“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius—and a lot of courage—to move in the opposite direction.” – E.F. Schumacher. This quote truly reflects the idea behind the Box Nova.
Although the Chevy Nova was originally built to prevent non-American car brands from entering the American market, it created a new trend in the auto world. A light bodied car that is powered by a large V8 engine. This trend was quickly followed by the Big Three and it became one of the greatest symbols for hot rods. The model was so popular that just after a year it was released, Bill Thomas even released a kit that was then mounted on the Nova.
Because the Nova is designed to be a small car, simplicity was its strength. Adding other options was not really great because it added unnecessary weight which defeats the purpose of the Nova being a light weight car. So how do you make a simple car into a star-studded classic?
This featured 1966 Nova owned by Butch Merrill is probably the answer. It may be a very simple classic but it is by no means ordinary. It actually started as a great classic. “A lady in town was selling it and she was the second owner. It was in all original condition with original paint and interior.” Merill said. This Nova endured almost 50 years of use and came out with just a few scratches.
The only flaw this Nova had before was a bad front suspension. The camber curve and brake options are not great and the spring towers are extended into the engine bay. Merrill replaced them with a Heidts bolt-on subframe. Brian Sells from Redline Race Cars located in Longview, Washington created the triangular four-link rear suspension that was put in the Dutchman 9-inch housing. It then features a 3.55:1 cog fitted to a limited-slip gear. Both the front and rear features Aldan coilover suspension and Wilwood four-pot calipers mounted on 12-inch rotors.
To give the Nova the right power-to-weight ratio, Merrill built a 383 that features Eagle rods, Scat crank, and JE pistons. The AFR Eliminator heads are fitted with 65 cc chambers that create a 10.5:1 compression. The cam Miller used is a little robust, a COMP Cams Xtreme Energy XR289R mechanical roller unit. An Edelbrock RPM Air-Gap manifold is then matched with a 650-cfm Quick Fuel Technology carburetor and a series of 1.75 inch TCI Engineering headers. The finished 383 engine is able to produce up to 536 horsepower with just over 6,000 rpm and a torque of 490 lb-ft.
An Edelbrock water pump was then fitted to the engine together with a mechanical fan tucked behind the Be Cool radiator and a March serpentine accessory drive system. The headers are connected to 3” pipes then to Spintech mufflers. The engine is then matched by a Muncie M22 transmission that is controlled by a classic Hurst shifter. The Muncie M22 is popularly known as the “Rock Crusher” because of its growling sound when changing gears.
Most of the exterior parts are stock except for the aftermarket cowl induction hood and a few reshaped trims. Some features were added inside the car that was done by Donn Lowe, a famous custom car builder, from Oregon City, Oregon.
Instead of completely flattening the firewall, Don Lowe preferred to reshape and smoothed it out. The commercial spring pockets available were a too simple for Lowe so he created his own that had more character. They were louvered to create extra pathways for air circulation. Mini tubs are hidden by the Zolatone trunk finish. A Willow Green Poly finish was then applied by Curtis Hancock from Longview.
Because the Nova’s was in mostly untainted, Merrill chooses to restore it. Classic Industries supplied the upholstery used in the interior. The original steering wheel and column was replaced by a Billet Specialties Chicayne wheel and an Ididit tilt column. A Kenwood head unit was then installed that is connected to a hidden set of MB Quart speakers. A Vintage Air hears was also installed that is way more efficient than the stock one. Merrill kept the original harness to still have a stock appearance in the car. To a uniform look, the harness was updated new wires and some additions to match the interior design.
The Nova rides on Billet Specialties Chicaynes Wheels measuring 17×7 for the front and 17×9.5 for the rear. The wheels are then fitted with Kumho Excsta MX tires that measure 215/45 for the front and 285/40 for the rear, a 70mm size difference. Due to the lower aspect ratio of the rear, the rear tires look only a bit taller than the front. These are some of the few tricks done to create a very simple look even though the build itself is not something you can call simple.
Butch Merrill’s 1966 Nova is definitely simpler compared to other classics of its time but it is nowhere close to ordinary. It took a lot of skills and courage to pull off this simple but extraordinary 1966 Nova.
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