to freak out about door dings or getting the undercarriage dirty. He wanted to build a car to perform on the street and at the track. The idea of doing a truck-arm rear suspension fit right into the plan. He contacted Hot Rods to Hell in Anderson, California, to help out with the install. They set him up with a front clip too, when options to remove the cramped strut towers were few. With the suspension decisions set, Adrian started mocking up the LT1 and accessories in his garage. Adrian was more limited in equipment and capability than he would have liked and needed something to fill in the holes in his experience.
A coworker introduced Adrian to Joe Pass, a retired airplane mechanic who spends his days tinkering in his custom-built fabrication shop behind his house. Adrian recruited Pass' help in fabricating a transmission tunnel. Through the processes they became friends. The Nova would spend a week at a time at Pass' shop, where they would do the major fabrication work. Pass would send Adrian and the Nova back home with a laundry list of things Adrian could do on his own and a list of parts to order. When Adrian was finished with these things he brought the car back to Pass. It gave Adrian the opportunity to push the build further than he could have on his own without removing himself from the process.
He had drag raced the car a couple times before the big rebuild, bringing home some timeslips in the low 13s, respectable for a stock-motor street car. He probably would have kept drag racing but someone tipped him off and let him know about Empire Sports Car Association and began autocrossing. Before the transformation, he had read about Northern California's rock star autocross champ Mary Pozzi and was convinced the Pro Touring direction was the way to go. She answered many of his questions about car setup and other aspects of the sport. He took the Nova back to the track after the rebuild just for kicks and ran a 12.50 at 111 mph, which was better than he even hoped.
When Adrian isn't performing his duties as a deputy sheriff, he is driving the heck out of his car. He has participated in numerous autocross events, some open track days, and the SoCal Run to the Coast event among others. He built the car to drive and that's what he does. Next on his bucket list is to participate in the Silver State Classic, an open road race. He will need to upgrade to racing seats and a five-point harness but refuses to clutter up the car with a rollcage. As much as he's game for everything performance he wants to keep the interior monkey bar free for back seat passengers like his two kids, Raquel and Antonio.
Engine & Drivetrain
Adrian started with a bone-stock LT1 from a '93 Camaro. The lack of real horsepower wore on Adrian pretty quickly so it came out for a performance rebuild at Pass' shop. The guys freshened up the factory bottom end with new rings, bearings, and a Milodon oil pan. They sent the factory cylinder heads to Lloyd Elliot for the LE2 porting package at Elliot's Port Works in Texas. The Bullet Racing Cams 0.582-inch lift push new Summit Racing pushrods, COMP Cams 1:6 ratio roller rockers, and Manley valves. He replaced the factory throttle body with a BBK 52mm unit fed by a Street and Performance air cleaner system. Exhaust went through Street and Performance 15/8-inch primary to 21/2-inch collector headers and SpinTech mufflers. A Spec clutch meshes power to the T56 six-speed and to a '71 12-bolt rear end with 3.73:1 gears and posi.
Most of Adrian's time was spent on the suspension. The unique truck-arm rear suspension and tubular front clip was fabricated by Hot Rods to Hell of Anderson, California. Adrian did the rest of the installation at home. The front received QA1 coilovers, NASCAR-style splined sway bar, and power rack-and-pinion steering. Out back are QA1 shocks and Suspension Springs Specialists coils to work with the truck-arm suspension. The front and back are bridged by subframe connectors and a custom skidplate to protect juice and power lines.
Paint & Body
The body sits exactly how it did when Adrian bought it back in 1995. It has a clean white paintjob with a little road wear. He doesn't have plans to repaint it any time soon as its imperfectness makes it more fun to drive. If the paint and body were perfect, fear of parking lot damage and rock chips would ruin the experience of the car. This car was built to drive, not to show.
With the fuel injection upgrade came the need for new wiring. Adrian routed a Ron Francis wiring harness through the Nova. The interior has been freshened up with restoration parts and factory bucket seats. The only hint of the aftermarket shows in the dash full of Auto Meter Pro-Comp gauges in a Covan Classics insert and a Lecarra Mark 9 steering wheel.
All four corners get Wilwood 12-inch drilled and slotted rotors and four-piston Dynalite calipers. Wheels come from Orange County, California, based Vintage Wheel Works. The V40 aluminum models measure 17x8 in the front and 17x9.5 in the rear. They are wrapped with Kumho Ecsta XS 245R40-17 and 285R40-17, respectively.