I’ve always been a car guy with a wide and varied interest in all cars (not just Chevy’s). To me, the banter between brands isn’t any different than the banter between branches of the military – we are all in this together and usually find we have more in common than what we have different.
I also hunt and during a scouting trip to a property in Michigan, we drove my ’67 Plymouth Belvedere; this was back in the summer of 2015. The property owner was enamored with my old Plymouth and it led to a conversation about cars, which opened the door to his collection which was housed in several pole barns. I was impressed with his collection which included everything from early 1970’s BMW motorcycles to several 1940’s John Deer tractors and a representation of every GM collectible car from about 1955 through 1972 (with some awesome muscle!).
Every car was clean, well maintained and obviously very well cared for…every car except for one. Sitting next to an extremely clean 1972 Cutlass convertible, was a 1962 Chevy II wagon – this car was different – it clearly had not been touched in many years as you could barely see into the interior because of the thick dust; three of the 4 tires were flat and it was evident it had not seen the light of day in several decades. With all the clean, well maintained, metal in the barns, I had to know. Only wanting a backstory, I casually asked about the forlorn Chevy II wagon. And without prompting, he offered it to me at a very fair price. As it turned out, the car was determined to be less than desirable in Michigan winters, so he stored the car every winter since he acquired it from a serviceman who purchased it in Colorado in the mid 70’s. In the fall of `86, he serviced it for the winter nap and never took it back out of storage. For the first few years, he would start it, but eventually it was forgotten and sat, unmoved, until 2015.
Of course, I bought it. On August 1, 2015 I arrived with a friend and a trailer to drag the old wagon from its slumber. I did not want to risk engine damage, so we filled the tires and promptly discovered the brakes had seized, but after some convincing, the Nova rolled on its own and was trailered to my modest 2 car garage where I set to bring it back to life. It was shockingly clean and for the most part, rust free. I missed the Woodward Dream Cruise by only a week, but by the end of August, the fuel system was flushed, brakes replaced, new 13” tires installed and we had taken our first drives. The car was not without fault, but I quickly became enamored with the little Nova and set out to learn as much as possible about the Chevy II. For all of 2016, I drove it with the 194 and Powerglide and a completely stock suspension. It was neat, but I desired more and started to lay plans to do an engine swap.
I looked at every conceivable combination of powertrain and considered what I ultimately wanted from the car. I considered costs, and really focused on what I wanted out of the car – drivability and long distance cruise were both high on the hit list, I wanted decent power and a wide powerband which left on old school Gen I small block or a LS. Ultimately, I settled on the LS for a myriad of reasons, but one was cost for the opposite reason most people would think. I knew if I picked the right parts and shopped well, the swap could be done for less than an equal small block – I wanted to prove myself right.
I chose a 5.3 because they tend to be several hundred dollars (or more) cheaper than a 6.0 and are much more available. I wasn’t intending to get an aluminum one, but my local yard had an aluminum LM4 from a 2005 GMC Envoy XUV with a documented 120,000 miles for $450. I also knew I wanted a stick and was intending on using a NV3500 but happened across a NOS (new) T5 from a 1LE Camaro for a very good price. I acquired a wiring harness from a ’00 Silverado and set out to self-modify it for the wagon. Now that the big parts were getting together, I pulled the 194 and Powerglide from the car and set out to install the 5.3 with the T5. With some trials and a few errors along the way, I had the car completely buttoned up and ready to drive within 3 months, working in a 2 car garage in the dead of a Michigan winter (nights and weekends only). Total cost was under $3000 (including paint, nuts/bolts, zip ties and tape).
While the engine and trans were done, the rest of the car was 100% stock for the remainder of 2017 – 4 lug drum brakes, 55P axle and all. This prompted the next goal for the Nova: To prep for the 2018 Hot Rod Power Tour. Realizing the car was an insane combination of marginal parts and resetting my goals, I set out to do a 5 lug conversion, disc brakes, and a reliable front suspension. This led to Church Boys Racing lower control arms, 2” dropped spindles, 98-02 F-Body disc brakes, and a 8.2 10 bolt built with Yukon and Richmond parts. I also upgraded to a Tanks Inc. fuel tank with an internal (baffled) pump. Because of the 12” brake rotors, I went to American Racing 17×7 wheels (4.75” backspacing) using BFGoodrich Comp2 tires. After a successful 2018 Hot Rod Power Tour (nearly 1700 miles stop to stop), I upgraded the following year to Church Boys Racing upper control arms, Viking Coil Overs and Church Boys Racing leaf springs. I took this combination on the 2019 Hot Rod Power Tour (just under 2000 miles stop to stop). I am proud to report that at Norwalk Dragway during the last stop of the Power Tour, the fully loaded wagon ran a best of 14.11 at 97 mph! I autocross it, drag race it, and daily drive it frequently (much more now that we live in South Carolina).
For this year, I have upgraded the cam in the little 5.3 and have really gotten into the tune using HPTuners for much more power. Additional plans for 2020 include a clutch and flywheel upgrade, Viking rear shocks, and new seat upholstery.
It’s got patina, but the suspected Earl Scheib paint job still shines. The grille is a bit bent, the chrome is pitting, and there are so many parking lot dings it could double as a topographical map of the moon – but I just don’t see myself restoring the exterior. Its that 58 years of character that make the car special to us and simply cannot be replaced.
- LM4 5.3 from a 2004 GMC Envoy XUV
- Summit Racing 8701 Stage II truck cam
- Stock P01 PCM and a self built wiring harness
- Sanderson LS14 ceramic coated headers
- Summit Racing turbo mufflers
- 621 Bellhousing
- McLeod hydraulic clutch master cylinder
- Howe Racing hydraulic throwout bearing
- T5 manual transmission
- Custom built shifter
- 3.73 posi 8.2″ 10 bolt
- Yukon posi unit
- T/A Performance rear end girdle
- Church Boys Racing upper and lower control arms
- CPP 2″ drop spindles
- Church Boys Racing sway bar
- Viking coil overs
- Church Boys Racing 2″ drop leaf springs
- American Racing 17×7 Torque Thrust wheels (4.75″ backspace)
- BFGoodrich Comp2 tires 235/45 rear and 225/45 front
- Speedhut Custom Gauges fit in stock ’62 cluster
Featuring Our Parts
- Rocker panel retainers
- Steering box seals
- Drag link
- Steering box lube kit